Four Republicans hoping to replace Mark Dayton as Minnesota’s governor next year gathered in Carver County last week for a forum hosted by the Carver County Republicans.
Kurt Zellers, Dave Thompson, Jeff Johnson and Scott Honour took part in the forum, in which each candidate fielded the same 12 questions from a non-partisan panel. About 150 people attended the event at Chanhassen High School, a relatively small crowd that wasn’t entirely surprising given how early in the race the event was held.
The Republican primary won’t be held until August, and the filing deadline isn’t until June, meaning the field could still grow.
However, State Rep. Ernie Leidiger, R-Mayer, who played a large role in organizing the event, said the forum played an important role for many of the Republican activists in attendance.
“It’s early, but it’s a time in the fall when you start getting introduced to these candidates,” Leidiger said. “Generally it’s more of the activist kind of crowd that are wanting to see candidates side by side, because they don’t know yet which candidates they’ll be siding with.”
Leidiger said many of those activists that attended the forum will likely end up working for one campaign or another. He added that for them, last week’s event was designed to be the first step in helping determine whose campaign that might be.
The candidates at last Thursday’s forum were former House Speaker Kurt Zellers, Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, State Senator Dave Thompson and entrepreneur Scott Honour. Leidiger said all four were terrific candidates.
“All four are good leaders,” Leidiger said. “They definitely are people that understand how the economy works and understand how to get the economy going. Mark Dayton does not.”
The candidates discussed topics across the board, including the usual suspects — taxes, the economy and education.
Regarding education, the candidates discussed their plans for reducing Minnesota’s greatest-in-the-nation achievement gap, and touched on school choice and private school tax credits. As far as the taxes and the economy, the candidates agreed on the need to create a more business friendly environment — with fewer taxes and regulations — in order to help the state compete with its neighbors for new companies.
Several of the candidates also expressed frustration at Dayton’s refusal to permit sulfide mining in the northern part of the state out of environmental concerns. The Republican candidates agreed last week in their belief that those proposed mines could provide a big boost to the state’s economy.
Transportation also became a rallying point for the candidates during the evening, particularly as the issue relates to the proposed new Southwest Light Rail line. All four offered stern opposition to the idea, instead suggesting the money for the estimated $1.5 billion project would be better spent expanding the state’s highway system, adding traffic lanes to major freeways prone to daily congestion, and promoting busses over light rail trains as a preferred means of public transit.
In addition to Leidiger, Frank Long, Carolyn Hoernemann and large group of others worked diligently to pull off last week’s event. Vince Beaudette, the chair of the Carver County Republicans, said he felt the event was a big success.
“We wished a few more people would have turned out, but the fact that we had that many media outlets there made up for it,” Beaudette said. “This was all about bringing this information to the community — the views that these good candidates share. As long as their message is delivered to as wide an audience as possible, that’s our goal.”
The Carver County Republicans will be soon be hosting another forum, this time featuring the Republican candidates for U.S. Senate, a field that includes State Sen. Julianne Ortman of Carver County. That event is set for Oct. 14 at Chaska High School.
Contact Matt Bunke at [email protected]