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Capitol Chatter: GOP governor ballot for could be crowded

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ST. PAUL — Minnesota’s 2014 governor race is underway.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton long has said he plans to seek a second term, and at least a half-dozen Republicans want the chance to knock him off. One GOP wag joked that every Republican legislator was thinking about running.

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So far, the main Republican in the race is rich businessman Scott Honour, who announced his candidacy via email and Web video.

"Like you, I love Minnesota," he said in the email. "But I fear that our state is headed in the wrong direction, and under the wrong leadership. I know that the same people with the same political resumes are not going to solve our problems."

The 46-year-old Orono resident quickly offered the Wall Street Journal an interview about his candidacy, and a day later offered to talk to several Twin Cities-based media outlets.

Honour leads an international investment firm.

While Honour may be the first serious GOP candidate, he will not be the last. Serious contenders include:

— Former state Rep. Jeff Johnson, now a Hennepin County commissioner, is expected to announce his candidacy within days.

— Sen. David Thompson of Lakeville says he will announce if he will run soon after the Legislature adjourns May 20.

— Sen. Julie Rosen of Fairmont probably is the only potential GOP candidate besides Honour who could finance her own campaign.

— Senate Minority Leader David Hann of Eden Prairie ran for governor the last time around.

— Rep. Kurt Zellers of Maple Grove was House speaker for two years made contacts around the state.

— Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek is a former state representative who has met with the president on gun control issues.

Good Dayton chance

An incumbent always has a good chance to win a new term, so most might think that Dayton’s re-election odds must be pretty good.

University of Minnesota political blogger Eric Ostermeier, who delves deep into the political numbers, says political watchers should not assume that.

"Slightly more than one in five Minnesota gubernatorial incumbents in state history lost their re-election bids, or nine out of 42 attempts," he reported on his Smart Politics blog.

Democratic governors, like Dayton, have won just six of 11 re-election bids, Ostermeier reports. Only two Republican governors have failed to be re-elected when they ran again.

Nursing home fights

One of the strongest legislative debates this year has been over nursing home funding.

Rural legislators, in particular, have fought for more nursing home money, especially for the workers who have not received raises in four years.

Freshman Rep. Jay McNamar, DFL-Elbow Lake, is an example.

"The major concern I had throughout this session with health and human services was the need to get nursing home and long-term care workers a pay increase," he said. "The work these people do is honorable and it requires a lot of sacrifice."

The House does better than the Senate when it comes to giving nursing home workers raises. The debate likely will be a prime concern as negotiators merge House, Senate and governor health funding plans.

Senate dispute

It was a tense time in the old Senate chamber Thursday night.

When Education Finance Chairman Chuck Wiger, DFL-Maplewood, wrapped up his closing remarks on his bill, Senate President Sandra Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, immediately ordered the secretary to take the roll call on the bill.

Sen. Branden Petersen, R-Andover, immediately picked up his microphone. "I was standing the entire time asking to be recognized. I couldn’t have been more clear."

Pappas again ordered the roll call.

"Please, don’t speak in the middle of the roll," Pappas told Peterson.

Then Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, told Pappas that she was being disrespectful in ignoring the fact that she and Petersen both were asking to speak when the roll call began.

"This shows the shallowness of the president," Ortman said.

Ortman suggested that in protest, senators should not vote. For nearly 10 minutes, most Republicans did withhold their votes, but eventually most in the chamber put up their red or green lights.

Pappas allowed Ortman and Petersen to speak after the vote.

Petersen said that while the DFL can pass whatever bills it wants without Republican support, at least those in control should allow Republicans to speak. "You will largely impose your will on the minority."

Minimum wage vote

House leaders say they plan to vote on a bill raising the state minimum wage in the next week, but no decision has been made as to when a vote will come on allowing gay marriages.

The House and Senate have passed a series of spending bills, leaving the only money bills without votes as a measure funding public works projects and another that would fund a variety of arts and outdoors projects with sales tax proceeds.

Democratic legislative leaders, who control the House and Senate, said they would not take up policy issues such as gay marriage and minimum wage until after budget bills passed.

Goodbye, Capitol

Capitol reporters have been told they will be booted from their hot, stuffy and moldy basement offices this summer if lawmakers approve a $109 million Capitol renovation request in May.

They will be gone at least two years as renovators work their way through the Capitol.

Their temporary location, "swing space" is what state officials call it, will be in the Centennial Building, about a block away from the Capitol but connected via a tunnel.

Everyone will be moved out of the Capitol at some point.

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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