Matt Entenza, the former Minnesota House minority leader, says he's the only Democratic candidate for governor with an agenda that works for Minnesota's future.
He hit the campaign trail flying, using a three-day, 12-city tour starting Sunday to launch his primary challenge against DFL-endorsed House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher.
He ended Monday flying into Bemidji in his Cirrus SR22, which he notes was manufactured in Minnesota, to meet with media and Bemidji State University students.
"We're the first out, we are the campaign that's spent the most time in rural Minnesota, have the deepest roots here since I'm from rural Minnesota," Entenza said in an interview.
Entenza grew up in Worthington but lives in St. Paul. Kelliher grew up on a Blue Earth County farm, but is also an urban resident, living in Minneapolis. A third primary candidate, former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton, lives in the Twin Cities as well.
The Aug 10 primary ballot dropped just to those three on Monday as Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner dropped out of the race, saying she didn't want to split the female vote between her and Kelliher, the first woman endorsed for governor by any major party in Minnesota.
The race started with 10 candidates and now there are three, Entenza said. "We will have three real clear choices for people. The endorsed candidate hasn't won for 40 years in an open seat. The DFL lost in the last 20 years because they haven't had candidates who gave a clear vision of where we need to go, and I believe I'm going to be the candidate who gives a clear vision."
Current GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty isn't seeking re-election to a third term.
"The difference between me and other Democratic candidates is that I have a clear vision of how rural Minnesota is going to succeed," Entenza said, "which is a clean energy economy, which gets us opportunities for billion-dollar industries in forestry-based biomass and wind and solar.
"We also need to get our schools, places like Bemidji State, back up so that they get the support that they need," said the former DFL leader of the House who orchestrated the 2004 Democratic takeover of the House.
The state faces a steep deficit in the next two-year budget cycle, and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities announced last week tuition hikes of average $210 at state colleges and $301 at state universities -- $170 for Northwest Technical College and $286 for BSU.
"We have to have a strategy to grow the economy," Entenza said. "The Republican argument is cuts, but you can't cut your way to greatness. It's never worked, otherwise Mississippi and Alabama would be the best places in the country."
And just raising taxes isn't the answer, either, he said.
"I'm different from other Democrats since you can't do it solely by raising taxes," he said. "But I do believe you have to raise taxes on the high end. That's necessary as people at the high end pay less of a percentage in taxes than others."
A clean energy economy will provide a way to rapidly grow the economy by creating new manufacturing and businesses, Entenza believes. "We can take the $10 billion we spend on energy that now leaves the state and spend it on ourselves."
Businesses are attracted to Minnesota because of its high-quality education, he said. "Our education used to be part of a bipartisan agreement that's we'd be at the top of the country. We've been driven down to average, at best."
Bemidji schools and those in the region have seen cut after cut, he said. "It's hard to attract business if your schools aren't in shape. Likewise, BSU has had tuition go up 50 percent in the last six or seven years, and they've had to cut programs as well."
Entenza says he's the candidate "who's telling you that state government's going to refocus on education and do that, in part, by the new revenue we'll raise through the new energy economy."
Kelliher made a four-city swing through Minnesota on Monday, but has yet to campaign in Bemidji, appearing in one forum with all other DFL candidates for governor.
"I was the first one to tour around the state," Entenza said. "While everyone else was taking Sunday off, I am touring the whole state ... Kelliher went to four cities (Monday)."
He's starting television ads this week that focus on his vision for education and a clean energy economy. Both he and Dayton will bring lots of money to the campaign, but Entenza insists very little comes from special interests.
'I believe we're going to be very competitive," he said. "The DFL Party doesn't have resources, so it gives me the opportunity to get my name out and make sure the people know what my vision is."
Entenza says he's proud that he's out-fundraised from other sources of all of the candidates in 2009. "To out-fundraise the speaker of the House, the mayor of Minneapolis, the former U.S. senator and all the Republican candidates shows that a lot of other people believe that I'm the strongest candidate."
Entenza says he will appeal to northern Minnesota, having helped Frank Moe's campaign defeat a sitting Republican in 2004 and in frequent trips to Bemidji as executive director of the progressive think tank Minnesota 2020.
"When I was Democratic leader of the House, I was the first Democratic leader in a long time to come to Bemidji and spend a lot of time," he said. "I feel good about the fact that I helped take the House seat back in 2004 with a real positive agenda, once again on education and issues important to the northland."
Entenza said he will name a lieutenant governor running mate soon, and that he is currently interviewing prospects.