ST. PAUL - A 39-year-old North Dakota native is the new as Minnesota House Republican leader.
Fellow House Republicans gave Rep. Kurt Zellers of Maple Grove 70 percent of the vote Tuesday night in picking him to replace Rep. Marty Seifert of Marshall as minority leader. Seifert plans to announce in less than two weeks that he is running for governor.
Rep. Randy Demmer of Hayfield was the other major candidate. Four ballots were needed before Zellers emerged the winner.
Zellers takes over a caucus of 47 members out of the 134-person House. It has little power other than being able to prevent an override of Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty's vetoes. And nearly every member of the caucus must remain on board to stop a veto override.
He said his major goal is "getting back the majority" in the House. The caucus hopes to have 68 to 70 seats after the 2010 election, he said, but admitted he does not know if that is probable.
Zellers said he wants to get more Republican House members involved in his caucus. Several have not attended meetings regularly or otherwise been involved in caucus activity. He said he hopes that changes into "a 47-member rowing team."
The public relations specialist began his political career helping North Dakota Republican campaigns, including two-term Gov. Ed Schafer. When he moved to Minnesota, he worked for U.S. Sen. Rod Grams and for Norm Coleman during his successful 2002 Senate race. He was elected to the House in 2003 and has concentrated on tax issues.
"Our caucus will continue to be the peoples' advocate for a government that spends responsibly, sets priorities and keeps a lid on taxes," Zellers said. "That means more than just sitting back and saying no every time Democrats propose a new tax increase. We will offer new solutions and new ideas, all with a continued respect for the taxpayers' hard-earned dollars."
Zellers serves a district in the northwestern Twin Cities suburbs, but grew up on a farm near Devils Lake, N.D. He graduated from the University of North Dakota after playing football for a time.
House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, welcomed Zellers to his new leadership role and said she wanted to meet with him soon.
"As speaker, I remain committed to openness, transparency and a spirit of compromise in the Minnesota House and hope Rep. Zellers shares those goals," Kelliher said. "As was my practice with Rep. Seifert, I plan to meet with the new minority leader on a weekly basis once the 2010 session gets underway early next year."
Zellers, a political science major, and his wife, Kim, have two young children.
Don Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.