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Zellers running mate stops in Bemidji

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BEMIDJI -- Former GOP state representative Dean Simpson of Perham stopped in Bemidji Wednesday as a campaign surrogate for Kurt Zellers, who is running in the GOP primary for governor. Zellers chose Simpson as his running mate last month.

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Simpson served six years in the Legislature before he retired in 2008. He jumped back into state politics only after careful deliberation he said in a Pioneer interview.

"It took some soul-searching; the decision to come forward and step out again," he said. "But I felt that Kurt is the right person, in the right place, in the right time."

Simpson said he helps bring a rural Minnesota emphasis to the Zellers ticket, having served as mayor of New York Mills for 25 years, with a special interest in economic development. He also played a key role in the birth of a commercial business park in Perham that eventually nurtured not only a new location in the group of grocery stores Simpson owns but several other businesses, as well.

"I see...rural Minnesota; I think I have a pulse of what's happening out there," he said. "I'm involved with a lot of business leaders in the community, and I hear their concerns."

One of the economic issues facing Greater Minnesota is the lack of adequately trained workers, caused in part by a dearth of affordable housing, Simpson said.

"The jobs are there, the pay is acceptable, but the housing situation is such a challenge," he said.

The state also needs to do a better job of connecting young people with job opportunities in rural Minnesota, he said.

"Back in the '60s and the early '70s, when our tech colleges... came into play, they were really trade schools," Simpson said. "Somehow along the way, we kind of lost that. Everybody has to have a four-year degree and everybody has to have math and English history... to get your bachelor's."

Simpson said Republicans face a challenge with turnout since the Aug. 12 primary falls on a time when many people are trying to squeeze in one last vacation before the end of summer.

"Statewide, it's going to be hard to get people engaged," he said. "If they continue the primary program.... I would like to see it move back (into) June."

Simpson is sometimes described in the media as relatively moderate but he said Wednesday he does not consider himself to be one.

"No, I don't think I'm a moderate," Simpson said. "I'm a conservative to the point I'm fiscally responsible."

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