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Emmer seeks slimmer, smaller state government

Rep. Tom Emmer, left, R-Delano, discusses his 2010 Republican campaign for governor Sunday evening with Beltrami County Republican Chairman Ken Cobb at the Beltrami County Fair, where Cobb was taking down the party's booth. Pioneer Photo/Brad Swenson

Most Republicans talk about cutting state spending, but Rep. Tom Emmer wants structural reform that leads to smaller government.

"When you talk about downsizing, you mean shrinking the size of government, but you also mean lowering your prices so you can get people working again," says Emmer, R-Delano, a candidate for governor in 2010.

Emmer was interviewed Sunday in Bemidji, where he also stopped at the Beltrami County Fair to talk politics and issues with Beltrami County Republican Chairman Ken Cobb, who was dismantling the party's fair booth.

He says Colorado and Minnesota have about the same population, and the Denver metro area is comparable to the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area. Minnesota spends between $60 billion and $70 billion every two years, considering all intergovernmental transactions and dedicated funds,

Colorado is "delivering government for a third less -- they spend $40 billion to $50 billion," Emmer said. "There's something wrong, and it's time to look at the actual structure. It's got to be reduced, and it's going to require some significant negotiations and concessions by government employees, it will require some serious rethinking about how government functions."

For instance, Minnesota has both a Department of Health and a Department of Health and a Department of Human Services, a Department of Human Rights and an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the Pollution Control Agency and Department of Natural Resources plus Department of Agriculture, he said.

"We've just layered over and over and over," said Emmer, a civil attorney who represents insurance companies and self-insured utilities.

Emmer, in his third term, was an early rising star, named deputy minority leader in the House. He quit that post, however, when he decided his caucus was spending too much time on politics and too little on party principles.

"My party, which I still abide by, has done a very poor job not only of walking their principles -- walking the talk -- but then they get in there and don't do it. ... I believe the reason Republicans continue to lose elections is not because they became single-issue oriented, it's because they became more like the other party."

The party needs an "outsider," Emmer says, someone who isn't a career politician. He fits that role, he said, because he comes from civic service, serving on two city councils, and not as a GOP activist.

"We need to go back to being a principled party," he says. "The core of the Republican Party is supposed to be smaller government or limited government, personal responsibility, self-discipline, it's about being able to achieve your best but not expecting the government to do it for you."

He's a conservative, and he's convinced Minnesotans will elect a conservative as governor, despite the backlash given GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty's move to unilaterally cut $3 billion from current biennium spending.

"I'll guarantee you that the guys who skate up on the Iron Range are a lot more like me than they are some liberal from Minneapolis or St. Paul," says Emmer, who played NCAA Division I hockey at Boston College, the University of Alaska at Fairbanks and in the U.S. Hockey League.

"When it comes to our values as a party, I believe we stand for what 80 percent of the people in this state stand for," he said. "In the end , whether we call ourselves Republicans or Democrats, we all want the same thing -- strong communities, good schools, opportunity for your children for the future. We just have different perspectives on how to get there."

Minnesota, by most accounts, faces an even stiffer budget shortfall in the next biennium of $7.2 billion, if inflation is included. Emmer disputes that taxes need to be raised, that savings can come from restructuring what government does and how.

"The answer is not to raise taxes," he said. "I've never signed a no-new-taxes pledge in my life. If you could prove to me that this would be the answer, I'm always willing to listen -- it's not the answer."

But he would do things differently than Pawlenty, who surprised the Legislature with his 11th hour announcement that he would not call a special session and would use unallotment to cut spending.

He would seek legislation to allow the governor to call a financial emergency at times when a deficit is projected, and give the Legislature 45 days to find a solution before then using his unallotment authority.

This year, Emmer said he would have called such an emergency in January, avoiding the last-minute bickering.

He also seek legislation to follow the intent of the Minnesota Constitution that bills concern single issues. "I will not sign any omnibus bills," Emmer said of the huge policy bills at the end of the session that contain multiple subjects.

For instance, Emmer said he opposed measures to change the Green Acres law that affects undeveloped land but they were included in a veterans omnibus bill, making it hard o vote against a bill for veterans.

As governor, he would take his direction from the public -- laying out his agenda during the campaign and then acting on it as governor. "I am consistent," he says of his positions, adding he doesn't just cast votes to ensure re-election.

Between November and January, he'd hold town meetings to present his agenda and roll it out to lawmakers in January. And if something his supports is voted down, he'll return to the public. "I'll be back, and I'll start in the town of every one of those legislators that killed it," he said.

Emmer said he'd also like to make Minnesota a test case with three other states or anti-gun control measures, citing the U.S. Constitution's 10th amendment that the states retain authority over all that isn't cited in the Constitution as being a federal role.

"I believe we have an administration right now in Washington that is very anti-Second Amendment, and I am convinced they will slowly try to take more of those rights away, impact those rights, restrict those rights," Emmer said.

The Firearms Freedom Act says "if you manufacture ammunition in this state, if you manufacture firearms in this state, if you sell them to Minnesota residents and they are possessed by Minnesota residents, we are not subject to federal registration requirements," Emmer said.

Emmer joins former House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, as formally declared Republican candidates for governor, with about a half dozen others in the wings.