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Emmer picks political insider as running mate

Rep. Tom Emmer, a Republican governor candidate, announces Tuesday that Annette Meeks will be his running mate. Meeks runs a conservative think tank in the Twin Cities. Pioneer Photo/Don Davis

ST. PAUL -- An Illinois native who ran Newt Gingrich's office after he became U.S. House speaker is Minnesota governor candidate Rep. Tom Emmer's running mate.

Emmer, a Delano Republican, Tuesday picked Annette Meeks as his lieutenant governor candidate three days before the Republican state convention is to endorse a ticket.

Meeks runs the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota conservative think tank. For nine years, she was at the Center of the American Experiment, a similar operation.

Emmer, a state representative, is locked in what most observers describe as a tight battle with fellow state Rep. Marty Seifert of Marshall for the party endorsement. Seifert already picked a Twin Cities' suburban Anoka County commissioner, Rhonda Sivarajah, as his lieutenant governor candidate.

Meeks, 50, is a behind-the-scenes political worker, although she has regularly appeared as a Twin Cities television show political analyst.

Seifert said that shortly after Emmer announced that Meeks would join his team, he was hearing complaints from rural residents about an all-Twin Cities ticket.

"I have known Annette for years and she is a good person," Seifert said, but he predicted that some undecided rural convention delegates will move to his camp with her candidacy. "She lives right in downtown Minneapolis."

Emmer's Delano home is in the extreme western Twin Cities metropolitan area.

Even though Meeks lives in Minneapolis, she is the first lieutenant governor candidate to nail a question Capitol press corps reporters have asked each running mate: Describe E-85.

"E-85 is a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent fossil fuel," she answered, saying she has written a paper on the subject.

Sivarajah stumbled through the answer, incorrectly saying E-85 was mandated. When a reporter questioned whether it was mandated, she revised her answer to say the state was moving in that direction. In reality, the state is trying to make ethanol 20 percent of all gasoline sold in Minnesota.

Former Democratic governor candidate Sen. John Marty's running mate, Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, refused to answer the question when she was introduced.

The E-85 question is a follow-up to the 2006 gaffe of Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Judi Dutcher, who could not explain the fuel to an Alexandria reporter. When a Forum Communications Co. reporter tried to get an interview with Dutcher on the subject, governor candidate Mike Hatch called the reporter a "Republican whore."

Many political observers said Hatch's outburst following the E-85 question cost him the election against Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

Rumors had circulated in recent days about other possible running mates, and some news accounts said Emmer changed his mind late Monday or early Tuesday. The candidate would not directly address the issue.

Meeks was meek as she spoke, saying "I'm a behind-the-scenes person."

She is married to another Republican activist, Jack Meeks, a lobbyist and former Republican National Committee member. They have no children.

After working for U.S. Rep. Vin Weber of Minnesota, she spent eight years running Gingrich's Washington office, when he first became House speaker after Republicans took control of the chamber in the 1994 election. Gingrich bucked those who led the House GOP to win the speakership.

"We took on the leadership and we won," Meeks said.

Emmer said Meeks would run the internal operation of shrinking state government.

However, the two candidates may not agree on how to do that.

Meeks serves on the Metropolitan Council, a Twin Cities body that deals with items such as transit and sewers. While Emmer pledged Tuesday to abolish the council, Meeks said a study is needed before it is eliminated.

The Seifert campaign passed out a paper Meeks wrote calling for elimination of the lieutenant governor, the very office she now is seeking.

Don Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.