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Independence Party candidate for governor Hahn brings campaign to Bemidji

As a former radio producer, a publisher and novelist, Rob Hahn brings no political background to the office of governor. But that's what he thinks people want.

"I'm an underdog, and that doesn't bother me," Hahn, an Independence Party candidate for governor, said Thursday in an interview. "It's the challenge that invigorates me -- the fact that it's not going to be an easy ride, and allows me to be the type of candidate I really want to be."

Hahn faces a five-way Aug. 10 IP primary, and he's not the endorsed candidate. Public relations firm partner and former U.S, Sen. Dave Durenberger Chief of Staff Tom Horner has that distinction.

But Hahn claims everyone at the IP endorsing convention planned to enter the primary anyway, and he says all parties should do away with endorsing candidates and instead let the people decide in primaries.

"I'm the type of candidate who just speaks my mind," Hahn says. He was in Bemidji to do media interviews -- and stay with his aunt, a First National Bank employee.

"The state needs a type of leader like me, and the fact that no one else has really stood up with the same qualifications as an outsider, as a successful small business owner, as someone with unique ideas tells me that this is the time to do it," Hahn said.

"I'm not just going to sugar-coat a message just to a specific audience in hopes of pandering to them and getting votes," he said. "That really allows me to stand out among the other four of us who are running."

He answers questions specifically. He knows the 2011 Legislature will face a $5 billion to $7 billion deficit, and he wants all tools on the table, including tax increases.

Hahn would raise taxes on the "uber-rich," but he would raise the family income level of higher taxes to do that to $350,000 or more, not the DFL's proposed $250,000 or more. He wouldn't extend the state sales tax to clothing or food, but would consider racinos or riverboat gambling, hopefully in conjunction with an American Indian tribe.

Hahn is also calling for a "fat tax," a surcharge on the purchase of fast food. He admits it won't go far in bringing the state deficit down, but it can be directed to health care costs attributed to obesity.

State spending needs to be cut, also, he said. His first thoughts were 5- to 7-percent across-the-board state agency reductions, but now thinks it needs to be 15 to 18 percent. Any staff cuts, he hopes, would be through attrition.

One controversial move he supports is to cut Local Government Aid to cities, but gradually over several years and not in one jump as Gov. Tim Pawlenty has been trying to do.

But Hahn says he's learning on his trips in rural Minnesota about LGA and he might not stick to totally eliminating the state aid to cities.

"My major priority is to find a way to recalculate it," he said. "So when I say phase out, I'm willing to admit my initial premise was too strong. What I've determined is we can either recalculate it or reform the way we take services or money to the communities and maybe give them a little more power with their local taxing ability."

It will be a challenge to work with communities as they have separate identities, he said, but smaller communities need to do a better job of combining services.

He talked of Sibley, a small metro-area community, that decided to hire one police officer to patrol at night and contract with the county for day patrols.

"The biggest challenge is that every community is a little different," Hahn said, "not just from a dollars-and-cents standpoint, but about its needs. What bothers me are the big cities ... that are LGA town criers."

He talked of St. Paul building three new outdoor hockey rinks with chillers to keep them operational for another couple of weeks into the spring. "Is it that necessary in economic times that are tough and then go around and complain about LGA?"

What concerns Hahn is "with LGA is that certain governments have come to depend upon it even before the amount has been determined."

As governor, Hahn would work with cities to find the best solution, he said. "The state has to be a little more, and the governor in particular, proactive in looking at case-by-case scenarios and giving them very strong suggestions in ways they can trim their budgets.

A somewhat personal issue for Hahn is to seek family law reform. Having gone through divorce last year, Hahn says instead of requiring divorced couples to attend classes during their divorce proceedings, couples should be mandated to take the classes before evcn filing for divorce.

"Mine wasn't ideal, but it wasn't horrible," Hahn said of his divorce. "I'm pushing this reform for the people coming after me. ... The law should be changed slightly to make sure that shared physical, or joint, custody be the legal presumption and then work from there."

A parent would have to be proven as unfit to be a 50/50 parent, rather than the other way around, he said.

"The governor needs to be a leader - he just can't sit in St. Paul," he said. "The current governor seems to be my way or the highway and let's not even negotiate. I like negotiating."

To save billions in human services, he would create six or seven regional human services agencies, rather than each county doing it. He'd look for performance-based programming.

In K-12 education, Hahn would allow alternative licensing practices for teachers, and blames Education Minnesota for preventing it from being law this session. He favors performance pay for teachers, based on their students' progress.

If elected, one of the early things he'd do in the new administration is meet individually with lawmakers or in groups of two or three to build a rapport before later negotiating.

"One of the first things I'm going to do is get that list of legislators and start inviting them ... and meet and have a glass of wine or cup of coffee," he said. "I want to talk about them, not about politics. I want to build these relationships, so when it does get to be time to discuss politics and negotiate, we have a better understanding of each other."

Hahn thinks ideas from his office might be better received, worked over by the Legislature, and everyone can claim credit. "Two thinks I'll have is my personality ... and the fact I'll be an IP so if a concept comes out of my office and I can get both parties to embrace it, it does not become a victory for a Republican or a DFL governor. Instead, it becomes a victory for all."

A native of Winona and 1991 graduate of Notre Dame, Hahn of St. Paul worked as a producer for WCCO-AM and is now founder and publisher of Hahn Publications, which publishes the newspapers The Midwest Wine Connection and Minnesota Prep Sports.

He's also the author of the mystery "The Funeral Home Murders" and will publish this summer the novel "Robbob for Governor."

The latter is a political mystery meant to entertain, he says, It's not a manifesto or political mantra.

Is Hahn's campaign a stunt to promote the book?

"Absolutely not," Hahn says. "If it were, I would have had the book ready to go, to hold up to the media on Jan. 14 when I announced. ... It's 2½ months late, based on when I wanted to put it out."

He says, "it's part of what I do."