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Entenza touts his history in DFL primary for governor

Former state House Minority Leader Matt Entenza meets with a half-dozen history buffs at the Minnesota state museum, where he mixed history talk with politics. The St. Paul Democrat is running for governor. Pioneer Photo/ Don Davis

ST. PAUL -- A half-dozen civil war buffs sat around a table at the Minnesota History Center listening to Matt Entenza.

The Democratic-Farmer-Labor governor candidate took the first quarter of the hour-long gathering down the history path, talking about his ancestors settling on the edge of Minnesota, almost in South Dakota. He talked about his great-great-grandfather, a Civil War-era soldier. And he mentioned that he just finished a Civil War book that morning.

Before he turned to politics, Entenza had the group's attention.

Even during that history discussion, the lawyer subtly worked in political lines. For instance, Entenza's ancestors made a decision: "We are going to leave the state in better shape than we found it."

One of three major DFL candidates, with Mark Dayton and Margaret Anderson Kelliher, Entenza boasted about his Worthington roots and discussed the need to help rural Minnesota.

Entenza was well received at the History Center, but not all of his politics have been smooth.

He was en route to being the DFL's attorney general candidate four years ago when it was revealed that he funded a probe of the party's governor candidate, then-Attorney General Mike Hatch.

Also, allegations of campaign finance irregularities surfaced and questions arose about whether he could regulate the health-care industry when his wife, Lois Quam, led one of its biggest players. Entenza pulled out of the race.

He soon formed Minnesota 2020, a think tank that produced reports consistent with his political philosophy and he gradually re-entered the public eye.

No one doubted Entenza planned to return to the statewide political scene, an opportunity that arose when Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty opted against seeking a third term.

Entenza makes a big deal out of his Worthington roots. That is the southwestern Minnesota city where he lived in his grandmother's home after moving from California when his father's alcoholism cost the family its home.

Entenza, born in 1961 in Santa Monica, Calif., moved with his mother, brother and sister to Worthington to live with his grandmother when he was 15.

It is a story he tells often on the campaign trail, talking about Worthington residents like Mary Beth Blegen, a high school English teacher who pushed him hard.

"From his own life experiences, Matt is committed to creating opportunity for others," Blegen said.

Entenza credits his success to education. After graduated from Worthington High School, he attended Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D., and completed his bachelor's degree at Macalester College in St. Paul.

He worked for former Republican Gov. Elmer Andersen at H.B. Fuller Foundation. After getting married, he studied law at Oxford University in England, returning to the University of Minnesota to finish his law degree.

Entenza served stints in the state attorney general and Hennepin County public defender's offices, and was a stay-at-home father for a time. He spent a dozen years in the Minnesota House, the final few as the Democratic minority leader.

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