by Howard Lestrud
ECM Political Editor
It was 15 years ago that an oftentimes brash radio personality dipped into politics and came away with the governorship. This personality was Jesse Ventura, who became Minnesota’s 38th governor.
Now another former radio personality, Sen. David Thompson, R-Lakeville, has announced his intention to bid for the state’s top executive job.
With family and supporters at the Minnesota State Capitol, Thompson on Wednesday, June 26, announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination for governor in 2014, hoping to square off against current Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton. Following the press conference announcement at the Capitol, Thompson planned to touch down in Rochester and Duluth before concluding the day with an ice cream social in Lakeville.
Thompson, 51, hosted the The Dave Thompson Show for 7 1/2 years. The radio talk show aired on KSTP in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. Thompson’s show promoted generally conservative views.
Thompson represents District 58, which includes portions of Dakota and Goodhue counties in the southern Twin Cities metropolitan area. He is serving his second term in the Minnesota Senate.
“I believe in Minnesota and in Minnesotans,” Thompson said as he addressed a small gathering at the Capitol.
Thompson said he was fortunate to have received a “great education” in a thriving economy. He said he is proud to have raised happy and healthy kids and did not have a rags-to-riches story to tell. He said he grew up in Little Falls with his parents, who owned a motel. He then later moved to East Grand Forks with his mother, then divorced. During that time, he said, he learned the values of hard work.
Thompson pointed to education and to the economy as two major issues that likely will evolve during the 2014 gubernatorial campaign.
Thompson said every youngster should have the opportunity for education and “throwing a little more money at the problem” is not the way to solve it. “We need to have money following kids, not buildings,” Thompson said. Once students get out of school, it is important that they find a job in a robust economy, Thompson said.
He spoke about using a tax credit to spend education dollars where the schools wish to spend them.
He chastised the Democratic-led Minnesota Legislature for spending $2.1 billion to solve a $625 million shortfall. “You people were treated like an ATM machine. We need to get rid of waste, fraud and abuse.”
Thompson continued, “It is your money, not mine, and I have to be a good steward of your money.”
Thompson said he wanted business to grow in Minnesota because it will benefit all of Minnesota.
“I don’t like having Minnesotans against one another,” Thompson said. He said a goal of his as governor will be to “get out of your way.”
Thompson said he will take the “North Dakota open for business” sign, turn it around and say “welcome back to Minnesota.” He said he will be there for that farmer out in the field, for that window maker in Warroad, for that shoemaker in Red Wing and for that single mom in East Grand Forks, like his mother.
Thompson was asked what distinguished himself from the other Republican candidates thus far in the race. He said he believes he has the ability to talk to people and has them acceptable of his beliefs and values.
“I will be leading all Minnesotans,” he said.
Other Republicans in the race thus far for governor are Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, Wayzata business owner Scott Honour and former House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove. Senate Minority Leader David Hann has also been mentioned as a possible candidate and told ECM Publishers he will not have an announcement this week, possibly next week, as to whether he may run for governor.
Attacking the record of Dayton, Thompson, an attorney, previously told ECM Publishers, “Dayton is taking us in the wrong direction.” Some states are doing what Dayton is doing, increasing taxes and increasing the cost of government, Thompson said. He used the states of Illinois and California as examples.
Thompson was asked about his relationship with big labor. He said he was not anti-union but believed it does not serve laborers. Thompson said if he had been born 100 years earlier, in 1861 rather than in 1961, he may have been a union organizer.
“The union machine has become separated from the union,” Thompson said.
Looking back at his three years in the Minnesota Senate, Thompson said he was most proud of the fact that he could work across the aisle with other legislators. He said he authored a number of bills that were supported by Democrats. He mentioned being nominated by DFL Sen. Ann Rest for an emerging leaders program in Virginia. He also specifically mentioned Senate File 811, which saved the taxpayer $4 million in health care costs, he said.
Thompson was also asked if he might be attacked by the opposition for things he said during his tenure on talk radio. He said that might happen.
“I am who I am, and I welcome it,” Thompson said.
Minnesota is looking for leadership, Thompson said, “a governor who will walk with you and not in front of you.”
Thompson didn’t hesitate to answer a question about abiding by the Republican endorsement process: He said he will abide by it.
Ken Martin, chairman of the Minnesota DFL, said Thompson’s three years in the Minnesota Senate “paint a troubling portrait of the chief executive he will be.” Martin continued, “If Thompson got into the governor’s office, he’d look out for Minnesota’s wealthiest citizens and his personal interests rather than serving the average Minnesotans who make this state great.”
First-term Rep. Marion O’Neill, R-Buffalo, introduced Thompson and his family to those attending his Capitol announcement.
Following the announcement, several lawmakers confirmed their support for Sen. Thompson. Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, said he has offered to support Thompson because he believes he can win the governor’s office.
“He is a regular guy and can figure out how to pay the bills of government,” Nienow said.
Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, said she chose Sen. Thompson as her gubernatorial candidate because she trusts him and respects him. She said she will actively campaign for him if asked.
“We agree on a lot of things,” she said. Benson said she was not shutting the door on a run for governor herself some time in the future, but this time is not ripe, she said.
Thompson and his wife Rhonda have been married 27 years and are the parents of two children, Amanda and Phil.
This past session, Thompson served the Minnesota Senate on the Education Committee, State and Local Government Committee, Taxes Committee and Tax Reform Division as the ranking minority member.
Howard Lestrud can be reached at [email protected].