Republican gubernatorial candidate visits Wadena
Jeff Nardello isn't sure who he'd like to see as the next Minnesota governor, but the Sebeka resident is sure he won't be voting for DFL Gov. Mark Dayton's reelection.
"Right now, I'm trying to make up my mind," Nardello said. "That's why I'm here to see Marty and listen to what he has to say."
By Marty, Nardello meant former Rep. Marty Seifert of Marshall, who brought his campaign for governor to the Pizza Ranch Friday night, just days after winning the Republican straw poll at statewide caucuses.
On Feb. 4, the former House Minority Leader took 47 percent of Wadena County Republican votes in the six-candidate non-binding preference ballot - 31 percent more than his nearest competitor Rep. Kurt Zellers (R-Maple Grove).
The statewide caucus race was much closer. Seifert, an unsuccessful candidate for the 2010 Republican nomination, took 29 percent of the vote, three percent more than State Sen. Dave Thompson (R-Lakeville), who polled well in the Twin Cities suburbs.
Republican straw poll winners in the two previous competitive nomination races never made it to the general election. Seifert won the 2010 caucuses, but lost the nominating convention to Tom Emmer and decided against making a primary challenge. This year, in a break from recent Republican practice, he and several other candidates are vowing to contest the August primary regardless of the convention outcome.
Friday in Wadena, Seifert certainly didn't play down the caucus victory - or the frontrunner status that comes with it.
"Hopefully, we'll keep our firepower aimed in one direction," he told the nearly 50 people assembled at the Pizza Ranch, "and that's Mark Dayton, not other Republicans."
"I'm a farm kid from western Minnesota ..." Seifert said, tacitly drawing attention to his competitors, several of whom hail from tony suburbs. "I can't say that I love the government now, but I love my country; I love my state."
Seifert rebuked the governor and the DFL-led legislature for raising taxes and increasing regulations, which he said drive businesses to other states.
"We need to get back to living under our Constitution the way the framers intended and not this explosion of government that we've seen in recent years," he said.
Besides condemnations of tax increases and the state health insurance exchange, the stump speech included calls for increasing local control of schools, eliminating the Metropolitan Council merging the state human services and health department and scrapping the Southwest Corridor light rail project - "Nobody's going to use this" - in favor of more money for roads.
Seifert said his post-legislative experience as executive director of a hospital foundation would serve him well to improve health care in Minnesota.
That experience - and his 14-years in the legislature - makes Seifert an appealing candidate for Cecil Johnson, who, as a member of the Wadena County Conservatives group, helped arrange the visit.
"I support him," he said, adding "I'm keeping my powder dry on all of the candidates."
Seifert has a good conservative record, but more importantly, he's the most electable, said Danny Goeden, who lives southwest of Wadena.
"I think he'll win in greater Minnesota," he said. "It's definitely going to take a greater Minnesota candidate."
Whereas the cities always vote Democratic and the suburbs always vote Republican, Goeden said, it's the rural areas of the state that are "up for grabs."
Wadena resident Gwen Macklem said Seifert will be able to reverse the damage she believes the DFL has inflicted on Minnesota.
"I think we need some changes in Minnesota and I think Seifert can do it," Macklem said.
Contrary to Republican talking points, Dayton has been an effective leader, balancing Minnesota's budget, increasing education funding, paying back the money borrowed from schools and reducing unemployment, said Melvin Kinnunen, Wadena County DFL chairman.
"Minnesota's done real well," Kinnunen said. "(Dayton) deserves to be reelected, but whether that happens or not is another thing. I do think he's positioned real well."
In the coming months, the Wadena County Conservatives - an informal group separate from the official Wadena Republican Party organization - will continue to bring candidates to the area, Johnson said. They've already hosted Stewart Mills, the Republican challenger to 8th District DFL Congressman Rick Nolan.
The group invited State Sen. Julianne Ortman (R-Chanhassen) to the Friday event, but she took a rain check. In a six-candidate field for the Republican nomination to face DFL U.S. Sen. Al Franken in November, Ortman won last week's straw poll both in Wadena County (with 37 percent) and statewide (with 31 percent).
With nearly six months left before primary election day, Ortman and other candidates for the Republican governor and senate nominations will have plenty of time to make it to Wadena.