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Lt. Gov. hopefuls visit Wadena

Two candidates for the Republican lieutenant governor nomination stopped in Wadena last Thursday.

Rep. Kurt Zellers' running mate, former Rep. Dean Simpson, kicked off a tour of central Minnesota with a visit to the Pioneer Journal offices in the morning. That evening, former Rep. Bill Kuisle - Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson's choice for lieutenant governor - dropped by the Wadena County Fair.

At the state Republican Party convention in May, delegates endorsed the Johnson-Kuisle ticket, but it's up to the party's primary voters to decide on August 12 who will take on DFL Gov. Mark Dayton in November. In addition to Zellers and Johnson, the gubernatorial primary field includes former House Minority Leader Marty Seifert and businessman Scott Honour.

Simpson lives on Big Pine Lake near Perham and owns two Dean's Country Market grocery stores. He represented Wadena in the state House from 2003 to 2009 after serving 26 years as New York Mills mayor. When Zellers announced his candidacy for governor, Simpson said he promised his old colleague he would help however he could.

He wasn't expecting the former House Speaker from Maple Grove to tap him as his running mate. "It's a big commitment," Simpson said. "It took a little deciding."

He said he would be an active lieutenant governor, focusing on economic development, trade missions and "doing things to improve the job market."

"I think I could make a good liaison between the governor's office and the legislature," he said.

Zellers is the best choice for governor because he's "a proven leader," Simpson said, crediting him with standing up to Dayton and preventing tax increases during his two years as speaker. "None of (the other candidates) have done that. "Kurt's proven he can do that."

Under Dayton, there's been "a tremendous amount of government overreach and we're growing government way too fast," Simpson said.

The economic recovery hasn't been evenly distributed, he said, with outstate Minnesota falling behind the metro area.

"The whole state needs to do well," Simpson said. "I'll do whatever I can to encourage growth in rural Minnesota. It will be an emphasis of mine."

Kuisle, who grows corn and soybeans and raises Holstein steers at his farm south of Rochester, also emphasized the economy during a visit to the Wadena County Fair Thursday evening. He said he and Johnson, a Detroit Lakes native, understand the needs of rural Minnesota.

"(Johnson and I) are the ones that are the most electable," said Kuisle, who served in the state House from 1997 to 2005. "We appeal across the state and can win against Dayton in November."

If elected, the team would focus on opting out of MNsure, the state health insurance exchange, in favor of the federal website, Kuisle said. "We see it as part of the budget that's going to explode."

Minnesotans are ready for a change in leadership, he said.

"I don't consider Dayton the enemy," Kuisle said. "I just think he's taking the state in the wrong direction."

As she worked at the DFL fair booth last week, party volunteer Kyle Schulz said Dayton has earned re-election.

Why? Schulz pointed to the sign behind her that highlighted "Promises Made, Promises Kept." A few examples: An increase in the minimum wage, a tuition freeze at state colleges and universities, statewide all-day kindergarten and middle class tax relief.

"Dayton really is for the people," Schulz said. "He's a very compassionate person."