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Ex-lawmaker looks to bridge gap in Minnesota governor run

HAMEL, Minn. -- Jeff Johnson tried to make peace as last year's Minnesota Republican convention split into two factions, and now looks to bridge that gap and more as he launches a run for governor.

Jeff Johnson
Jeff Johnson

HAMEL, Minn. -- Jeff Johnson tried to make peace as last year's Minnesota Republican convention split into two factions, and now looks to bridge that gap and more as he launches a run for governor.

The Detroit Lakes native announced Sunday he is running for governor in next year's election. In making his announcement in Hamel, he became the second major GOP candidate to say he will challenge Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton.

Johnson is a former state representative, current Hennepin County commissioner and one-time unsuccessful attorney general candidate.

"Under the people in charge of our state government right now, we are heading in the wrong direction," Johnson said of Democrats in control of the Senate, House and governor's office. "If we do not correct our course soon, I am afraid that the greatness of Minnesota is in serious jeopardy."

At last year's GOP convention in St. Cloud, Johnson worked one-on-one and via a speech to delegates to minimize differences between traditional Republicans and those who are more libertarian and follow Ron Paul, who was a presidential candidate. While Paul supporters won most national convention delegates, Johnson was elected national committeeman even though he was not connected with Paul.


In announcing his governor bid Sunday, Johnson said he can attract votes from both major parties and independents.

Johnson, 46, has not been in the statewide news much since his unsuccessful 2006 run for attorney general.

He joins businessman Scott Honour in the race that likely will get more crowded after the Legislature adjourns in two weeks.

Among potential candidates are Sen. David Thompson of Lakeville, Sen. Julie Rosen of Fairmont, Senate Minority Leader David Hann of Eden Prairie, Rep. Kurt Zellers of Maple Grove and Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek.

Dayton says he plans to seek a second term.

DFL Chairman Ken Martin said Sunday that Johnson is "is a classic politician trying to climb the ladder."

"He left the Minnesota House of Representatives to run for attorney general and failed," Martin said. "Now, after a short time as a Hennepin County commissioner, he wants to run for another statewide seat. Minnesotans will recognize this personal, restless ambition for what it is."

Johnson served three terms in the House and is in his second commissioner term.


"Winning is not enough," Johnson said of his new challenge. "We need a governor who will actually accomplish what he sets out to do, and I have the track record to prove that I'll do that. I served six years in the Minnesota House in a time of politically divided government and was able to take common sense, free market, conservative ideas and turn them into law."

He promised to do more than "seek headlines. ... I will get results."

Johnson said he would focus on jobs, education and making government work.

On jobs, he said he would work toward reducing regulations, set competitive tax levels and discourage damaging lawsuits.

Johnson said he will seek the party's endorsement at next year's state convention, and abide by it. Many of the other potential candidates are expected to go to the primary election instead of sticking by the party's endorsement.

Johnson emphasized his combination of greater Minnesota roots and his suburban Hennepin County life. His parents, sister and other family members remain in Detroit Lakes.

He graduated from Detroit Lakes High School in 1985 and Concordia College in Moorhead, four years later before earning a law degree from Georgetown Law School in Washington, D.C.

His wife, Sondi, is a Crookston native and fellow Concordia graduate. They have two sons.


Johnson has worked for Chicago and Minneapolis law firms, as well as Cargill. More than 10 years ago Johnson formed a business dealing with employment law, human resources, workplace investigations and lawsuit mediation.

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