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Former House Speaker Thissen adds his name to crush of gubernatorial candidates

Former House Speaker Thissen adds his name to crush of gubernatorial candidates

By | | Pioneer Press


State Rep. Paul Thissen, a former House speaker who made a run for governor seven years ago, announced Thursday that he will seek the state’s highest office again.

Thissen brings a Minneapolis voice to the crush of names vying for governor. An attorney, he has specialized in health care in the Legislature and become increasingly vocal on transparency issues since Democrats lost the House under his leadership.

“We need a governor who knows that governing is best done with Minnesotans and not for them,” Thissen said in his announcement speech.

In announcing his candidacy at the Capitol on Thursday morning, he said that as speaker, he helped deliver Minnesota’s law legalizing same-sex marriage, an expansion of labor unionization to home health care and child care workers, and a requirement that companies pay women at the same rate as men. All of those issues were controversial at the Capitol and attracted few Republican votes.

But Thissen said those votes belie the issues’ support across the political spectrum.

“I think those actually are very much a shared vision for the state,” Thissen said. “I’ve delivered on the progressive vision that everyone is talking about. … What we are talking about is standing up for the struggles that people are facing in their lives.”

He told the Pioneer Press this spring that he planned to make his bid for governor a reflection of his leadership.

“I really want to try to do it in a way that doesn’t follow a traditional way you run a campaign, because I think how you run your campaign does lead to how you govern,” he said.

During the past 14 years at the Capitol, Thissen has not been seen as a mold-breaker. A self-described “pretty sedate Norwegian,” he has been known as a smart, studious lawmaker who works hard and knows the rules of power.

When he became the first lawmaker to voluntarily release a month’s worth of his legislative email this year, the unprecedented openness revealed no great legislative secrets. The trove, read by the Pioneer Press, was as Thissen predicted it would be: “pretty boring.”


Eight Democratic and Republican office holders have already declared bids for governor, including St. Paul Rep. Erin Murphy. Murphy, a Democrat who was the first to jump in the race, was House majority leader when Thissen was speaker in 2014 and 2015.

Murphy welcomed Thissen to the race she has been running for seven months.

“I’ve always respected his leadership style and willingness to adjust and adapt to the challenges and opportunities in front of us,” she said in a statement.

Murphy was the only one of the gubernatorial candidates, of either party, to release a statement upon Thissen’s announcement. On the Democratic side, State Auditor Rebecca Otto, U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and state Rep. Tina Liebling are also running.

Who will run for governor in 2018?

In making his bid, Thissen is battling recent history: The track record of speakers becoming governor is a spotty one.

In 2010, when Thissen first ran for governor, Democratic Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher won the DFL endorsement for the office only to lose to now-Gov. Mark Dayton in a primary. In 2014, former Republican Speaker Kurt Zellers, who had run the House for two years before Democrats won control, ran in a primary but lost to Republican endorsed candidate Jeff Johnson.

Johnson, a Hennepin County commissioner, is running for governor again this year. State Rep. Matt Dean and Ramsey County Commissioner Blake Huffman add to the Republican field.


Thissen said of the past speakers’ failure to thrive as gubernatorial candidates that the past is not always prologue. Besides, he has been freed of legislative leadership this year, which may be a boon, he said.

“For the last several months, I’ve kind of stepped away from leadership and I’ve been able to kind of find my own voice again,” he said. “I think that’s really important. I think that authenticity is something the people want.” 

“I’ve won elections, and we’ve had big victories, and I’ve lost elections. And, you know, one of the things you have to do is learn from that,” he said. “I spent a lot of time since the last election thinking about that.”

He said Democrats often “paper over” the stark differences between different areas of Minnesota.

“There are real differences in many parts of state,” Thissen said. In response, he said he would give local areas of government more control over their resources, rather than dictate what they should do from the state Capitol.

Thissen said he will seek and abide by the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party’s endorsement, which means he will drop out if the party does not pick him as its candidate next June.