ST. PAUL-There is one easy prediction in Minnesota politics: The 2018 governor's race will be crowded.

Nearly 20 people have said they are running, say they are considering running or at least have not rejected the notion. And it looks like both major parties will have long lists.

The biggest news came late in the week when Heather Carlson of the Post-Bulletin of Rochester reported that U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, who represents the southern part of the state in Washington, said he is thinking about running. He previously had avoided the topic.

"I'm thinking very seriously about it," the Mankato Democrat told Carlson. "In the near future, we'll be more formal about that. But doing our work now and looking where we can serve."

Walz has proven that he can win Republican votes. He went to Washington by defeating veteran GOP congressman Gil Gutknecht and won this year, although not by much, in a district that favored Republican Donald Trump in the presidential race.

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Walz made his comments a day after Carlson broke the news that state Rep. Tina Liebling, D-Rochester, also is looking into seeking the governor's office.

While many political observers have looked for Walz to enter the race, Liebling is much less known and her comment took many by surprise.

However, it looks like Minnesotans should not be surprised by anyone getting into the race.

Sen. Dave Osmek, R-Mound, unexpectedly said he was thinking about running a few days ago. A few years ago, Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, called Osmek an unknown.

Here are what we know so far about who is in or maybe in or just being discussed:

Republican in: political unknown Christopher William Chamberlain. Republicans considering: Osmek and 2014 candidate Jeff Johnson. Republicans often mentioned, but not commenting: Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek, House Speaker Kurt Daudt, GOP Chairman Keith Downey, state Rep. Matt Dean, state Sen. Michelle Benson, U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen, U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer, former state Sen. David Hann.

Democrats in: State Auditor Rebecca Otto, state Rep. Erin Murphy, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman. Democrats considering: Liebling, Walz, U.S. Rep.Rick Nolan. Democrats often mentioned, but not commenting: Attorney General Lori Swanson, Lt. Gov. Tina Smith.

Since you can't tell the players without a program, the St. Paul Pioneer Press created a chart to keep track of the candidates and non-candidates at tinyurl.com/MinnGovRace.

Private prison talk rises

The Trump administration's discussion of using private facilities for federal prisoners comes at a good time for a shuttered western Minnesota prison.

Prairie Correctional Facility in Appleton has been closed for years after state and federal leaders opted to put prisoners in public facilities. Area leaders and their legislators have pushed to reopen the prison, under state control, to ease prison overcrowding.

Democrats have controlled the Senate and governor's office, and most of them oppose a privately owned prison, even if the state runs it with union workers. However, with Republicans now in control of both legislative chambers, there is more hope, even though Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton still opposes it.

"The Appleton prison proposal was approved by the Minnesota House last year but it fell to the wayside after the Minnesota Senate and Gov. Dayton refused to prioritize it," Rep. Tim Miller, R-Prinsburg, said. "The state of Minnesota is out of beds for offenders and we have an asset in western Minnesota that can meet those needs."

Sen. Andrew Lang, R-Olivia, also is pushing a private prison bill.

"This legislation would bring jobs back to the Appleton area, a community which has experienced economic hardship since the prison's closing," Lang said.

Re-opening the prison, closed since 2010, would add 300 jobs in Swift County, the lawmakers say. The prison can hold 1,600 inmates.

Fireworks bill ignited

One vote was successful, but several remain before bigger fireworks are legal in Minnesota.

A House committee approved fireworks such as bottle rockets, Roman candles and firecrackers on a split voice vote. The House passed a similar bill last year, but Democrats who controlled the Senate did not advance it. Fireworks supporters hope a GOP Senate is more favorable.

The legislation by Rep. Jason Rarick, R-Pine City, would allow fireworks to be sold throughout the year.

House at full force

The Minnesota House roster finally was filled Tuesday, Feb. 21.

Rep. Anne Neu, R-North Branch, took her oath of office then, after winning a special election a week earlier. The House had operated one short this session, until Neu became its 134th member.

A Forum News Service reporter in St. Paul, Davis has covered Minnesota government and politics since 1998. Read his blog at capitolchat.areavoices.com/ and follow him on Twitter at @CapitolChatter.