The former Minnesota Senate majority leader, Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, is running for governor with support from at least two former and current DFL legislators on the Iron Range.

Gazelka, who graduated from the Virginia high school, said he has support from Sen. Tom Bakk, of Cook, who left the DFL caucus in November to form an independent caucus with Sen. Dave Tomassoni, of Chisholm. Gazelka said he also has backing from Rep. Dave Lislegard, DFL-Aurora.

“I don't know that they would support any other Republican, but they do support me — because we're from Virginia, Minnesota, probably helps,” Gazalka said. “I worked at Minntac for a bit, so I understand the area. We still have land up there.”

Bakk and Lislegard did not respond to the News Tribune’s request for confirmation and comment in time for print over the weekend.

Sen. Paul Gazelka talks to the Duluth News Tribune at the Cast Iron Grill about running for governor on Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, in Hermantown. On Sept. 8, 2021, Gazelka resigned as Senate Majority Leader and announced his bid for governor to attempt to defeat incumbent Gov. Tim Walz.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
Sen. Paul Gazelka talks to the Duluth News Tribune at the Cast Iron Grill about running for governor on Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, in Hermantown. On Sept. 8, 2021, Gazelka resigned as Senate Majority Leader and announced his bid for governor to attempt to defeat incumbent Gov. Tim Walz. Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Newsletter signup for email alerts

Asked if he anticipates support from other DFL members, Gazelka said: “Maybe. I don’t know that it’ll be quite as public.”

A Republican has not been elected governor in Minnesota since Tim Pawlenty in 2006. Gazelka joins six others seeking the Republican nomination for governor in 2022, including two former state senators. He has served as Senate majority leader since 2017 until earlier this month, when he stepped down ahead of his campaign announcement. He's known as a collaborator in a divided legislature.

When Gazelka announced his campaign for governor on Sept. 8, he honed in on Democratic Gov. Tim Walz’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic as well as his response to outcry following the killing of George Floyd. If elected governor, Gazelka said, he'd limit the emergency powers a governor can exercise so no single person is able to "make all the decisions" for an extended period of time.

PREVIOUSLY Republican Paul Gazelka announces bid for Minnesota governor

Outside the Cast Iron Bar and Grill in Duluth, ahead of a Republican women’s event on Saturday, Gazelka stuck to those themes and said the “biggest issue” motivating his run is public safety, citing an increase in police officers leaving the job and filing for post-traumatic stress disorder.

“That is the biggest issue that we are clearly divided on, and I'm on a different path,” Gazelka said. “(Democrats) wanted to do these police reforms that I said are anti-police and take away tools that I felt were necessary for them to do their job. As a result we did pass some public safety reforms, but none of them were anti-police.”

Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken wrote in a Facebook post in August that statewide, police departments are experiencing significant challenges when trying to hire due to fewer people attending college for law enforcement, while many qualified for the job are waiting to see if public attitude toward police improves. On top of that, Tusken said more officers are opting out of the profession.

Sen. Paul Gazelka talks to the Duluth News Tribune at the Cast Iron Grill about running for governor on Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, in Hermantown. On Sept. 8, 2021, Gazelka resigned as Senate Majority Leader and announced his bid for governor to attempt to defeat incumbent Gov. Tim Walz.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
Sen. Paul Gazelka talks to the Duluth News Tribune at the Cast Iron Grill about running for governor on Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, in Hermantown. On Sept. 8, 2021, Gazelka resigned as Senate Majority Leader and announced his bid for governor to attempt to defeat incumbent Gov. Tim Walz. Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Although Gazelka doesn’t support requiring COVID-19 vaccines in the workplace, he and his wife, Maralee Gazelka are both vaccinated against COVID-19 and they recommend people do the same because vaccines play an important role in reducing chances of severe illness and hospitalizations.

When asked how he plans to use his political leverage to encourage unvaccinated members of his party, Gazelka said: “It’s just a gradual process from here on out. As people see loved ones that go through COVID, then more and more people get vaccinated. It's either vaccination, or you end up getting COVID.”

But hospital leaders in the Northland have been urging those people not yet vaccinated to do so in order to avoid more cases in unvaccinated people as rising COVID-19 hospitalizations stretch already limited resources even thinner.

PREVIOUSLY Northland hospitals near capacity again; tired health care leaders urge public to help

Walz, who is expected to run for a second term but hasn’t announced intentions to do so, is continuing to encourage vaccinations through incentive programs after about 83,000 Minnesotans were awarded $100 in the state’s first two initiatives.

His latest effort involves giving $100 to people who complete their vaccine series in areas hit hardest by COVID-19.

“Every shot in the arm is a critical step in stopping the spread of this virus, and local organizations around Minnesota know how to best encourage the communities they serve to get their vaccine,” Walz said in a news release announcing the program on Thursday.

On the topic of energy and climate change, Gazelka favors speeding up the permitting process for mining companies, letting the market drive the shift toward clean energy and remains opposed to Walz's clean-car rule despite a recent poll conducted by MinnPost and Change Research that found a narrow majority of Minnesotans support the rule.

The governor's clean-care rule would require all new cars sold in Minnesota to produce less pollution and have a higher standard of efficiency. It's set to take effect in model year 2025 and would not require anyone to give up their current car and wouldn't limit the types of used cars that can be sold in the state.

Ultimately, Gazelka lauded moving toward clean energy, but not at such a rate that he fears would drive up costs.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's report released in August shows humans can still determine the course of the changing climate, predicted to yield more intense rainfall, drought, sea level rise and ocean warming, which threatens both the ecosystem and the people that rely on it. The IPCC said doing so will require "strong" and "rapid" reductions in the emissions of greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide.

The field so far

These candidates, so far, have announced their intention to seek the Republican nomination for governor in 2022:

  • Former Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka
  • Former State Sen. Michelle Benson
  • Former State Sen. Scott Jensen
  • Activist Bob Carney
  • Businessman Mike Marti
  • Lexington Mayor Mike Murphy
  • Physician Neil Shah