Simpson comes out of political retirement to help in gov. race
Jeff Johnson may be a Detroit Lakes native, but one of his opponents in the upcoming Republican primary for governor has a secret weapon – Dean Simpson.
Simpson, the lieutenant governor candidate on the ticket with Kurt Zellers, owns Dean’s Country Market grocery stores in Perham and New York Mills, and was a popular three-term member of the Minnesota House from 2003 to 2009.
He represented townships in Becker, Otter Tail and Wadena counties and rose to the position of assistant minority leader.
“I kind of thought I was done with the political thing,” he said during a stop in Detroit Lakes Wednesday. “About a year ago, Kurt asked me if I would help with the race.”
A month or so ago, Zellers called again with another request – that Simpson serve as his running mate.
“It took a little soul-searching to get back into it,” Simpson said. “But I thought Kurt was in the right place at the right time, and that he was the right person to make this work.”
The two knew and liked each other from their time together in the Legislature. “We worked together on taxes and commerce (committees),” Simpson said.
Both were “farm boys,” with Simpson growing up in Minnesota and Zellers on a family farm near Devils Lake, N.D. “We hit it off well,” Simpson said.
Zellers was mildly criticized recently by Johnson’s running mate, former State Rep. Bill Kuisle, for being involved in a shutdown of state government while he was speaker of the House, a position he held in 2011 and 2012.
“Government shutdowns are never a good thing,” Simpson said. “I think you need to do everything you can not to have them.”
But the blame could just as easily be put on DFL Gov. Mark Dayton as on Zellers, Simpson said.
“We were just coming out of the recession and Gov. Dayton was looking to raise all kinds of taxes, it was bad timing for that,” Simpson said.
“I’m not sure you can point fingers at any one person, it’s a three-ring circus with the House, the Senate and governor’s office,” he said with a laugh.
Simpson said Zellers “turned a $6 billion (state budget) deficit into a $2 billion surplus, and he did it without raising taxes.”
Zellers is the “only person running for governor who has sat across from Gov. Dayton to negotiate deals. He has a way with people and he can get things done,” he added.
Primary voters on Aug. 12 should look at Zellers’ “ability to lead, and his ability to stop the tax increases and try to make government more accountable,” Simpson said.
“For every tax dollar we’re spending, are we getting $1 worth of value? That’s something we need to make sure we’re doing.”
Priorities for the state should be revamping the education system to match well-paying manufacturing jobs with handy, tech-savvy students. “The factories of today are not the factories of 30 years ago,” he said. Workers are needed trained in things like robotics and computerized metal cutting.
“We need to change our education system a little bit to make sure people are trained in what they need to be trained in,” he said. High schools may offer advanced classes for college credit, but they should also offer vocational-technology skills in demand by Minnesota manufacturers.
The goal is to keep outstate Minnesota communities strong and healthy.
“There are some tremendous opportunities out there,” Simpson said. “If you can work at BTD and live in Detroit Lakes and raise a family, how much better is it?”
Lack of affordable housing is also a problem in outstate Minnesota.
“I hear about it everywhere I go,” Simpson said.
People may be able to buy a buildable city lot for $1,000, but if it comes with $20,000 in special assessments attached, that makes it unaffordable, he said.
“If you build a $150,000 house, you don’t want 10 to 15 percent infrastructure costs against them,” he said.
Zellers and Simpson will share the Republican gubernatorial ballot with four other teams: Jeff Johnson and Bill Kuisle; Marty Seifert and Pam Myhra; Scott Honour and Karin Housley; and Merrill Anderson and Mark Anderson.
“Just get out and vote in that primary Aug. 12,” Simpson said. “We have to have that vote so we can carry on to take on Gov. Dayton. Under his leadership we will continue to see growth in government and tax-and-spend.”
If Zellers and Simpson prevail in the primary and go on to defeat Dayton (who must win a primary of his own against marginal opposition) Simpson says his role as lieutenant governor will be to promote trade and economic development, and to serve as a liaison between the governor’s office and the Legislature.
“Our opponents are all good people, I just think our plan is better,” Simpson said.