Sen. Paul Gazelka

Minnesota Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, is surrounded by supporters, including his wife, Maralee, left, during his announcement, Wednesday, at the State Capitol in St. Paul, that he will run for governor in 2022.

Sen. Paul Gazelka is officially in the race for Governor of Minnesota in 2022.

Gazelka, the four-term District 9 — which includes almost all of Morrison County — state senator from Nisswa, announced his candidacy and launched his campaign Wednesday, at the Minnesota State Capitol. He has served as the Senate Majority Leader for the past five years, before stepping down from the leadership role last week. The move stoked fuel to suspicions that he would run for governor in 2022.

“Fellow Minnesotans, I am honored to be in this majestic building, the seat of our state government, to announce my candidacy for Governor of the state of Minnesota,” he said, opening a 14-minute speech at the capitol.

Gazelka joins an already crowded field of Republicans looking to unseat current governor, Democrat Tim Walz. In order to earn the Republican nomination, he will have to win a primary election against the likes of Sen. Michelle Benson and former Sen. Scott Jensen, both of whom have already thrown their hats in the ring.

During his speech, Wednesday, Gazelka said he has traveled around the state over the last 45 days. In that time, he said he has seen that it is the people who make Minnesota great. He highlighted groups such as the National Guard, police officers, entrepreneurs, business leaders, educators, farmers, medical professionals, both spiritual and community leaders and children, the last of whom he said was “our most precious asset.”

“For all this tremendous human potential that our state holds, we need to look seriously at the crossroads that we are at right now,” he said. “This is a very important moment for Minnesota. To start with where we want to go in the future, we have to look back at where we were the last year and half. This is very, very important.”

He used that as a segue into criticism toward how Walz has handled the COVID-19 pandemic. Gazelka has been outspoken in his disagreements with the governor’s decisions on topics such as shutting down businesses and schools, as well as his handling of riots that occurred in Minneapolis in 2020 following the murder of George Floyd.

He said Walz’s “careless statements” about the National Guard, police and peace officers created mistrust and put their lives at risk.

“He failed an entire generation of children by closing schools, putting them so far behind that it will be difficult for them to catch up,” Gazelka said. “I’m saying, we’re going to help them catch up.”

Ultimately, he characterized Walz’s tenure as governor — which began in January 2019 — as one of mismanagement, distrust, abuse of executive powers and division.

Walz has not yet announced if he will run for re-election in 2022.

“Tim Walz says he wants one Minnesota, but I’ve never seen Minnesotans more divided, angry and afraid than they are today,” Gazelka said. “It’s the failed leadership of Tim Walz that so recklessly endangered our state.”

He then laid out his vision for “a stronger Minnesota.” Gazelka said he looked to a future of Minnesota where families and future generations receive support, and where budget surpluses are returned to taxpayers, “instead of expanding the role of government.” He highlighted the need to develop reliable infrastructure, and to protect the 2nd Amendment of the United States Constitution, pro-life policies and job creation.

He talked about creating an atmosphere where entrepreneurs, business leaders and risk takers can thrive, without fear of being overtaxed or over regulated. His vision for the future of the state included education choice for parents and students, an emphasis on fiscally responsible environmental policy, care for veterans and an atmosphere of balance and respect among elected officials.

“This is my vision for Minnesota,” Gazelka said. “But the vision is just the beginning. It requires hard work and discerning leadership to make it a reality. Our elected officials, community members and citizens all need to work together to make it happen. I’m asking for the help of all of us to make this vision a reality. Without all of us, this will not happen.”

Following the speech, he took several questions from media members who were present. Those questions ranged from how a Republican could win a statewide vote — Minnesota has not had a Republican governor since former Gov. Tim Pawlenty left office in 2010 — to how he would handle COVID-19, to his views on a controversial anti-abortion bill that recently passed in Texas.

To reclaim the Governor’s mansion, Gazelka said republicans needed to build a broader coalition. He said there are Democrat legislators on the Iron Range, including former DFL Sen. Tom Bakk, who said they would support him if he ran.

He said many people, such as blue collar, union workers in northern Minnesota and those in law enforcement, were frustrated with the direction of the state under Walz and the Democrat party.

Gazelka believes that, even in the heavily Democratic-leaning Twin Cities metro area, he can bring new Republican voters into the fold.

“I think the suburban folks are waiting for something different than what we’ve had,” he said. “If you look frankly at what President (Joe) Biden has done as far as the border, or whether it’s Afghanistan, and some of the things he’s done and combine that with Tim Walz, you see that there’s a shift.”

In terms of COVID-19, Gazelka emphasized that he has always taken the virus seriously. He reminded those in attendance that he, himself, had contracted the virus. He also said he got vaccinated and believed other adults should follow suit.

What he disagreed with, he said, was mandating people to receive the vaccination.

“As we’re moving forward, we all have to think about how we’re living our lives and what we need to do to be safe,” Gazelka said.

He discussed his ability to work across the aisle. Among his accomplishments, he listed being able to help pass three two-year budgets without tax increases while working with a Democrat-controlled House of Representatives and Governor’s office each time.

He said being an effective governor takes working with Democrats while also not alienating his Republican base. He pointed to his record on pro-life and 2nd Amendment issues to show his ability to govern as a conservative Republican, while still getting necessary work done.

“That is my responsibility, to build those bridges,” Gazelka said. “People ask me — I supported President (Donald) Trump. I have pictures in the car with him, smiling, and I tell people that I also have pictures with Walz and (former Gov. Mark) Dayton smiling. I’m a collaborator. I build bridges, I move the agenda... Each of the decisions I’ve made, I think, are where the people of Minnesota want us to go.”

Gazelka was asked how he would create separation between himself and other Republican candidates looking to unseat Walz. He is the sixth person, so far, to announce his candidacy.

He said his record spoke for itself on issues such as pro-life policy and vaccinations.

One of his primary opponents, Jensen, who is also a physician, has publicly questioned the safety of COVID-19 vaccines and the severity of the pandemic itself. On other issues, such as the 2nd Amendment and health care, Gazelka said Jensen has traditionally taken a more moderate stance than he has himself.

He said such differences exist throughout the field, and people will have to decide for themselves who among them is best suited to be the next governor of Minnesota.

“Like I said, there’s a bunch of good candidates out there,” Gazelka said. “And so it begins.”

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