The soon-to-be-former senate majority leader Paul Gazelka has announced he is running for governor.
The East Gull Lake senator confirmed his run on Wednesday morning, as he seeks the Republican nomination to run against Gov. Tim Walz in 2022.
He ascended to the role of senate majority leader in 2016, a role he announced last week he would be stepping down from as he mulled his gubernatorial run.
He identified as his successes during his time leading the Senate as helping approve budgets "without raising taxes," blocking an "exhaustive list of policies pursued by the DFL," and helping increase the GOP's majority in the Senate in special elections and "by strategically attracting centrist Democrats to join our efforts."
During his announcement, he criticized Walz for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed almost 8,000 Minnesotans and hospitalized tens of thousands, calling him "irresponsible" for closing restaurants and businesses in the spring lockdown of 2020 and the smaller shutdown while COVID was peaking in November/December.
He also accused Walz – himself a former teacher – of failing "an entire generation of children by closing schools" to in-person learning in an effort to mitigate the spread of the virus.
Last November, Senate Republicans held a post-election in-person party as COVID cases were rising in the state, which subsequently led to an outbreak that resulted in Gazelka himself testing positive for the virus, and fellow Sen. Jerry Relph dying from it.
Gazelka's website currently lists three "issues" his campaign will focus on: public safety, the economy, and education, with the public safety section focusing on recent crime issues in the Twin Cities and efforts to replace the Minneapolis Police Department, which is the subject of a federal civil rights investigation in the wake of George Floyd's murder by a serving officer.
He believes he could become the first Republican to win a statewide election in Minnesota since 2007 with the help of support from the Iron Range, saying former DFLer-turned-Independent Tom Bakk, who now caucuses with the Republicans, supports him.
And Gazelka, who cites his Christian faith as a prominent influence on his life, did not answer when asked Wednesday if he supports an abortion law such as that imposed this past week in Texas, which rewards residents with $10,000 for suing anyone who "aids or abets" an abortion after 6 weeks. Gazelka is anti-abortion.
Gazelka's tenure as a state politician seen a share of controversies. During the debate over banning gay conversion therapy, his child Gemma Gazelka accused him of sending them to "sexual-identity conversion" as a teen, something he denies.
Last year also saw him become an increasingly vocal opponent to mask mandates, business shutdowns, and the closure of in-person teaching to mitigate the spread COVID-19. He was saying as early as July 2020 that Walz's emergency powers should end, saying the "emergency part of the pandemic is over."
More recently, he has opposed COVID vaccine mandates such as that introduced by Gov. Walz for state employees, who will have to comply with weekly testing if they're not vaccinated. Gazelka has himself said he is vaccinated for the virus and encourages people to take it, but that it shouldn't be required. Walz has rejected any suggestion he would impose a statewide "vaccine passport."
And Gazelka was also among those named in allegations by legal marijuana candidates who said they had been asked by Republicans to run in 2020 swing districts to help take votes away from the DFL – which backs the legalization of recreational marijuana.
He will face competition from fellow state senator Michelle Benson, North Oaks dermatologist Dr. Neil Shah, Lexington mayor Mike Murphy, former state senator Dr. Scott Jensen, and businessman Matt Marti.
Of his opponents, Gazelka said that Jensen, who has increasingly aligned himself with the anti-vaxxer movement, is more moderate than him.