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Sen. Michelle Benson joins Minnesota governor's race

The Ham Lake Republican says she'll prioritize public safety, and criticized the state's handling of the pandemic.

Minnesota Sen. Michelle Benson has joined the growing list of Republicans running for governor in 2022. 

Benson, a four-term senator from Ham Lake, is the first woman to join the governor's race, and if elected would be the first woman to serve as governor of Minnesota. 

“I am an unwavering conservative fighter who will prioritize public safety, empower parents in education, and lead an opportunity economy," Benson said in a news release

Benson, an accountant, grew up on a farm in Murdock, Minnesota, and went on to earn a bachelor's degree in chemistry from St. Catherine University and an MBA from the University of St. Thomas, her website says. Before running for office, she consulted for Deloitte and was the executive director at the Upper Midwest Security Alliance.

She was first elected to the Minnesota Senate in 2010 to represent Senate District 31 in the northern Twin Cities suburbs. She served as deputy majority leader and currently chairs the health and human services finance and policy committee. 

In a YouTube video announcing her candidacy, she criticizes Gov. Tim Walz and Democrats for their "extreme agenda" that is dividing Minnesota with "radical, leftist policies."

She criticized Walz for "shutting down schools, and crippling neighborhood businesses" during a pandemic that has claimed the lives of more than 640,000 Americans, saying "the science and common sense says it’s safe to keep them open."

Her website lists 12 priorities as governor, which include many popular GOP talking points. Among them:

  • Prioritizing public safety.
  • An energy policy that includes pipelines and market-driven renewable energy, but no new gas taxes — she adds that projects that pass the state's environmental review "should move forward and not get bogged down by politics."
  • Election rules, including "voter verification"
  • Lower taxes
  • Education "that puts parents in charge"
  • Second Amendment rights
  • Protecting private data and increasing government transparency
  • Patient-centered healthcare that's affordable through competition and innovation

Minnesota DFL Party Chair Ken Martin released a statement on Benson's announcement, criticizing her record in the Minnesota Legislature, saying she has worked to "strip health care away from millions of Minnesotans" and "belittled those suffering under the skyrocketing costs of insulin," as well as "championed legislation" to allow businesses to discriminate against same-sex couples, spread "dangerous misinformation" about COVID-19, and made it "easier for dangerous people to get guns."

Benson joins a growing list of Republican candidates for governor. The others include: 

  • Former state Sen. Scott Jensen, a doctor who has gained a following for his position on COVID-19, including opposing masks and the state's handling of the pandemic. One of his main issues is also addressing the state's "crime epidemic."
  • Neil Shah, a dermatologist who also opposes how current state leaders handled COVID-19 and wants to stop the "woke mob in our streets and our classrooms."
  • Lexington Mayor Mike Murphy, whose main issues are to "supercharge the economy by gutting taxes" following the pandemic, supporting law enforcement and banning critical race theory and "social justice" in schools.

And Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, may also be on the list of GOP candidates in 2022. 

Hours before Benson formally announced her candidacy for governor, Gazelka said he was stepping down as Senate Majority Leader after five years. He has been mulling a run for governor in 2022, and previously said he would step down prior to entering the race. 

Gazelka said Wednesday he's still leaning toward running for governor but says he doesn't plan to announce his next step until after the Minnesota State Fair. 

"Sen. Benson, she's a good senator and she's a good candidate if I perhaps get in the race, then I would certainly talk about how I might be a stronger candidate, but she's good — I'm glad she's getting in the race. She's a first-class person," Gazelka said on WCCO Radio Wednesday morning.

Gov. Walz, a Democrat, has not formally announced if he'll run again in 2022. Though he's expected to and has made comments encouraging people who are mad at the state's COVID-19 restrictions to follow them so they'll be alive to vote against him in 2022. 

Candidates for governor and other state offices in 2022 can file their affidavit of candidacy during the filing period, which is May 17-May 31, 2022, according to the Secretary of State's Office

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