ST PAUL, Minn. — Editor's note: The attached video originally aired on July 22, 2021.
Just days after stepping down from his leadership position in the Minnesota Senate last week, Republican Senator Paul Gazelka made what was long suspected official: He is running for governor, aiming to take down Democratic incumbent Tim Walz in 2022.
At a press conference inside the State Capitol Wednesday morning Gazelka pulled no punches, making it clear he thinks Walz is vulnerable. He immediately brought up what he called the governor's "irresponsible shutdown" of the state during the COVID pandemic, saying Walz misunderstood science and caused hardship and even the collapse of hundreds of bars, restaurants and small businesses.
Gazelka also assailed the governor on the issue of public safety, sharing his take on Walz's response to the unrest that followed the murder of George Floyd.
"His inexcusable lack of leadership during the riots endangered countless families, businesses and communities, and his statements on our National Guard, police and peace officers created unfair mistrust in them, and put their lives at risk," Gazelka alleged.
The state senator's decision was expected by many in the political arena, as Gazelka had hinted for months he was interested in the governor's office.
"The question I am asking myself, 'Is it the right thing to do? Can I actually make a difference for Minnesota doing it?' I think I believe I can,” Gazelka told KARE 11 back in July.
"'Can I do a better job than Governor Walz did?' And I think what I would say is I think people will be looking for a change.”
Democratic leaders do not share the same enthusiasm for Gazelka's candidacy. "At a time when Minnesotans need their elected leaders to look out for them, Senator Paul Gazelka has put his political agenda over the health and safety of Minnesotans," DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin said in a released statement. "Gazelka repeatedly spread dangerous misinformation throughout the pandemic and misled the public about the state of COVID-19 at virtually every turn. His decision to hold a maskless superspreader event led to a COVID-19 outbreak among lawmakers and Senator Jerry Relph died from COVID-19 complications following the event."
Republican Senator Michelle Benson has also thrown her hat in the ring for the governor's seat. She represents a part of Anoka County, and while an accountant by trade, is a four-term lawmaker who has served the Minnesota legislature for 10 years.
At the beginning of September, Sen. Benson said her priorities as governor would be "public safety, education, and frankly making this a place where dreams can grow, where family budgets are protected, where businesses can succeed."
Sen. Benson is considered to be socially conservative, and is known as an expert on health care finance.
If either Sen. Gazelka or Sen. Benson were able to win the governor's race, it would be the first time the GOP claimed a victory there since Tim Pawlenty won his second term in 2006.
Gov. Walz has not yet announced if he'll run for re-election, but said repeatedly that those who disagreed with his response to the COVID pandemic were welcome to vote against him in 2022.
Several other Republicans have launched bids for governor, including Mike Marti, a business owner from Kasson, and Mayor Mike Murphy of Lexington, Minnesota.