Republican Gazelka to enter governor’s race

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Former Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka is shedding his title as a state legislator, but he’s looking to move to the executive branch in 2022.

Gazelka announced his run for governor on Wednesday. He made a 9 a.m. announcement at the Capitol in St. Paul.

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In his news conference, Gazelka targeted Gov. Tim Walz for his response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the unrest that followed last summer’s death of George Floyd. Gazelka also faulted the governor for closing down public schools.

Gazelka has been a staunch critic of Walz, particularly with regards to his use of peacetime emergency powers during the coronavirus pandemic.

During an event in Rochester to highlight in-person learning and COVID-19 vaccination, Walz said, about Gazelka running, "I wish him all the best. Our system is dependant on people putting themselves out there to run and we will debate the issues to determine who Minnesotans think is better prepared and is willing to make hard decisions to protect them."

Last week, Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said he planned to step down from his post as his chamber’s top Republican and would not seek reelection during the midterms. During a news conference at the Minnesota State Fair last Wednesday, Gazelka said he was "leaning towards running for governor."

Just hours after Gazelka announced he was stepping down from his Senate leadership position last week, Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, declared she was running for governor at a campaign event in Blaine. Former GOP Sen. Scott Jensen is also running for his party’s gubernatorial nomination.

Click here to see KSTP’s running list of candidates who’ve announced plans to run for governor.