Updated at 11:15 a.m. with comments from Johnson
By Brian Bakst, MPR News
Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, the 2014 Republican nominee for governor, announced Wednesday he would try again to capture the state’s top political office next year.
Johnson is the seventh Republican, and 13th candidate overall, to enter an incumbent-free race that promises to be expensive and explosive.
Outside groups have already signaled they’ll play big in Minnesota, one of the last places in the Midwest with a Democratic chief executive.
Johnson announced his campaign with a three-minute video, where he barges in on a party of special interests. He promises to take on a state government culture he argues is filled with cronyism and overbearing laws.
“I’m ready. I’m tested,” he says. “Join me in the fight to reclaim our state and the fight to return power, opportunity and freedom to you and every citizen of this great state of Minnesota.”
Johnson said he would cap property tax increases, loosen state mandates on schools and create an automatic refund trigger when the state has surpluses.
He’s banking on Republican delegates giving him a second shot. He won the party’s endorsement the last time and that held up in a four-way primary. But Johnson lost to DFL Gov. Mark Dayton by a 50-44 margin.
“I don’t feel like I was ‘rejected’ in the last election. I feel like I was running against a very popular incumbent. That there was a feeling, we could see this in polling, that things were going well in Minnesota. I would disagree with that,” Johnson said in an interview Wednesday. “But that was certainly the overriding theme. And I won independents by a very large margin. Frankly, I didn’t do enough to make sure Republicans were excited to show up and vote for me.”
Johnson said the 2018 atmosphere will be different and he believes he can capitalize.
He has about $30,000 left from that campaign, which he can use to get his new effort off the ground.
Johnson spent part of last year helping organize support in Minnesota for then-presidential candidate Marco Rubio, who won the state’s presidential caucus. But he pivoted to adopt some of the themes of eventual nominee and current President Donald Trump, including publication of a newspaper commentary piece saying “St. Paul needs its swamp drained just as much as Washington.”
Johnson said the overlapping themes between his nascent campaign and Trump’s winning message aren’t deliberate. He said it has more to do with what he’s heard from Minnesota voters.
Of Trump, Johnson said, “I think he’s doing fine. I don’t agree with everything he does. I don’t agree with everything he says. But I think the general direction he’s trying to take the country I agree with.”
The former state legislator from Plymouth is making his third run for a statewide office. He ran unsuccessfully in 2006 for attorney general.