Osmek entry pushes GOP governor field to 10

State Sen. Dave Osmek, R-Mound, announces his bid for governor with a pledge to fight for Minnesota values. Brian Bakst | MPR News

State Sen. Dave Osmek, a steadfast conservative known for blunt talk, launched a campaign for governor Tuesday with a pledge to fight for “Minnesota values.”

Osmek, of Mound, is the 10th Republican to declare his 2018 candidacy in a field that could get even bigger before voters start to narrow down the choices. DFL Gov. Mark Dayton is leaving after two terms, creating a scramble on both sides.

They’ll compete first for the party endorsement at next spring’s state convention, with an August primary race possible to set the stage for November.

“If you want a fighter to fight for your values, I’m your guy. I’m not going to play Minnesota Nice. I’m going to go to bat for those values,” Osmek said, surrounded by his family and supporters.

He describes Minnesota values as hard work over handouts and playing by the rules to get ahead. Osmek promised to scrap the Metropolitan Council and scuttle planned light-rail expansions if elected. He said he would consider eliminating Minnesota’s state-based health insurance exchange.

His populist tone echoed the one that paid off for President Donald Trump’s campaign, although Trump fell short of winning Minnesota.

“I’m not going to be the person the establishment is going to like because I’m going to follow those core values that I was brought up with. Am I appealing to Trump voters? No,” Osmek said. “I’m appealing to every voter in Minnesota.”

Osmek said he’ll seek the GOP endorsement next spring and leave the race if he doesn’t get it.

Away from the Legislature, he’s currently a project manager at insurance giant UnitedHealth Group. He previously served on the Mound city council.

Osmek’s candidacy is the first from a sitting state senator, which is notable given his party’s 34-33 control in that chamber. The departure of any Republican ahead of 2020 would force a special election, giving the DFL a chance to swing the tide. That said, Osmek hails from a reliably conservative district and ran up big numbers in his two victories. Osmek wouldn’t have to give up his seat in the Senate if he’s not elected governor.

He is chairman of the Senate Energy and Utilities Finance and Policy Committee. He gained attention last year for being the sole legislator to vote against an internet privacy measure, which he said hadn’t received proper vetting. It ultimately got shelved in late-session negotiations.

But he’s also been one of the loudest critics of light-rail expansion efforts, a stance that resonates with many in his party.

The burgeoning field of Republicans includes: state Rep. Matt Dean, a former House majority leader; former state GOP chairman Keith Downey; Ramsey County Commissioner Blake Huffman; and Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, the party’s 2014 nominee. There are five candidates who haven’t held prior office: Chris Chamberlin, Nikolay Bey, Phillip Parrish, Ole Savior and Jeffrey Wharton.

Democrats also have a robust field featuring: St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman; state Rep. Erin Murphy, a former House majority leader; state Rep. Tina Liebling; State Auditor Rebecca Otto; state Rep. Paul Thissen, a former House speaker; and U.S. Rep. Tim Walz.

There are heavyweights in both parties still considering whether to enter the race.

  • Christopher William Chamberlin

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