In an interview last week, Commissioner Mike Opat from Hennepin County’s First District said he is considering running for Governor. Although he noted that his “decision will be made by Labor Day,” recent media coverage indicates that Commissioner Opat has
already begun testing the waters.
As noted in the media over the past several weeks, the final stages of the new Twins’ stadium downtown–the very stadium that Commissioner Opat championed when it was before the legislature in 2006–are near completion. When asked about his role in the new stadium, Mike Opat stated “it was a tough call,” and that when it came down to supporting it as a commissioner, the question he kept asking himself was “are we better off with baseball or without it.”
Some have argued that the stadium was an unnecessary expense, but Commissioner Opat defended his decision by stating that he believes “we are better off with [the new stadium].” He pointed out that government partners with other sectors in similar ways. “Contrast it with the lack of criticism [regarding the building of] the Guthrie,” he added. The stadium brings with it “economic activity and construction jobs,” and therefore “it seemed reasonable,” he said.
Commissioner Opat recently submitted an editorial to the Star Tribune, criticizing the DFL’s handling of the budget crisis. When asked about his impetus for writing it he proclaimed that he was “watching the dust settle from the session.” He concluded that “DFLers had missed the point,” and that in contrast to the governor, “there wasn’t a clear message at the capitol,” from the DFL-controlled legislature.
“There was plenty of time to develop the message and it did not happen. They should have emerged with a policy and sold it throughout Minnesota and asked local officials to join them,” he explained.
When asked how the DFL could do a better job at reaching voters, Mike Opat said pointedly: “We need to connect; we have to have a clear message about the DFL philosophy in 2009.” He continued, “Given the economic crisis, our neighbors are hurting, regardless of their political views. The idea that we can hold government harmless from that is not selling–government needs to shrink.”
When asked about his thoughts on Tim Pawlenty’s announcement not to seek a third term, he had this to say: “I’m not surprised by it. Third term governors have a tough go of it.”
After pressing the issue further, I asked Commissioner Opat his views on the current field of candidates on both sides of the aisle. With respect to DFL candidates: “I haven’t picked one yet, I’ve met with a few, [and there are] a lot of good people in the race, but I want to know their vision for Minnesota. We have had Democratic candidates that can win endorsements but not in the general.”
Looking at the Republican bench, Mike Opat said that he thought former Pawlenty chief of staff “Charlie Weaver would be a tough candidate [because] he’s personable and knowledgeable.” He added that Mr. Weaver, however, would have a “tough time” obtaining the party’s endorsement. He also stated that he thought Rep. Laura Brod (MN-25A) was a good pick, and that she is “young and energetic.” He also thought Congressman Ramstad would be a good pick but would also face difficulty in getting the party’s endorsement.
In the end, Commissioner Opat felt that all the Republican candidates are beatable with the right message. He believes that “the right Democratic message will win the suburbs” and thus the Governorship in 2010.