Former Rep. Paul Gazelka, a rural Brainerd Republican, will challenge Sen. Paul Koering, R-Fort Ripley, for the GOP's Senate District 12 endorsement.
The insurance agency owner said Tuesday his education and business background as well as his two years in the Minnesota House would serve him well as he works on state issues.
Koering, the two-term incumbent, has some views that are out of touch with his constituents, Gazelka said. As examples he cited a 2007 bill Koering supported that called for universal health care and a vote Koering cast for Sen. James Metzen, DFL-St. Paul, for Senate president instead of the Republican candidate.
Gazelka, 49, said Koering was one of five authors of a universal health care bill.
"That is exactly the opposite of where Republicans are," Gazelka said. "I believe the more things we ask government to do the more we have to trade in our freedoms."
The former state lawmaker said the vote for Senate president is largely a formality but when legislators support someone they typically vote for the person who best reflects their political views. Gazelka said the Republican candidate, Sen. Dennis Frederickson, R-New Ulm, was pro-life while Metzen was not.
"There's no reason to do that," Gazelka said of Koering's vote for Metzen. "I just thought it was incredibly strange."
Asked if there were other Koering votes he disagreed with, Gazelka said he thinks Koering's position on how to define marriage differed from District 12 constituents who believe marriage is defined as being between a man and a woman. Gazelka said Koering's votes have been mixed on that issue. Gazelka cited a vote in which Koering voted to not allow the Defense of Marriage Act bill to come to a vote before the full Senate, effectively killing the bill. Gazelka said he supported changes to the state's constitution that would use the traditional marriage definition "so activist judges couldn't overturn 100 years of law."
Gazelka said he would support the endorsement process and would not run in the primary if he failed to win the endorsement.
The candidate was asked if he would support Koering if the incumbent receives the endorsement.
"Support is a broad definition," Gazelka said. "I support issues rather than supporting a candidate."
He said that in the case of particular issues Koering might promote that Gazelka disagreed with then the former representative would not support the endorsed candidate.
Koering has not officially announced his bid for re-election but has said he will run again.
Gazelka said in a phone interview that he thinks he has the best chance of retaining the District 12 seat for Republicans and wasn't interested in another bid for House District 12A.
During his two years representing House District 12A, Gazelka said he helped bring Teen Challenge, an organization that helps people fight addiction, to the area. He also worked on banning pseudoephedrine from over-the-counter sales, virtually shutting down meth lab production in the Brainerd area. He said he provided insight from his professional experience to the Senior Long Term Care Partnership bill. He said the legislation allows seniors to protect more of their assets when needing government assistance with the costs of long-term care. He also served as vice chair of the Commerce Committee and worked on pro-life and family legislation.
Gazelka said he would like to establish a long-term care/assisted living center for veterans at the Brainerd Regional Treatment Center.
"We have the land and a centralized location for this but the Veterans Administration has also been looking at two other locations in the state," he said in the news release.
Gazelka said the biggest issue is addressing what he termed out of control government spending. He pointed out that when he was in the Legislature the state dealt with a $4 billion budget shortfall, balancing the budget without raising taxes.
"To me, businesses are the ones that create the jobs for our area," he said. "It's important we have a tax structure that encourages businesses to come to Minnesota or to stay in Minnesota."
Although campaigning in the southern part of the district will be new to him, Gazelka said he thinks that once the people of Morrison County get to know his views he'll be well received. He said those views include supporting jobs from the private sector, controlling government spending, pro-private rights, pro-gun rights and pro-life.
"I really do think right now people are looking for less government expansion," he said. Gazelka, a graduate of Oral Roberts University, was elected in 2004 and served one two-year term in the House.
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