ST. PAUL — Dave Thompson, who made his name as a conservative talk show host, says he stands out from other Republican gubernatorial candidates because he can work with Democrats and Republicans alike.
"I don't like to put one set of Minnesotans against another," he said Wednesday as he became the fourth person to join the GOP race to take on Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton.
"I will be there for that farmer ... that window maker in Warroad ... that shoemaker in Red Wing and ... that single mother in East Grand Forks," he said.
Thompson, like other Republicans, criticized a $2 billion tax increase the Democratic-controlled Legislature and Dayton approved this year. He said Democrats treated Minnesota taxpayers "like an ATM machine."
Thompson said good jobs are important for Minnesotans and that does not come from higher taxes.
He talked about billboards going up in Minnesota saying: "North Dakota open for business."
"I plan to turn that around and say we are open, too," Thompson said.
He also called for financial help, perhaps in the form of a tuition tax credit, that would allow parents to put their children in private schools if their local public schools are not adequate.
He said his failed attempts to overturn state law that sometimes forces people to be represented by unions will not hurt his campaign. He said "the union machine" that runs unions has become disconnected from its members, and regular union members can support him.
Labor leaders wasted no time blasting the new candidate.
"If you asked anyone in Minnesota's labor movement to identify a politician in our state who best resembles Scott Walker-style politics, they would point to Dave Thompson," state AFL-CIO President Shar Knutson said, referring to the Republican Wisconsin governor who ended public union power in his state. "Since entering the state Senate, Dave Thompson has made eroding all Minnesota workers' rights, wages and benefits his top priority."
Thompson, 52, is the second University of North Dakota graduate to get into the governor's race this week. Former House Speaker Kurt Zellers, 43, also attended the Grand Forks school. A third Republican in the race, Detroit Lakes, Minn., native Jeff Johnson, graduated from another Red River Valley school: Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn.
The state senator is an East Grand Forks, High School graduate. He moved there with his mother and sister after spending his younger years in Little Falls, Minn., where his parents ran a motel before divorcing.
While Thompson, North Dakota native Zellers and Johnson all have roots outside the Twin Cities, Scott Honour, the other announced GOP candidate, was raised in a Twin Cities suburb and lives in the western part of the metropolitan area.
Two rural Republicans are considering the race, state Sen. Julie Rosen of Fairmont and former state Rep. Marty Seifert of Marshall. Others eying the race are Senate Minority Leader David Hann of Eden Prairie and former House Majority Leader Matt Dean of Dellwood.
Republicans draw most of their support from suburbs and rural Minnesota, with little backing in Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth. Suburbanites Zellers and Johnson have emphasized their rural roots, while Honour said he traveled the state installing boat lifts for his father's business.
Thompson, an assistant Senate minority leader, is a former KSTP radio talk show host, a lawyer and state senator since 2011. His district serves parts of Dakota and Goodhue counties.
Thompson and his wife, Rhonda, were married in 1985 and have a son and a daughter.