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DFLer Kelley puts run for governor in motion
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Before announcing his intention to run for governor at the Capitol, Kelley announced his intentions to family and friends at a park in Hopkins. (MPR Photo/Ted Clement)
DFL state Sen. Steve Kelley says he's in the race for governor next year. The Hopkins resident says his campaign will focus on his bread and butter issue, education. He says the state is drifting toward mediocrity under Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty and needs a change. But Republicans says he's not the one to bring that change.

St. Paul, Minn. — Standing in front of a yellow school bus with friends and family, Kelley announced his bid for governor. Wearing a kelly green tie, of course, Kelley said he would focus on core Democratic issues if he's elected governor. He says his campaign will be about improving Minnesota's quality of life.

"If we want more jobs, better roads, clean water and affordable health care, we must care a lot more about the education of our youth today," he said.

Kelley served in the Minnesota Senate since 1996. Prior to that, he was in the Minnesota House for four years.

Kelley's been a leading advocate on issues involving technology. He's also been a constant foil to Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Kelley played a large part in the ouster of Cheri Pierson-Yecke, Pawlenty's first choice for education commissioner. As the chair of the Senate Education Committee, Kelley has also criticized the governor's budget proposals. He said the state is headed in the wrong direction under Pawlenty.

"This governor wants us to believe that we as citizens have to choose between good public schools and affordable health care. Between transportation and economic growth. that's not the Minnesota way. We don't go for good enough. We go for great," Kelley said.

Kelley isn't the only DFLer thinking about the state's top job. Attorney General Mike Hatch and Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson say they're both thinking about running for governor. Former state legislator Bud Philbrook is also actively campaigning.

Republican Sen. Dick Day of Owatonna called Kelley a well liked, knowledgeable senator. Day, who supports Gov. Pawlenty, says Kelley's toughest task in the upcoming campaign is to distinguish himself from the many other candidates who may run.

"I'm not in the Democratic Party but just as an outsider moving around the state talking to people, all of those names seem to be likely candidates and Sen. Kelley has his work cut out for him to beat all of them who might want to run for governor," according to Day.

A DFLer has not been elected governor since 1986. Kelley says he thinks he's the one to break the streak because he'll attract swing voters and moderate Republicans who are upset about school funding.

Republicans wasted no time criticizing Kelley. They labelled him "Status Quo Steve" for not supporting Gov. Pawlenty's education reform ideas. Bill Walsh, executive director of the Minnesota Republican Party, also criticized Kelley's close ties to the state's teachers' union. Walsh says Kelley should run for president of the teachers' union instead of running for governor.

"He's been carrying the union's special-interest baggage for all of this time. He'd be more suited to that niche. That's who he's represented in the Legislature. That's who he's represented in the education community, not the broader public," Walsh said.

Gov. Pawlenty refused to comment about Kelley's campaign. The governor said he couldn't talk about politics while travelling on official state business. Pawlenty was flying around the state on Wednesday touting his budget proposal.