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Philbrook launches campaign for governor

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Bud Philbrook has held political office. He served one term in the Minnesota House in the '70s. His more notable career trajectory has been as president and CEO of Global Volunteers. It's a non-profit organization that sends volunteers all over the world. (MPR Photo/Annie Baxter)
The gubernatorial election is more than a year off. But several DFL candidates have already announced their candidacy. On Sunday Bud Philbrook, the head of a global volunteer organization became the 4th DFLer to enter the race at a picnic attended by 200 or so supporters. Philbrook is a Minnesota native with little political experience. But he's hoping his "outsider" status will give him a competitive edge.

Maplewood, Minn. — One of the most striking moments at Bud Philbrook's campaign announcement occurred when about a dozen of his family members clambered onto the stage in the pavilion at Battle Creek Regional Park in Maplewood. Their strawberry-colored hair and ruddy complexions showed off the family's Irish roots. And their spirited rendition of the song "you are my sunshine" captured the informal tone of Philbrook's campaign.

Philbrook's no political insider. He has held political office, but that was back in the '70s, when he served in the Minnesota House of Representatives for one term. His more notable career trajectory has been as president and CEO of Global Volunteers. It's a non-profit organization that sends volunteers all over the world.

Philbrook pointed to his organization's accomplishments as evidence of his public service record.

"We build schools, and health clinics, and community centers. We care for vulnerable and at risk children, children that are in failure to thrive clinics. Street kids, orphaned kids, abandoned kids," he said.

Philbrook is a moderate Democrat who carries the basic party message on increasing education funding through more taxation. But he says as governor, he would reach out to Republicans. He says the current government's partisanship is causing the public to lose faith in politics, especially after the partial government shutdown this past summer.

"People are very disillusioned. It's sad how disillusioned they are. The other night, a woman said she's looking for honesty, but she thinks honesty's a lost art in politics. That's just a shame, that's just sad. We need to restore that confidence in the public," he said.

Philbrook's banking on his outsider status to cut through that disillusionment in his bid for governor. And Minnesota is the kind of place that welcomes outsiders, according to political science professor Joe Kunkel, of Minnesota State University in Mankato. Kunkel says former Gov. Jesse Ventura is an outsider "success" story. But he says outsiders always need a little extra something to package their appeal, and Ventura had it.

"It's either money, a certain type of charisma, an outsider celebrity, like Ventura from wrestling," according to Kunkel. "If you don't have the base within the political party and the credibility of having held related office, then you have to have something else."

Kunkel says that "something else" could come through grassroots support, which is what Bud Philbrook says he's appealing to. But Kunkel says being 'grassroots is no substitute for being organized.

"Sometime when people don't have any money or staff help or interest group connections, that's all they can claim to have is grassroots. And you're going to need more than that. You're going to need masses of people who are well organized. That's the harder part of grassroots to deliver," he said.

Kunkel says it's unclear whether gubernatorial candidate Bud Philbrook, who's faced with a growing slate of Democratic rivals, can attract that kind of grassroots support.

Philbrook, who says he'll run in the primary even if he doesn't get the party endorsement, faces opposition from Sen. Steve Kelley, real estate developer Kelly Doran and perennial candidate Ole Savior. Attorney General Mike Hatch is expected to announce his intentions sometime this month.