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Hutchinson sees voter angst as his call to action

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Peter Hutchinson prepares to announce his candidacy for governor at a breakfast Wednesday morning. (MPR Photo/Laura McCallum)
Peter Hutchinson officially launched his campaign for Minnesota governor before a crowd of more than 1,000 people on Wed. The public policy consultant is running as an Independence Party candidate. Hutchinson doesn't have the name recognition of other major-party candidates in the race, but says he can win by appealing to Minnesotans tired of partisan gridlock.

Minneapolis, Minn. — Peter Hutchinson formally entered the governor's race during a glitzy fundraising breakfast. About 1,100 people packed a ballroom at the Minneapolis Hilton, as a slickly-produced video tribute to Hutchinson featured accolades from former Medtronic CEO Bill George and Hutchinson's wife and daughters, among others. Amid music and flashing lights, Hutchinson took the stage, seemingly surprised at the attention...

Hutchinson joked that the audience was committing an act of civil disobedience by supporting his campaign.

"Don't you know that the conventional wisdom has it set that this could never happen? To participate in this conspiracy is about the best thing that could happen in Minnesota," he said.

Hutchinson says Minnesota's political system is broken, marked by partisan sniping and government shutdown. He says his campaign will focus on the issues he believes Minnesotans care about - education, health care, transportation and the environment, rather than divisive social issues that he dubs the "five G's."

"Guns, gays, God, gambling and gynecology," he said.

Hutchinson says Minnesotans are tired of legislative sessions dominated by abortion, gay marriage and concealed carry debates. He says his highest priority as governor would be controlling rising health care costs, which threaten to consume the state budget. He says Minnesota should be able to offer world-class health care to citizens at the lowest cost in the nation. But during a news conference after his announcement, Hutchinson offered few specifics, saying he would gather experts together to figure out a better system.

"Because the one we have is not going to last; it's not going to last. It's not sustainable. The doctors can't work in this system, the providers can't afford it, and the employers want to get out of it," according to Hutchinson. Hutchinson says he doesn't think the state needs to raise taxes to fund its priorities, although he supports a gas tax increase for transportation, and says the state should broaden the sales tax, possibly to include clothing. Hutchinson has a long resume of public policy experience, having served as state finance commissioner in the late '80s and as Minneapolis school superintendent in the '90s. He's never run for office before, and says his style is somewhere in between the last two Independence Party gubernatorial candidates - the flamboyant Jesse Ventura and the wonkish Tim Penny.

Supporters at his campaign kick-off came from across the political spectrum. Brandon Lacy, who considers himself a Green Party member, was a Minneapolis high school student when Hutchinson ran the school district.

"He was an effective leader, a capable leader, and had a really strong vision for the schools that panned out, and I don't know that there's been a superintendent since him that has had that level of impact," Lacy said.

Another Hutchinson supporter, Molly Rice of Minneapolis, is a registered Republican. She's known Hutchinson for a couple of decades, and likes his focus on fiscal matters.

"And I am sick of the gridlock. And I love the five G's. I think that's brilliant, I think it's absolutely dead-on true, and I am in support of keeping the main thing the main thing and not getting distracted," she said.

Hutchinson says he's getting a lot of support from disgruntled Republicans and Democrats, and has raised more than $200,000 so far. That's a good showing for a third party candidate. But DFL state party chair Brian Melendez doesn't think Hutchinson will have much impact on the race.

"What I've heard is that he's getting a lot of Republican money from supporters of Tim Pawlenty who are hoping that he is going to be a spoiler, and if that's really what his campaign is based on, I think that's unfortunate," Melendez said.

Democrats running for governor are real estate developer Kelly Doran, Attorney General Mike Hatch and state senators Steve Kelley and Becky Lourey.

Hutchinson says he's not running to split the DFL vote and reelect Pawlenty. But some political observers think that could happen. Four years ago, IP candidate Tim Penny got 16-percent of the vote, which likely contributed to Pawlenty's victory. Pawlenty hasn't officially announced he's running again, but Pawlenty's campaign says it welcomes Hutchinson to the race.

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