ST. PAUL (WCCO) — Minnesota’s new House Speaker Kurt Zellers has a degree in political science and spent much of his adult life working in politics, including a stint as communications director for former Republican U.S. Senator Rod Grams.
But when you ask him what he likes most about government, his answer is: None of it.
In fact, Zellers said his family never talked politics at home on the farm in North Dakota.
It wasn’t until Ronald Reagan’s rise in Republican politics that his grandmother — and a young Zellers — was hooked.
“My grandma always said ‘I just love President Reagan because he’s always optimistic,’” said Zellers, a five-term Republican from Maple Grove. ”And he was always optimistic about America.”
Reagan’s influence is everywhere in Zellers’ office: campaign buttons, posters and a drawing of Reagan’s birthplace in Dixon, Ill.
The 41-year-old Zellers has two children, even named his daughter after the former president: Reagan Hope.
“A friend of ours had a girl named Reegan,” Zellers explains, laughing. ”And my wife said, ‘Oh that’s a nice name, but I like Reagan better.’ I said, ‘Honey, come on! Really? Reagan? Don’t you get it?’”
It’s Reagan-like optimism the new Speaker said he’s bringing to the job. And a clear focus on why restless Minnesota voters put Republicans in charge.
After his swearing-in this week as the new Speaker, Zellers asked Minnesotans to send him their ideas and promised results.
“These are tough economic times,” he said. “We in government will respect your hard earned dollars, just like you do.”
Zellers said his goal is to be Minnesota’s biggest small business booster, but for smaller businesses that are sometimes forgotten, like bait shops and bars, and the workers in seed caps and stained overalls who, he said, are sending a message.
“Get off our backs, get out of our pockets and get out of our way, and we’ll rebuild the economy for you,” he said.
The new House Speaker said creating jobs is his number one, two and three priorities. All the rest is background noise for him.
That’s why he’s been cool to proposals like a new, publicly-subsidized Minnesota Vikings stadium and social issues like a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
He said Republicans will be judged by voters on how many jobs they create and pulling Minnesota out of a recession.
Zellers’ Reagan-like philosophy?
“If you don’t care who gets the credit, you can get a lot of things accomplished,” he said.
WCCO-TV’s Pat Kessler Reports