Our viewpoint: Seifert is knowledgeable, pragmatic, experienced

Marty Seifert is the most traveled of the Republican candidates for governor, having visited all 87 Minnesota counties in the run-up to the Aug. 12 primary election.

The former southwestern Minnesota farm kid has also covered a lot of ground in his professional and political careers, from teaching high school history and government to serving 14 years in the House of Representatives, three as minority leader.

Experienced, pragmatic and deeply knowledgeable about issues ranging from the Iron Range’s sulfide mining controversy to metropolitan transportation needs, Seifert is our choice in the Republican gubernatorial primary. The winner will face DFL Gov. Mark Dayton in November.

The ECM Editorial Board interviewed Seifert and his three main opponents — party endorsee Jeff Johnson, a Hennepin County commissioner; Rep. Kurt Zellers, a former House speaker; and Orono businessman Scott Honour. (Merrill Anderson, a retired public relations consultant, is also on the ballot.)

All the candidates sounded familiar Republican themes around cutting business regulations and not raising taxes. But Seifert had the most thorough grasp of the issues and the sharpest, best-prepared set of policy prescriptions.

An engaging sort with an expansive personality, Seifert also showed the greatest propensity for straight talk and compromise. He’s conservative, all right, but unafraid to declare that some battles fought in pursuit of party orthodoxy are a waste of political capital.

The Marshall resident has been a teacher (and union member), college admissions counselor and Realtor. He’s a small-business owner and executive director of the Avera Marshall Foundation, which supports the Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center.

The only candidate with experience in the health care field, Seifert wouldn’t try to scrap the state health care exchange — that’s politically impossible, he said — but he has ideas for reforming MnSURE, such as opening it to insurers from outside Minnesota and replacing current board members with health care and insurance experts.

He wants to reform health care delivery by giving nurse practitioners more authority in patient care — a cost-saving “pre-triage” model that would especially help underserved rural communities, he said.

His education proposals are anchored by a drive to get schoolchildren, many of them still learning English, reading by the end of third grade. Early literacy is a passion shared by his running mate, Rep. Pam Myhra of Burnsville.

He proposes a moratorium on new testing — students take too many tests now, he said — and doesn’t view school vouchers as a panacea for closing the achievement gap.

He wants college tuition hikes capped at the inflation rate and says student aid should be reformed to give colleges and universities more incentive to hold down tuition.

On transportation, Seifert and his opponents share an insistence on highway lanes, not rail trains. Seifert wants planning for the Southwest Light

Rail project stopped.

To bridge a 20-year transportation funding gap in Minnesota estimated at $12 billion, Seifert said he wants a third of each state bonding bill dedicated to

“roads and bridges.” That would bridge nearly 70 percent of the gap, said Seifert, who opposes a fuel tax increase and says unnecessary rules and regulations can be scrapped to make road construction cheaper.

Seifert lost a 2010 bid for governor, eventually throwing his support to Tom Emmer at the state Republican convention.  This time, he and some other  unendorsed candidates haven’t gone quietly.

Plymouth resident Johnson, the party’s convention choice, served six years in the House and was elected to the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners in 2008, gaining re-election in 2012. He pledges a thorough audit of state government programs, with an eye toward ending ineffective ones.

Zellers, of Maple Grove, has served 10 years in the House and was elected speaker after Republicans won the majority in the 2010 elections. He led his caucus in its 2011 budget negotiations with Dayton and the DFL. Stalled negotiations led to a three-week government shutdown, with Dayton bowing to Republicans’ insistence on not raising taxes to erase a $5 billion shortfall.

The DFL regained the House majority in the 2012 elections.

Honour, of Orono, hasn’t served in government but has clearly done his homework on state issues. His business ventures have included a firm that bought and revamped troubled companies, saving and creating jobs, Honour says.

An opinion of the ECM Editorial Board. Sun Newspapers is part of ECM Publishers Inc.