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Don Davis, State Capitol Bureau, Published June 25 2009

Minnesota GOP elects North Dakota native as House leader

ST. PAUL – A 39-year-old North Dakota native is the new Minnesota House Republican leader.

Fellow House Republicans gave Rep. Kurt Zellers of Maple Grove 70 percent of the vote Tuesday night in picking him to replace Rep. Marty Seifert of Marshall as minority leader. Seifert plans to announce in less than two weeks that he is running for governor.

Rep. Randy Demmer of Hayfield was the other major candidate. Four ballots were needed before Zellers emerged the winner.

Zellers takes over a caucus of 47 members in the 134-person House. It has little power other than being able to prevent an override of Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s vetoes. And nearly every member of the caucus must remain on board to stop a veto override.

He said his major goal is “getting back the majority” in the House. The caucus hopes to have 68 to 70 seats after the 2010 election, he said, but admitted he does not know if that is probable.

Zellers said he wants to get more Republican House members involved in his caucus. Several have not attended meetings regularly or otherwise been involved in caucus activity. He said he hopes that changes into “a 47-member rowing team.”

The public relations specialist began his political career helping North Dakota Republican campaigns, including two-term Gov. Ed Schafer. When he moved to Minnesota, he worked for U.S. Sen. Rod Grams and for Norm Coleman during his successful 2002 Senate race. He was elected to the state House in 2003 and has concentrated on tax issues.

“Our caucus will continue to be the people’s advocate for a government that spends responsibly, sets priorities and keeps a lid on taxes,” Zellers said. “That means more than just sitting back and saying ‘no’ every time Democrats propose a new tax increase. We will offer new solutions and new ideas, all with a continued respect for the taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars.”

Zellers serves a district in the northwestern Twin Cities suburbs, but grew up on a farm near Devils Lake, N.D. He graduated from the University of North Dakota after playing football for a time.

House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, welcomed Zellers to his new leadership role and said she wanted to meet with him soon.

Zellers, a political science major, and his wife, Kim, have two young children.


Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum. He can be reached at (651) 290-0707 or ddavis@forumcomm.com