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m9468 BC-MN-MinnesotaHouse-GO 1stLd-Writethru 06-24 0461

Top job for Minn.’s House minority leader: Growth

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AP Photo MP101

By NOMAAN MERCHANT

Associated Press Writer

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The new leader of Minnesota’s House Republican caucus compared his job to that of a football coach, saying his top priority is recruiting candidates who can win in 2010.

Kurt Zellers, a four-term legislator from Maple Grove, said Wednesday that he’s spoken to all 47 members of the caucus at least once in search of ideas to attract enough voters to regain control of the chamber. That would mean gaining at least 21 seats.

Zellers said he was especially interested in what younger House members think.

"We had a great class of 12 freshmen that did the job last year," Zellers said. "Our freshmen won their election, they got down here. They know something about how to campaign."

Zellers, 39, was elected by caucus members Monday night to replace Marty Seifert, who stepped down to explore a run for governor. Seifert remains a caucus member.

Zellers said he wouldn’t differ much from Seifert on core issues. Though tiny, the GOP caucus has been key to Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s strength at the Capitol by upholding his vetoes of tax increases passed by the Democratic-controlled Legislature.

Pawlenty has announced plans to erase a projected $2.7 billion shortfall through spending cuts of his choosing, a process called "unallotment." Zellers said the governor would have the caucus’ backing.

"People have a healthy skepticism of government anyway," Zellers said. "The one thing I’ve heard from my neighbors is ... have a little more respect for the dollars that we’re sending you."

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Zellers said he would remain neutral on the governor’s race for now, with a handful of GOP House members among the wide-open field.

"We have a great bench," Zellers said. "I wouldn’t want to deprive anyone of the fun of getting into the race."

Zellers is an account executive with a Minneapolis public relations firm. He started in politics as a campaign volunteer and built his career helping other politicians with communication work.

He grew up near Devils Lake, N.D., and played football at the University of North Dakota before moving to the Twin Cities after college.

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