org @Jef4Gov
Prepared aud paid íor by lhe ¡ohusou íor 0overuor Couuillee º 3500 vicksburg Laue N., #416 Plyuoulh, MN 55447
ef Johnson doesn’t fit the typical profile of a
Republican candidate for major statewide ofice.
The former Minnesota House member from Plymouth,
who is now serving his second term on the Hennepin
County Board, doesn’t come directly from the Legisla-
ture, as many of the GOP’s most recent endorsed candi-
dates have. He doesn’t boast private wealth or a long
history embedded in the state’s business community.
And he doesn’t align with any one faction of the Repub-
lican Party of Minnesota, at a time when factionalism
has played a vital role in anointing candidates who
captured the Tea Party ethos (2010 gubernatorial
nominee Tom Emmer) or boasted libertarian/Ron
Paul-ite cachet (state Rep. Kurt Bills in the 2012 U.S.
Senate race).
But at the GOP’s state central meeting in Blaine on
Saturday, Johnson proved himself the most popular
candidate among roughly 400 Republican Party activ-
ists in an early, nonbinding straw poll for the governor’s
race. Johnson beat out four other Republican rivals with
35 percent of the vote, including libertarian and state
Sen. Dave Thompson, who earned 27 percent of the vote,
and last-minute write-in candidate Marty Seifert, who
tallied 18 percent. He also buried former Speaker of the
Minnesota House Kurt Zellers (8 percent), who likely has
the most broad name recognition of all the candidates,
and Orono businessman Scott Honour (4 percent), whose
bid for governor is underwritten by personal wealth.
But Johnson’s appeal among activists has been build-
ing for years, most recently through his position as RNC
committeeman and as one of the lead players in an audit
of party finances after the sudden resignation of party
chairman Tony Sutton in 2011. He also delivered a risky
— but memorable — message at the contentious 2012
GOP endorsing convention, as the libertarian wing of the
party dominated the contest, angering many long-time
activists. “Just get over it,” Johnson told the warring
“I think those two things are defining moments for
Jef’s career,” said activist Scott Dutcher, who became a
supporter of Johnson’s during his time serving on the
state GOP executive committee. “It did rub some people
the wrong the way, because you don’t say ‘get over it’
and not rub some people the wrong way. But it was the
right message.”
The real contest, for Johnson at least, will come in May
at the party’s oficial endorsing convention. Johnson and
Thompson have bet it all on the endorsement, promising
to abide by that decision, while Zellers and Honour have
strongly signaled intentions to run in a primary, which
would make it the first competitive GOP primary contest
for the governor’s ofice in two decades. And while
reverence for the Republican Party endorsement is still
strong among the base — as evidenced by Johnson and
Thompson’s performance in the straw poll — activists
say attitudes about who should win their support is
evolving after ideologues like Emmer and Bills sufered
bruising defeats in the last two statewide races.
“Jef represents the conservative brand in a way that’s
appealing to a lot of people. He simply messages in a way
that’s thoughtful and even-toned,” said longtime activist
and attorney Andy Brehm, who hasn’t picked a guberna-
torial candidate to support yet. He said he and other
Republicans have tired of the firebrand rhetoric that has
historically roused the base at endorsement time but
torpedoed statewide election bids. “It’s that kind of stuf
that I don’t have time for as a Republican. We’ve just
been talking to ourselves instead of trying to appeal to
other people.”
by Briana Biorschbach - 0rigina||y pub|ishoo in Fo|itics in Ninnosota
Published: October 30,2013
Johnson gubernatorial bid tries to
unite disparate factions of GOP base
Straw poll win gives boost to his campaign for party’s endorsement
Credibility with the base
Johnson grew up in Detroit Lakes and studied
economic s and political science at Concordia College
before heading to Georgetown University Law School.
After college, Johnson practiced with several law firms
and represented Cargill Inc. before making a successful
run at a suburban state House seat in 2000. He rose into
leadership roles after his first term, serving as assistant
majority leader, chair of the Civil Law and Elections
Committee and co-chair of the House Republican
Campaign Committee. In 2006, Johnson left the House to
launch a bid for attorney general, a race that — while
unsuccessful — put him in front of GOP activists around
the state.
His courting of the GOP base began in earnest while
Johnson was preparing for the April 2011 vote for
Republican National Committeeman against Emmer.
Johnson called activists on the state central committee —
many of whom were part of the group that picked him in
the straw poll — and won that race on the first ballot,
despite the fact that Emmer had been favored to win that
Later that year, then-chairman Sutton resigned
suddenly and left in his wake an unknown amount of
unpaid party bills from the 2010 election. It was possible
that the figure was in the millions, and Johnson led an
efort to do an internal audit of the Republican Party of
Minnesota’s finances. He brought on longtime accoun-
tant Mike Vekich, and just before the start of the 2012
election year, Johnson and other party oficials revealed
that the state GOP was more than $1.3 million in debt. As
more rocks were unturned, that number ultimately grew
to more than $2 million in debts.
“The debt number is honestly higher than any of us
wants it to be,” Johnson said in December 2011. “There’s
some ugly stuf in here.”
“Usually the national committeeman doesn’t do much,”
said activist Jennifer DeJournett, who hasn’t decided yet
which candidate she will support. “Jef did the work that
the national committee person was supposed to be doing,
and more. He garnered some respect for that.”
In 2012, Johnson again had a chance to play the role of
party uniter at the spring endorsing convention for U.S.
Senate. Near the close of a contentious two-day conven-
tion in St. Cloud, Johnson took the podium to address
tensions between supporters of Ron Paul and other
activists and party regulars.
First, Johnson directed his comments at Paul’s
supporters. “You know, there’s a lot of anger. Some of the
anger is from people who have been sitting in your seats
for 20 or 30 years doing hard work and aren’t here this
year because you’re here instead,” he said. Then he
looked at the longtime activists in the party. “My advice
to you is: Get over it,” Johnson said. “I’m a strong believer
[that] in politics there’s no such thing as standing still. If
you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backwards. If
we don’t grow, we die as a party.”
“There were some people who really took ofense to
that, and there were others who were enthused by that,
and there were others that said, ‘OK, we have to get along
here,’” said GOP operative Gregg Peppin, who is volun-
teering for Johnson’s campaign. “Overall, that was a very
honest and forthright speech that people have, in large
part, taken to heart. They respected that.”
Jef Johnson on Saturday finished first among
possible gubernatorial candidates in a
nonbinding straw poll of 400 Republican
Party activists at the party’s central
committee meeting in Blaine.
Johnson beat out four Republican rivals,
picking up 35 percent of the vote.
(photo: Briana Bierschbach) @Jef4Gov
Prepared aud paid íor by lhe ¡ohusou íor 0overuor Couuillee º 3500 vicksburg Laue N., #416 Plyuoulh, MN 55447
Original story:
The straw poll and beyond
Johnson’s message to activists on Saturday was one he
has been practicing since he announced his gubernato-
rial campaign back in May: He considers himself the
most endorsable and the most electable Republican
seeking the state’s top ofice.
“I’m an unapologetic fiscal and social conservative, not
in an angry or obnoxious sort of way, but kind of in a
Norwegian Lutheran from northern Minnesota sort of
way. I’ve never been afraid of a fight when a fight is
required,” he said. “In this state, as Republicans, winning
isn’t about who has the most money, who lives in what
part of the state, or who can throw out the most red meat.
For us, as Republicans, winning is about choosing the
candidate who can make a personal connection with
everyday Minnesotans, and who can share a positive
and compelling and relevant vision to voters. Not just to
Republican voters, but all voters in the state.”
But moving forward, he faces several major challenges.
First of, not every candidate who has won the straw poll
has gone on to earn the backing of the party at the
oficial endorsing contest. Seifert, for example, won the
same straw poll in 2009, but he lost to Emmer the
following spring when it came time to claim the
endorsement. Some think Thompson, the second-place
finisher in the straw poll, will perform better with the
broader, less establishment-connected activist crowd
that will gather at the oficial endorsing convention
in May.
“I think when it comes to authenticity, the Tea Party,
Ron Paul and liberty types, that spectrum, will find more
attractiveness in Dave Thompson,” said activist, attorney
and blogger John Gilmore, who has been openly support-
ing Honour’s campaign for governor. “Jef is really
dogged by that nice guy persona, and nice guys finish
After his victory was announced, Johnson expressed
cautious optimism about the results. “I don’t know that I
believe in the curse of the straw poll,” Johnson said.
“These are the most active of the activists.”
There’s also the Seifert factor. His third place finish on
Saturday was arguably the biggest story out of the event,
and if Seifert enters, Johnson would have to contend
with the former House minority leader’s extensive rural
Minnesota connections. Seifert, who hails from Mar-
shall, also enjoys a base of support thanks to his years in
House leadership and his prior run in 2010.
“It speaks volumes,” Brehm said. “Marty has a strong
following amongst the party faithful. The fact that
someone can do that well and not be actively running is
really impressive.”
“I’m an unapologetic fiscal and social
conservative, not in an angry or
obnoxious sort of way, but kind of in a
Norwegian Lutheran from northern
Minnesota sort of way. I’ve never been
afraid of a fight when a fight is required,”
—Jef Johnson

(photo: Derek Brigham)

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