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DFL running mates take stage

John Gunyou, second from left, draws a laugh during Friday night's "Almanac" television show featuring DFL governor candidates' running mates. From left are host David Gillette, Gunyou, Robyne Robinson, host Mary Lahammer and Yvonne Prettner Solon. (Don Davis/Forum Communications Co.)

ST. PAUL -- They come from different backgrounds: a bureaucrat, a state senator, a television personality. Still, they share a goal of playing backup to Minnesota's governor.

Voters likely will hear little about the trio of Democratic-Farmer-Labor lieutenant governor candidates before the Aug. 10 primary election, but on Friday night John Gunyou, Yvonne Prettner Solon and Robyne Robinson received their 15 minutes of campaign-season fame during a debate aired statewide on Twin Cities Public Television's "Almanac."

There is little difference among the three, or their governor candidates, especially when compared to their Republican rivals. However, they did show some divergence when asked what they would do in their first week of office.

Gunyou said he and his governor candidate, House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, would be ready to work, with her two terms as speaker and his background as state finance commissioner.

"Minnesota needs a leadership team who can hit the ground running," Gunyou said.

Gunyou said his background as a government financial leader means he can play "a more substantial role helping the government run better."

State Sen. Prettner Solon, meanwhile, said she will develop a hotline for senior citizens, an assignment from her governor candidate, former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton. Prettner Solon said seniors have a tough time navigating state programs.

Also, she added, she would be the administration's liaison to the Legislature.

She also looked forward to a time when the state can get involved in a federal Medical Assistance program that incumbent Gov. Tim Pawlenty rejects and lawmakers failed to pass.

"We should have passed that federal MA," she said, to give better medical care to the poor.

Robinson said she and former state Rep. Matt Entenza would work together that first week.

"Matt and I are going to be like an old, married couple and sit down and look at the budget," she said.

Robinson offered that she would like to increase taxes paid by Minnesotans earning more than $250,000. However, earlier in the week, Entenza said that the state must be careful about raising taxes too much, fearing it could hurt the business climate.

"Almanac" hosts Mary Lahammer and David Gillette got few surprises from the trio, but Gunyou did not like their demand for short answers during the nearly 20-minute segment: "These simplistic answers don't serve very well."

Friday night's appearance should have been easiest for Minneapolis' Robinson because she spent 20 years as a reporter and anchor at Fox 9 in the Twin Cities.

Prettner Solon, who represents Duluth in the state Senate, often appears on "Almanac North," but Friday night was her statewide debut.

Gunyou, the Minnetonka city manager, has obtained a lot of political notice lately as Democrats pull him into Capitol meetings, trying to show Pawlenty's budgets are inadequate.

All three candidates spoke out for a traditional Democratic issue, education.

Robinson said she admires former Lt. Gov. Mae Schunk, elected with Gov. Jesse Ventura, because she was a teacher.

The daughter of two teachers, Robinson urged the state to put the best classroom plans online so thatteachers across Minnesota can access them.

Prettner Solon said the state needs to fund education better. She was critical of a plan approved by Pawlenty and the Legislature to delay paying schools as an effort to fix a budget deficit.

"We need to stop shifting our money ... so we never catch up," she said.

Gunyou, who has taught classes ranging from junior high school to graduate level, said the emphasis must be on attracting great teachers.

Each of the three candidates also revealed something few people know about them: Gunyou likes to remodel his home, Robinson is a Tom Jones fan and Prettner Solon enjoys snorkeling.

A governor candidate picks his or her own running mate, usually to fill gaps in the candidate's background so that the ticket attracts wider voter interest.

The lieutenant governor, who is paid less than $80,000 annually, sits on several state boards and commissions but often has few duties other than replacing the governor if he leaves office. Traditionally, governor candidates promise that their running mates will have important roles in state government, but that usually does not happen.

Davis reports for Forum Communications.


Prettner Solon became state senator in 2002, replacing her late husband, Sam Solon. She had served on the Duluth City Council a dozen years.

Robinson's pick may have helped energize the Entenza campaign after polls showed it in single digits.

Gunyou is a different kind of candidate. He has not served in elective office and often out of the spotlight, but is familiar with the political elite.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.