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Republicans pick Zellers as leader

A 39-year-old North Dakota native takes over as Minnesota House Republican leader.

Fellow House Republicans gave Rep. Kurt Zellers of Maple Grove about 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. Several ballots were needed before Zellers emerged the winner.

Zellers takes over a caucus of 47 members out of 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.

"Our caucus will continue to be the peoples' 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.

He was a political communications specialist, working for U.S. Sen. Rod Grams and for Norm Coleman during his successful 2002 Senate race. He was elected to the House in 2003 and has concentrated on tax issues.

"Our constituents sent us here to play a part in finding solutions, they don't want to see another legislative session like the one that just finished," Zellers said. "We will keep offering ideas for reform that we believe chart the best course to an economic recovery, and we'll work with willing Democrats to get things done."

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

"As speaker, I remain committed to openness, transparency and a spirit of compromise in the Minnesota House and hope Rep. Zellers shares those goals," Kelliher said. "As was my practice with Rep. Seifert, I plan to meet with the new minority leader on a weekly basis once the 2010 session gets underway early next year."

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

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.