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Honour says businessman is best suited for job of governor

Scott Honour, Republican candidate for Minnesota governor, did not seek party endorsement. A businessman and political newcomer, he describes himself as an “outsider.” (Eric Koch photo)

By Bill Salisbury

St. Paul Pioneer Press

Businessman Scott Honour is a first-time candidate, but he’s getting the hang of retail campaigning.

At the Sherburne County Fair in Elk River last weekend, Honour had no qualms about strolling up to complete strangers and introducing himself as a Republican candidate for governor.

“I’m a businessman, not a politician,” he told three men seated at a beer garden picnic table. “I’m running because I think we need more common sense in St. Paul.”

A millionaire from Orono, Honour is betting a lot of his own money that Minnesotans believe a business leader is best-suited to govern the state.

He and his running mate, state Sen. Karin Housley, a first-term lawmaker and Realtor from St. Mary’s Point, have “spent our careers in the private sector getting things done. I think voters are looking for that,” Honour said.

By contrast, the self-proclaimed “outsider” noted, his rivals in the Aug. 12 Republican primary — Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, former House Minority Leader Marty Seifert and former House Speaker Kurt Zellers — “collectively have spent over half a century in politics.” The winner will challenge Democratic-Farmer-Labor Gov. Mark Dayton in the November general election.

The other GOP candidates all have experience in shaping government policy. He doesn’t. But his business experience, he asserts, taught him valuable lessons that could make govern ment work better.

Asked if he could manage the give-and-take to get things done at the Capitol, he replied, “I’ve been in more negotiations than any of these guys.”

Honour, who did not seek the GOP endorsement, also is telling Republicans his is the “only campaign that will have the resources” needed to defeat Dayton.

At the end of May, the political newcomer had raised $573,000 this year, more than all three of his Republican rivals combined, thanks in part to a $300,000 personal loan to his campaign.

Last week, he announced he had donated another $500,000, bringing his total for the current two-year cycle to more than $1 million.

Last fall, Honour disclosed that he earned $1.7 million in 2012, and he owns a $9 million home on Lake Minnetonka.

Still, he hasn’t run a highly visible campaign. Although he has aired some television and radio ads, the other candidates expected him to swamp them with TV spots. That hasn’t happened yet.

But Honour said he will ramp up his on-air presence and has invested in “robust technology infrastructure … that surpasses the party’s.”

In addition to radio and TV spots, he said his campaign is reaching voters with social media, online advertising, direct mail and other “alternative marketing.”

He’s doing a steady schedule of radio, television and newspaper interviews, as well as meeting voters at parades, fairs, receptions, meetings of businesses and charitable groups, and the like — but his rivals say they haven’t seen as much of him on the campaign trail.

Polls indicate he’s the least well-known of the group. Why? “Honour spent all but the last four years of his adult life outside the state,” Seifert said.

But Honour, 48, has deep roots in Minnesota. He was born in Fridley and grew up in Mound. His father started a boat-lift manufacturing business, and Honour spent part of his teenage years installing boat lifts in lakes throughout the state.

The first in his family to go to college, he worked his way through Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif. He met his wife, Jamie, a fellow Minnesota native, there. They have three children, ages 6, 11 and 12.

He earned an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

Honour earned most of his fortune  as a managing director at the Gores Group in Los Angeles, which he said “bought and fixed about 60 underperforming companies. … We saved and created jobs.”

But he acknowledged the process of restoring companies to profitability required some layoffs — more than 11,000, according to a count by the left-leaning Alliance for a Better Minnesota.

“He made a bazillion dollars by firing people the way that Mitt Romney did,” said alliance Executive Director Carrie Lucking. “That shows he’s much more interested in CEOs’ bottom lines than he is in workers’ bottom lines.”

But Honour said he saved far more jobs than he lost, and he also started a couple of job-creating businesses. He co-founded an online rent-payment company that went from 40 employees when the Internet bubble burst to one. But they rebuilt it, he said, and it now provides 225 jobs.

He and his brother also launched a natural-gas filling station business. His campaign vehicle is a natural-gas-fueled Ford F350 pickup.

Honour and his wife moved back to Minnesota four years ago to raise their children. He jumped into politics as a donor and fundraiser.

Honour decided to run for governor last year because he didn’t like what the DFL governor and Legislature were doing and he wasn’t hearing many alternatives from Republicans.

“The skills Karin and I developed in business will help us lay out a vision of where to go, a plan for how to get there and for putting a team in place to get and measure results,” he said.

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.