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Simpson finds himself back in politics

Dean Simpson

When he concluded 25 years as New York Mills mayor and six years as a state legislator, Dean Simpson figured his time of public service was over.

"I thought I was done with politics," the Perham resident and grocery store owner said Wednesday in a visit to Brainerd.

That was until his former Republican colleague in the Minnesota House, former Speaker Kurt Zellers, asked for Simpson's support in his gubernatorial campaign. That led to being asked to run as Zellers' lieutenant governor candidate. After a bit of soul-searching, the 63-year-old Simpson said yes and found himself fully engaged in state politics and teamed with the candidate of his choice.

"He's a positive influence," Simpson said of Zellers. "He's got lots of energy. He has good vision for Minnesota."

Simpson said Zellers, while speaker, negotiated with Dayton and helped turn a $6 billion deficit into a $2 billion surplus.

"And he didn't raise taxes to do it," Simpson said.

Zellers' position of leadership in the Legislature is evidence that he can "take on Gov. (Mark) Dayton statewide," Simpson said.

Before accepting his new role he wanted to make sure he would be fully utilized in the No. 2 slot. Simpson said he told Zellers he would like to contribute in economic development, tourism, as a trade representative and as a liaison between the governor and Legislature.

"There's such a disconnect there," he said of the two branches of government.

Zellers, who lives in Maple Grove, and Simpson both grew up on farms. Simpson said he wants to be a voice for outstate Minnesota.

"I can represent rural Minnesota because I am rural Minnesota," Simpson said.

A longtime resident of the New York Mills-Perham area, Simpson and his family bought their first grocery store in New York Mills in 1970. That was replaced by a larger store in the late 1970s. In 1978, Simpson opened a second grocery store in Perham. He developed a 40-acre business park in Perham in 2007 and recruited the 10 mostly new businesses to the site anchored by his expanded grocery store.

The 2006 Grocer of the Year said there are many good job openings in rural Minnesota that are difficult to fill because of a lack of qualified applicants. He said he wants to work with the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system to provide more training in areas such as welding and electrical work.

"We need to do a better job matching up students with careers," he said.

First elected to the New York Mills City Council in 1973, he was elected mayor in 1977 and held that position until 2002 when he was elected to the first of three terms in the Minnesota House of Representatives. While serving at the Capitol, Simpson rose to the position of assistant minority leader in 2007-2008. He was named the lead Republican on the Tax Committee and also served on the Commerce Committee.

Simpson and his wife, Kathy, live in Perham. They have four children and six grandchildren.

The Zellers team is running in the Aug. 12 primary for the chance to run against Dayton on the Republican ticket. Also running are the endorsed candidate Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, businessman Scott Honour and former state Rep. Marty Seifert.

His new role as a candidate for statewide office means more time on the road. On Wednesday he made campaign stops in Brainerd, Park Rapids, Bemidji and Walker.

"We're out trying to tell our story," he said.