If there was anyone who expected a Republican primary in the Minnesota Senate District 9, the home turf of Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, it certainly wasn’t Gazelka himself.

“I am surprised they have a primary, based on what my opponent is saying,” Gazelka said during a phone interview Tuesday, Aug. 4.

But Gazelka, 60, does have an inter-party rival, one who’s been unsparing in his criticisms of the two-term incumbent senator. While Gazelka touts credentials, endorsements, and achievements as the most powerful Republican in Minnesota, attorney Richard Dahl, 56, has lambasted Gazelka as a shrinking violet in the face of — what Dahl deems — autocratic overreach by Gov. Tim Walz during COVID-19 and the menace of left-leaning civil unrest in the Twin Cities.

“He's not willing to fight, he's not willing to investigate and he's not willing to find out what's going on,” Dahl said during a phone interview Thursday, July 30. “I think a lot of people are scared. They can't believe this happened in Minneapolis, in Minnesota or the friendliest states in America. People up here, up north, are upset.”

In his defense, Gazelka said Dahl is mischaracterizing the situation — one where Gazelka, as the Republican leader of the only GOP-held governing body in the state, doesn’t have the authority to strip Walz of his emergency powers, or single-handedly rewrite the state’s law books, without working in conjunction with the administration and the DFL-led House.

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“We've already voted twice to remove the governor's emergency powers and we cannot remove them without the House Democrats,” Gazelka said. “I think it's just his part trying to find something that would draw the distinction, but it's not accurate and that's why I point to all the groups that are supporting me still. My resume and my track record both line up and I represent the district very well.”

Voters in District 9 — which encompasses portions of Cass, Morrison, Todd and Wadena counties — will have an opportunity to choose their Republican voice during the primary on Tuesday, Aug. 11, in anticipation of the upcoming general election on Nov. 3. In recent history, this has proven to be a safe Republican district, evidenced by Gazelka’s trouncing of DFL candidate Jason Weinerman by 71.26% to 28.74% in 2016, as well as another strong, if less dominant win by 53.7% to 46.3% over DFLer Al Doty in 2012.

Paul Gazelka

Gazelka has decades of experience as an insurance agent and field executive, operating an office out of Baxter, as well as years of experience working with local chambers of commerce and community organizations. He currently resides in East Gull Lake with his wife Maralee, with whom he shares five children and five grandchildren.

Describing himself as a fervent defender of anti-abortion causes, Second Amendment freedoms, as well as the principle of law and order, Gazelka pointed to endorsements from the Minnesota Republican Party, the National Rifle Assocation, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, and the Minnesota Police Officers Assocation, among others.

He said he has much unfinished business in St. Paul, such as addressing a projected $5 billion deficit — a $7 billion plunge in only a few months amid COVID-19 — by implementing austerity measures without raising taxes. He said another primary goal is to rein in Walz’s emergency powers and jumpstart the state’s economy, as well as open up the education system for Minnesota’s children.

In addition, Gazelka spoke of the narrow 35-32 majority in the Senate, which is all that stands between efforts to defund police, install California-style carbon emission standards, codify Second Amendment infringements and implement universal health care.

“It's really important that Republicans get the majority of the Senate,” Gazelka said of the coming election. “Otherwise, one party will have complete control of everything in Minnesota, which would lead to massive tax increases, and a lot of the things that I said I'm going to stop in the past, and so that's really important. … More than ever, it's important that I want to keep my rule as Majority Leader.”

Richard Dahl

Dahl has over 20 years of experience as an attorney, with a law degree from the University of Chicago Law School and a bachelor's degree from Knox College. He touts himself as a blue-collar litigator and no-compromise conservative willing to go to bat for the area’s causes, as well as reach out to disenfranchised labor and minority voters abandoned by the DFL, who may be willing to vote Republican if they bring back jobs from China.

He also noted he’s in favor of promoting reduced taxes and deregulation in a bid to springboard local economies, while also instituting anti-monopolization measures.

Dahl’s criticisms of Gazelka go beyond his handling of negotiations with Walz over COVID-19 measures, needling the senator over issues as diverse as allowing riots to occur in Minneapolis, to funding abortions, to the latter’s inability to push stand-your-ground laws through the state Legislature — all in all, a pattern, he said, which shows Gazelka to be a well-intentioned, if largely superficial politician who lacks the grit to counteract liberal forces in St. Paul.

“I don't understand that compromise,” said Dahl.

In addition, Dahl said Gazelka as a “compromised politician” is, to some degree, complicit with Walz’s lockdown and mask mandates, his poor handling of the Minneapolis riots, and an order by Walz to discharge COVID-19 patients into vulnerable nursing homes — actions Dahl claims run the gamut from unconstitutional to criminal, if they're properly investigated. These are investigations he intends to push if he is elected to the Senate.

Dahl said Gazelka also hasn’t done enough to fight voter fraud, past or present, with the latter in the form of mail-in ballots that could tip the upcoming 2020 general election.

GABRIEL LAGARDE may be reached at gabe.lagarde@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5859. Follow at www.twitter.com/glbrddispatch.