With detailed policy focus, Democrat Tina Liebling to run for Minn. governor

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ST. PAUL—Democratic state Rep. Tina Liebling has been known around the Minnesota Capitol as a policy wonk since she arrived in the House in 2005.

Liebling, an attorney with a master's degree in public health, represents the Mayo Clinic-focused Rochester district, has served on health committees, chaired a health committee and spoken out on health care issues for more than a decade. She digs into details of legislation.

Now, she wants to take the policies for which she has long been known to a statewide stage. On Sunday, she announced that she would run for governor.

"I have a very clear vision to give to Minnesotans on where I think the state should go and I'm not afraid to be for the things I'm for," she said in a Pioneer Press interview. "I am, I think, a person who has more backbone than some. ... I think I've demonstrated that."

She has lots of company in eyeing the seat DFL Gov. Mark Dayton will leave in 2019. Liebling is one of five Democrats who have announced bids for the top office which will be alluringly without an incumbent in next year's race.

The gubernatorial contest is already so crowded that Liebling, a seven-term state representative, is the second southern Minnesota official to declare an intent to run in the last week. U.S. Rep. Tim Walz of Mankato filed campaign paperwork for the office last Monday. The east metro has produced three Democratic candidates: St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, St. Paul state Rep. Erin Murphy and state Auditor Rebecca Otto, of Marine on St. Croix, are already running.

So far, no well-known Republican figures have announced bids but many are sniffing around possible runs.

In launching her campaign, Liebling drew on her policy chops.

On her campaign website, she lists firm left-of-center positions on everything from taxes to campaign finance to costs of college to marijuana.

Tax breaks for the wealthy should be ended; big campaign spenders should have to disclose information; the first two years of tuition at public colleges or universities should be free; and, Minnesota should consider legalizing recreational use of cannabis, she declares.

"Sometimes I think those distinctions are a little artificial (of) what we consider left or right. I think there's a lot of agreement when you get out and talk to people; I think people really want a lot of the same things," she said.

Liebling, who has been known to stand for what she believes even if it makes life difficult for her party, has a history of being less likely to vote with the rest of Democrats than many legislators. Despite that, in the last two-year session of the Legislature, she had one of the most liberal voting records in the House, according to a Pioneer Press study.

She said she has no problem telling vested interests "no," including the Mayo Clinic, a major employer in his district.

"I don't represent Mayo, I represent Rochester," she said. She said that's an example of the bold independent profile she would bring to the governor's office.

Liebling said she plans to abide by the DFL endorsement in the governor's race but did not close the door to running without it. She also said that she may run for her House seat again, "if it looks like Minnesotans are not interested in my candidacy" and the timing works out for her to switch to running for the Legislature again.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press is a Forum News Service media partner.