Paul Gazelka has a soft spot for the Iron Range.
So, it's one of the Minnesota Republican gubernatorial candidate's first campaign stops.
“We announced yesterday and I wanted to go up into my home stomping grounds,” Gazelka, who graduated from Virginia High School in 1978, said Thursday. “I wanted to get up into the Eveleth and Grand Rapids areas.”
Gazelka was captain of the basketball team at Virginia High School. After high school, he worked as a laborer in the coarse crusher at U.S. Steel's Minntac Mine in Mountain Iron.
He says visiting the Iron Range as he begins his campaign for governor is important to him.
“Three generations of my family are from the Iron Range,” Gazelka said. “They're from Virginia, McKinley, Chisholm, and Ely. My wife (Maralee) is a 1981 graduate of Virginia High School.”
Gazelka served on the Eveleth-based Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board in 2011-2012.
After announcing his bid Wednesday at the State Capitol, Gazelka visited the Twin Cities and St. Cloud. On Thursday, he was in Rochester.
Today, Gazelka will be in Eveleth and Grand Rapids.
“I absolutely wanted to come to the Range,” Gazelka said. “You know, I have a soft spot for the Iron Range.”
Gazelka, of East Gull Lake, left as Minnesota State Senate Majority Leader to run for governor.
He's lived in East Gull Lake for 25 years and owns an insurance company.
But Gazelka still owns a cabin near Eagles Nest between Tower and Ely and deer hunts in the area.
Gazelka said he wants to take the state in a new direction.
“I'm running to take us back in the direction I think Minnesotans want to go,” Gazelka said. “One of the main reasons I talked about running is we're at a crossroads with public safety, the police, and shutting down schools.”
Gazelka said he has issues with Gov. Tim Walz's handling of the protests after George Floyd's death and Walz's handling of the pandemic.
Gazelka says he's against defunding police, a strong supporter of second amendment rights, and a supporter of Iron Range mining.
“I would say the governor contributed to that,” Gazelka said of the unrest following George Floyd's death. “George Floyd died on a Monday and on Tuesday he should have called in the National Guard. By Thursday, there were 1,000 businesses destroyed. By Friday, a Wells Fargo and 1,500 businesses were destroyed. I kept sending him texts saying 'Where are you?' Finally, on Saturday they brought in the National Guard, but it was too late.”
Beyond traditional Republican support, Gazelka says he has backing from police organizations and several Iron Range lawmakers.
“I have Democrat legislators on the Range who support me,” Gazelka said. “And (Eighth District Congressman) Pete Stauber and I work together well. The big thing people need to know is I've been building bridges with the blue collar trades for years and I'm looking out for their jobs. I've been standing up for those jobs and the Range Democrats know it.”
Gazelka will be at The Rink Sports Bar & Grill in Eveleth from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. today for a meet and greet.
He will be at the Grand Rapids Baptist Church from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Gazelka said he plans to campaign often on the Iron Range.
“We need to value the Iron Range whether it's copper nickel mining or other jobs,” Gazelka said. “I expect to do well on the Range. I still consider myself a Ranger. I'm going to be there.”
Rep. Michelle Benson of Ham Lake, former state Sen. Dr. Scott Jensen, and Dr. Neil Shah, are also running for the Republican nomination.