Rukavina brings populist message to governor’s race


State Rep. Tom Rukavina is not hesitant to advocate for higher taxes. While many of his DFL colleagues danced rhetorical circles around the state’s budgetary mess during the last legislative session, the 12-term Iron Range legislator repeatedly stated that increased revenue would need to be part of any solution. Now Rukavina is looking to bring that blunt — and perhaps politically obtuse — talk to the 2010 gubernatorial race.

“I certainly don’t shy away from the fact that I’m not opposed to raising fair taxes,” says Rukavina, speaking to MnIndy by phone. “We all knew at the Capitol, including Gov. Pawlenty, that we needed to raise money.”

Last week, Rukavina filed papers with the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board to formally explore a gubernatorial bid. He expects to spend the rest of the summer meeting with DFL activists, raising money and gauging support. Rukavina said he won’t run against the DFL-endorsed candidate in a primary election.

“I can’t compete against some of the people who are running in the DFL primary as far as money is concerned,” he said. “A little guy with a lot of passion and just a little bit of money can’t compete if I don’t have the DFL party behind me.”

Rukavina paints himself as a passionate populist in the mold of former U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone. He expects to have strong support from organized labor and becomes the second candidate from the DFL stronghold of the Iron Range, joining state Sen. Tom Bakk.

“My mantra’s going to be six issues,” Rukavina said. “Jobs, jobs, jobs, and education, education, education.”

Rukavina believes Pawlenty overstepped his authority when he used his unallotment powers to help unilaterally close the state’s $2.7 billion budget gap. He contemplated suing the governor, as his previously did in 2003, but didn’t have the financial or legal resources to follow through.

“No governor — I don’t care if it’s Tom Rukavina or Tim Pawlenty — should have that kind of power,” he said. “I think it’s unconstitutional the way it was used.”

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