Campaign for the Capitol 2010

Matt Entenza is running for governor in hopes that he can restore Minnesota’s education system to its former brilliance.

Matt Entenza is running for governor in hopes that he can restore Minnesota’s education system to its former brilliance.

Matt Entenza is running for governor in hopes that he can restore Minnesota’s education system to its former brilliance.

Kyle Potter

From a young age, Matt Entenza knew what it felt like to have his back against the wall. Abandoned by his alcoholic father at age 15, Entenza and his family moved from California to rural Worthington, Minn., where they wrestled with poverty, homelessness and health care coverage. âÄúYou learn that there are times when you have to take a stand,âÄù he said of his familyâÄôs struggle. Now heâÄôs hoping to take a stand again âÄî this time from the governorâÄôs office. With a degree in environmental studies from Macalester College, Entenza began his career working at a nonprofit organization for Paul Wellstone. A liberal Democrat, Wellstone would go on to become a U.S. senator and EntenzaâÄôs âÄúfirst big mentor.âÄù Entenza then went to England, where he studied law at Oxford University. After that stint overseas, he returned to finish his law degree at the University of Minnesota. He put that degree to work and made a career of fighting corruption and deceit. First from the Minnesota Attorney GeneralâÄôs office, where he took on telemarketers who were âÄúripping people off,âÄù and then as an assistant attorney for Hennepin County, taking down white-collar criminals. Entenza said he thinks his attorney experience will work to his advantage. Businesses that exploit their position to gain a profit are one of the biggest problems today, he said. But atop the list of his priorities is education, which he says needs to be fixed. Programming at his old high school in Worthington and at the University have declined, and tuition is higher than ever, he said. âÄúI just feel very lucky that I grew up in Minnesota, because we were the kind of state that had really strong public schools,âÄù he said. âÄúIf I had grown up in a lot of other states, I would have never had those opportunities.âÄù Those opportunities brought him into politics. Entenza was elected to the House of Representatives in 1994. Representing the St. Paul area, he sat on the education committee for several years, fighting for an increased investment in education and against the No Child Left Behind Act. He said a lack of âÄútoughâÄù politicians has caused schools throughout Minnesota to suffer and is responsible for âÄúthe worst recession in 50 years.âÄù âÄúBeing tough is taking on the favored elites and saying, âÄòWeâÄôre not going to put up with some of the stuff youâÄôre doing,âÄô âÄù he said. In 2003, he was elected House minority leader at a time when the Republicans held a 28-seat majority. His work as a campaign organizer for Democrats helped them come within one seat of the majority by 2004 and then gain it in 2006, the year he stepped down as minority leader and left office. Entenza is able to count high-profile politicians and interest groups as supporters, including U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., and the Stonewall DFL Caucus âÄî the first DFL caucus endorsement of the governorâÄôs race. âÄúMatt combines toughness with vision and compassion,âÄù said Mel Duncan, executive director of Nonviolent Peaceforce. Duncan met Entenza while working for Wellstone in 1984. He said he believes Entenza is the candidate who can best solve MinnesotaâÄôs problems. âÄúWeâÄôre electing a person who can engage all of us, whether it be in Worthington or Minneapolis, on bringing us out of the mess that weâÄôre in as a state,âÄù he said. But Rory Koch, a legislative assistant of the GOP Caucus, is concerned that EntenzaâÄôs financial policies may guide the state into troubled waters. Koch ran against Entenza in 2000 and 2002 but was defeated by a margin of more than 50 percent both times. âÄúIt would be a tax-and-spend direction,âÄù Koch said of his former opponentâÄôs platform, âÄúand we need fiscal accountability and common sense.âÄù Koch is supporting Republican candidate Marty Seifert in this yearâÄôs gubernatorial election, but he made it clear that he has nothing but respect for Entenza. âÄúMatt is a very clever, very intelligent man, but I just think his priorities are wrong on spending and tax policy,âÄù he said. In 2007, Entenza founded Minnesota 2020, a think tank that considers options to solve the stateâÄôs problems with health care, education, transportation and economic development. âÄúI think thereâÄôs a real advantage to having spent the last couple years thinking about where the state should go,âÄù he said of the organization. Others are not convinced. During an interview earlier this month on Minnesota Public Radio, Gov. Tim Pawlenty called EntenzaâÄôs motives into question. âÄúIt should have been called âÄòProject 2010,âÄô because it was about MattâÄôs desire to run for governor in 2010,âÄù he told MPRâÄôs Gary Eichten. But Entenza said he wasnâÄôt disturbed by PawlentyâÄôs remarks. He prides himself on being a thorn in PawlentyâÄôs side. âÄúAs long as I know IâÄôm standing up for the right thing, it doesnâÄôt bother me that there is criticism,âÄù he said. âÄúThe governor certainly isnâÄôt going to give me a job.âÄù