Scott Jensen, former GOP lawmaker and COVID-19 skeptic, announcing run for governor

Former state Sen. Scott Jensen, R-Chaska, appeared on Laura Ingraham's Fox News show on April 8.

Former state Sen. Scott Jensen, R-Chaska, is announcing he is running for governor next week, according to a press release dated next week and obtained by the Reformer

A family physician whose profile has risen as a COVID-19 skeptic, Jensen, 66, served one term in the Minnesota Senate. 

Reached by phone, Jensen confirmed that an “embargoed” press release had been drafted, referring to a news release that media organizations agree not to publish until a certain date. 

(The Reformer did not obtain the release from the Jensen campaign and did not agree to the embargo.) 

“We haven’t sent it officially,” he said.

The press release headline reads “Jensen Announces Run for Minnesota Governor” and is dated March 16.

“He will elevate thoughtful discourse, engage in difficult conversations, and will not allow pandering groupthink to impede the vital contributions science can provide,” the release reads. “Scott is excited to embark on this journey and looks forward to meeting with his fellow Minnesotans across the state and restoring their hope and freedom.”

Jensen’s announcement makes him the first major candidate to run against first-term Democratic-Farmer-Labor Gov. Tim Walz. The press release doesn’t say Jensen would pursue the Republican Party endorsement or nomination, and doesn’t mention that he’s been a Republican.

Jensen was known for his independent streak at the Capitol, including joining DFL colleagues in calling for new gun laws — a history that could cost him delegates in any Republican endorsement battle.

Other potential Walz challengers include Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, who has said he is considering entering the race but would not decide until after the legislative session ends. Minnesota pillow mogul Mike Lindell has also talked about running, but he currently faces a massive libel lawsuit after making baseless claims of 2020 vote fraud against election machine company Dominion. State Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, is also considered a potential contender.

Jensen’s profile has grown nationally through a series of appearances on Fox News, as well as through his own social media channels. Jensen is on TikTok with videos captioned: “Family doctor EXPOSES double masking craziness” and “You are being played (by the CDC and WHO).”

Since early last year, Jensen has staked his medical credibility — and his political future — on a contrarian take on Minnesota’s response to COVID-19. 

In addition to his skepticism about the Department of Health guidelines regarding how to classify COVID-19 deaths —  which came from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — he’s gone against the broad consensus of the medical community, minimized the risks of COVID-19 and criticized Walz for prohibiting certain activities in an attempt to slow the spread of the disease.

His status as a physician could give him credibility to attack Walz on the governor’s COVID-19 response, except by the fall of 2022 the pandemic is likely to have evaporated. And, Jensen’s comments about the pandemic will likely face intense scrutiny.

In a statement, DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin criticized Jensen’s entrance in the race.

“Scott Jensen is a dangerous COVID-19 conspiracy theorist who has been caught spreading lies about the pandemic, palling around with anti-vaccine extremists, and downplaying the virus that has taken over half a million American lives,” Martin said in part. “We deserve honest leaders that will help us get through this pandemic, not quacks like Scott Jensen. The last thing Minnesotans need is someone like failed one-term state senator Jensen anywhere near the governor’s mansion, especially during times of crisis.”

Ricardo Lopez
Ricardo Lopez is the senior political reporter for the Reformer. Ricardo is not new to Minnesota politics, previously reporting on the Dayton administration and statehouse for The Star Tribune from 2014 to 2017, and the Republican National Convention in 2016. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Los Angeles Times covering the California economy. He's a Las Vegas native who has adopted Minnesota as his home state. In his spare time, he likes to run, cook and volunteer with Save-a-Bull, a Minneapolis dog rescue group.