Being on a campaign trail in 2018 has been one of the most meaningful experiences in my career of service to this country.

I’ve had a chance to witness the political divisiveness and delve deeply into the real issues impacting southern Minnesota lives and communities. I’ve also had a chance to reflect on my own journey of public service begun here, taking me to Iraq twice, a middle school classroom and the Pentagon.

And after 100,000 miles and a 100,000 conversations in the last 16 months, I head toward Nov. 6 with the belief that politics must be public service, too.

Washington, D.C., is dysfunctional and politicians that dominate our discourse are out of touch with everyday Americans. Parents who avoid taking their children to the doctor in fear of astronomical hospital bills. Students who can’t afford to pursue postsecondary education. Families that can’t find eldercare options for aging loved ones. Farmers losing access to the markets they’ve worked for decades to open, while standing on the front lines of climate change. Southern Minnesotans working two or three jobs, yet still unable to find affordable housing.

These challenges are deep-rooted, complex, and are not solved by the carefully constructed political talking points espoused by politicians.

The disconnect between our elected officials and everyday people cannot be categorized as just negligence. It’s downright dangerous. There are very real life and death consequences of policy action — and inaction. In my time leading soldiers in war, students in the classroom, and policy experts in the Pentagon, this is a concept that I am all too familiar with.

What people are clamoring for is not a silver-bullet solution; we simply want a functional body of government — responsible representatives who recognize that while disagreements may be had, the consequences of inaction are too severe. We need a Congress that is not beholden to party leaders and special interests. We need a Congress that is willing to bring all voices to the table. We need a Congress that will reinforce its constitutional charge to be a check and balance on the executive branch.

Instead, what we are presented with from our elected officials is finger-pointing and posturing. We are divided under a false narrative that paints “us” against “them.” We are made to believe that in the wealthiest, most prosperous country to ever exist, there is not enough to go around. When we are denied access to health care, when we can’t afford life’s necessities, when we are silenced based on our ideology, gender, race, and ethnicity, we are being made to feel that we don’t matter.

I vehemently reject that idea. I live by a grounding and guiding notion: Either everyone matters or no one matters. And for everyone to matter, health care must be affordable and accessible, incomes must rise for working families, and everyone must be empowered to thrive in our communities.

“Everyone matters or no one matters” is a simple concept, but that doesn’t mean it is easy to achieve. It starts by electing leaders who place the value of public service in the highest regard. Throughout our campaign, we have taken to monthly service projects called “Service Saturdays.” We don’t care who you voted for (or if you voted at all) — for one Saturday a month, put your community first by engaging in a service project that serves a greater good.

These projects have ranged from refurbishing a day care for the children of second- and third-shift workers at the Hormel factory in Austin, to stocking food pantries in Rochester, to organizing a community library in Hanska. Along the way, we have met inspiring individuals and heard incredible life stories that reinvigorate the sense of community that seems so lost in the era of Twitter threads and Facebook arguments.

I will work to give Congress a long-overdue culture change. I will stand up as an independent leader for southern Minnesota and work with both parties to do the hard work of governing that actually improves the lives of the people they serve, not special interests. We are all in this together. With that drive, one member at a time, we can make Congress functional again.

 

Dan Feehan is the Democratic candidate for the U.S. House in Minnesota’s First Congressional District.