When I entered the race for Congress 18 months ago, I was fulfilling a promise I made to my teenage daughters after the 2016 election to do something to help repair our politics — and our government.
I believe our Constitution anticipated a president like Donald Trump, but it surely did not anticipate a Congress filled with so many career politicians who lack courage, who place party before principle, and who favor special interests that finance their campaigns over the common interests they’re elected to serve.
Unfortunately, among the worst practitioners of such misrepresentation is Erik Paulsen, the current congressman from Minnesota’s Third District.
Despite representing a district in which only 41 percent voted for Donald Trump, Paulsen votes with the president’s agenda 98 percent of the time. Despite taking an oath to represent his constituents, he went almost seven years before holding an in-person town hall meeting. And despite once sponsoring a bill to ban special-interest PAC money from elections, he is now the fourth biggest taker of special interest money in the entire 435-member House of Representatives.
And despite his membership in the Civility and Respect Caucus, Paulsen is currently running one of the most dishonest and negative campaigns in Minnesota history.
Independent fact-checkers, including television stations KSTP, WCCO and KARE, have already debunked the slew of lies in his TV ads and those from the outside special-interest groups who’ve spent nearly $10 million attempting to buy this election. His ads are being labeled “misleading,” “wildly out-of-context” and “simply false.” And just last week, some of the Twin Cities’ most prominent business and community leaders, both Republicans and Democrats, took him to task in this very newspaper, saying Paulsen “has exhibited some of the worst behavior and judgment that we have ever seen in a congressional campaign.”
As one who believes in truth, decency and thoughtful debate, I’ve made it the mission of my campaign to end the very kind of politics practiced by Erik Paulsen, and reinspire people to engage in conversation once again. I grew up in a Minnesota in which Democrats, independents and Republicans worked together to solve our challenges with bold, fiscally responsible and inclusive ideas. And when they disagreed, they did so without being disagreeable.
A return to such decency is possible, but it will take a new generation of independent-minded leaders in Congress — from both parties — whose allegiance is to the people and nation they serve, not special interests or party leaders. That’s why, in stark contrast to Erik Paulsen, I am the only candidate in the country refusing all money from special interests, PACs, federal lobbyists and members of Congress. If we’re going to tackle the culture of corruption in Washington, it starts with independence from the very money that is filling the swamp.
It’s also time to expose and address the 30 or so hours per week that most members of Congress spend “dialing for dollars” — soliciting cash from wealthy donors, lobbyists, and special interest PACs across the country, all at the expense of time serving the voters they’re ostensibly in Washington to represent.
That’s why I drive my 1960 International Harvester delivery van, the “Government Repair Truck,” around the 468 square miles of my district serving coffee, cocoa and snacks, and having memorable conversations with people of all political perspectives. It’s these experiences, often with people who see things differently than I do, that have made this the most joyful journey of my life.
And though it may come as a surprise, I’ve discovered there’s much more that unites us than divides us. Most of us want a health care system that’s more affordable and ensures everyone has care when they need it. Most of us want world-class public schools adapted for 21st century learners. Most of us want common-sense solutions to reduce gun violence. Most of us want women’s reproductive rights to be protected, our air and water to be kept clean, and Medicare and Social Security to be preserved. And most of us want our tax dollars used efficiently and effectively, and a return to fiscal responsibility that has been abandoned by the current Congress and administration.
There was a time when my opponent, Erik Paulsen, seemed to be an honorable representative. But something has changed dramatically, and it’s clear that he has been consumed by a corrupt political culture that, if unaddressed, poses a very real risk to the future of our nation and its system of governance.
There is, however, a better and more hopeful way forward. All of us must play a role, and everyone’s invited. If you’re ready to try, I’d be honored to earn your vote.
Dean Phillips is the Democratic candidate for U.S. House in Minnesota’s Third Congressional District.