Jason Lewis calls his first bid for Congress in 1990 a youthful indiscretion.
He was 34 and relatively new to Colorado. His first radio show had premiered two years earlier on a no-name station on the day the Denver Broncos were taking on the Washington Redskins in the Super Bowl — both listeners enjoyed the program, he’s quick to add.
Lewis lost to Democratic Rep. David Skaggs with less than 40 percent of the vote. But he learned a lesson.
“What I took out of it was to be more discreet in my choices,” Lewis said. “But I always thought I had one more campaign in me.”
Now, at 60, with 20 years in Minnesota and a stint as a conservative radio show host and author under his belt, Lewis is taking another run at office, this time in the Second Congressional District. He joins a field of candidates vying for the seat long held by GOP Rep. John Kline, who is not running for re-election. Lewis, the syndicated radio host known as “Mr. Right” who appeared on KTLK on the Twin Cities, retired from the radio business last year. Although he’s long been pushed to run for office, Lewis said he was motivated by an economic situation he hasn’t seen since Jimmy Carter was in the White House.
“Things should be better than they are right now. This is the slowest recession recovery in the modern era,” Lewis said. “This is not a recovery that instills confidence in people.”
Lewis, who says his philosophy is libertarian at its roots, famously quit his radio show on the air last year. He had planned to retire, but wanted to make a dramatic point that if “the productive folks are told they haven’t given enough even though they pay the bulk of the taxes, they will eventually quit investing.”
That Libertarian streak is one he says sets him apart from other candidates, and even the incumbent congressman.
“John Kline is a great American who served his country in a stellar way and I have nothing but praise for what he’s done,” Lewis said. “Does that mean that I agree with everything that he’s done? No.”
Lewis said he disagrees with Kline on military spending — Lewis maintains it should be cut, and that U.S. troops should not set foot in Libya or Syria unless there’s a direct threat to the United States. He opposes abortion rights, but says states should be able to go their own way on social issues such as medical marijuana or same-sex marriage.
“Let these laboratories of democracy figure it out,” he said. “There’s a difference between a national government and a federal government.”
Lewis has already drawn fire from the DFL, which hopes to flip the seat to one of its own candidates. DFLers Angie Craig and Mary Lawrence are vying for their party’s nomination.
“Most people who have followed Jason Lewis over the years know he’s a guy who likes to pick a fight,” said Ken Martin, DFL Party chair. “He’s not the kind of guy who is going to put his opinion aside and look to work with other people. … The last thing we need as John Kline is leaving is to trade that in for a Republican who is going to represent a more extreme conservative position.”
Lewis says he won’t apologize for his convictions.
“I don’t think the American people are aching for people to go to Washington and join the establishment and compromise some more,” he said. “I think people are looking for folks who put principle ahead of party.”
Lewis, who lives in Woodbury, is outside the Second Congressional District boundaries, a result of the last round of redistricting. Members of Congress don’t have to live in their district, so Lewis shrugs it off.
He joins David Gerson, former state Sen. John Howe and former state Rep. Pam Myhra as the Republican candidates on the ticket. He has not decided whether he will abide by his party’s endorsement or run in a primary.
Lewis is the second candidate this week to formally announce his intention to run for Congress. Stewart Mills, a 43-year-old scion of Mills Fleet Farm enterprises, will attempt again to unseat Rep. Rick Nolan in Minnesota’s Eighth Congressional District.
Mills lost to Nolan by 3,732 votes in one of Minnesota’s closest elections in 2014.
Staff writer Allison Sherry contributed to this report.