Opinion editor’s note: The Star Tribune Editorial Board operates separately from the newsroom, and no news editors or reporters were involved in the endorsement process.
Minnesota’s Third Congressional District, long in Republican hands, swung to a Democrat in the last election, businessman Dean Phillips. Voters liked his message of innovation, pragmatism and a commitment to working across the aisle.
Phillips, 51, has delivered on those ideals in his first term and deserves to continue his work in a second term. He is part of the House Problem Solvers Caucus, where some 50 lawmakers from both parties sit down to figure out where they can find common ground.
Their most recent work centered on breaking the impasse on COVID relief, with Phillips and South Dakota Republican Rep. Dusty Johnson laboring to craft a well-balanced framework that was larger than the Senate’s “skinny stimulus” but smaller than the House’s $2 trillion package.
As recently as a couple of weeks ago, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the Problem Solvers’ plan could form the basis of a new White House proposal. That didn’t earn Phillips any plaudits from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was still negotiating for a larger bill. Phillips earlier this month voted against that larger bill, insisting that it had no chance of passing. Instead, he pushed the more pragmatic plan that nevertheless would aid health systems, businesses, individuals and states suffering from the pandemic.
This kind of work is not easy, nor is bucking one’s own leadership in the search for compromise. The Democratic and Republican moderates on the caucus are pragmatists in a severely polarized Congress. But Phillips calls it some of the most gratifying work he does.
As a Democrat, Phillips believes in the good government can do, but he also wants a government that is efficient and keeps his eye on a mounting national debt, which far too many politicians have conveniently forgotten.
He has identified a number of cost-saving measures, including negotiating prescription drug prices through Medicare, calculated to save $230 billion over 10 years, and comprehensive immigration reform, estimated to save $170 billion over that same period. An orderly withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, he said, would save more than $440 billion.
Whether the issue is climate change, trade, housing or others, Phillips says he is committed to finding pragmatic solutions that bring together the best of what both parties have to offer. “One out of every three bills I sponsor is with a Republican,” he said. “Bipartisanship can work.”
Phillips’ Republican opponent in this race is businessman Kendall Qualls, 56, who is justifiably proud of a personal story that took him from public housing in Harlem as a young person to health care executive. He married his high school sweetheart, has raised five children and searched for ways to give back to his community, working with such programs as Big Brothers Big Sisters and Minnesota Teen Challenge. He offers, he says, conservative leadership rooted in family values.
Qualls, who is Black, said his achievements came through hard work. He believes others can do the same and rejects the notion of systemic racism. “I knew I wanted a different life, and I knew it started with education,” he told the Star Tribune Editorial Board.
“Americans help people when they see them trying to better their lot in life,” he said. The best remedy to social ills, according to Qualls, is an intact, two-parent family. The best path forward in fighting COVID, he said, is a vaccine. He supports mask use but opposes mandates.
The Editorial Board believes Phillips is the stronger of the two candidates and a better fit for the increasingly diverse Third District. His commitment to bipartisanship and a common-sense approach that balances values and pocketbook will continue to benefit Minnesotans in a second term.