“Erik Paulsen does nothing for me.” That’s the slogan plastered across Brian Santa Maria’s new shirts promoting his candidacy for Rep. Erik Paulsen’s House seat in Minnesota’s Third Congressional District.
Santa Maria, a New York City transplant, moved to Minnesota to get treatment for an undiagnosed illness at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. “My nervous system was shutting down,” he says. His previous doctor believed Santa Maria had Lou Gherig’s Disease, a fatal neurodegenerative condition that gradually causes people to lose the ability to speak, move, eat, and breathe.
The doctors at the Mayo Clinic, though, arrived at a different diagnosis: Santa Maria had polyneuropathy, a disease that causes numbness, weakness, and burning pain on roughly the same spots on opposite sides of the body.
The experience left Santa Maria with a deep appreciation for the shortcomings of American healthcare. A statement on his campaign site reads, “I care about the uninsured because I was uninsured. I take sides with the sick because I was sick. I will protect the dying because I was dying. I spent many months thinking they were my last ones on this planet, and I believe, deeply, in the soul my God gave me, in not-for-profit medicine because the Mayo Clinic saved my life.”
After getting help, Santa Maria settled in Eden Prairie. He left behind a career as an improv actor and writer with credits at The Onion. In that respect, he’s not so different from another Minnesota comic-turned-politician, Al Franken, who starred on Saturday Night Live before becoming Senator in 2008. Santa Maria clearly hopes to capitalize on that resonance. “I’m Al Franken, 30 years ago,” he writes on his campaign website. “I know what’s funny and I know that what’s happening in our government right now isn’t.”
Apart from strong support for family healthcare, Santa Maria’s platform encourages family leave and wage increases. And, as his shirts illustrate, he’s also taking the fight to Rep. Paulsen, who has come under fire for refusing to hold town halls for years.
He says Paulsen’s platform is “whatever Grover Norquist sends him in an email in the morning. We have to get out the message Erik Paulsen doesn’t care about you guys. He cares about his donors.”
He hopes to change the narrative that previous candidates have used against Paulsen. “Candidates against him in the past,” he explains, “would run ads that would say ‘Erik Paulsen might be a nice guy, but….’ You would never see a Coke ad ending with saying ‘Pepsi might be refreshing, but…’
“It’s terrible. It’s just terrible messaging and it’s not true, to let him own the message he’s a nice guy because he shakes a lot of hands, that he can pop up a table up in Cub Foods for 10 minutes and act like he’s talking to people thing. Erik Paulsen still wants to take 55,000 people’s healthcare away. He’s still doing nothing to check an out-of-control person in the executive. Those are not ‘nice,’ things so there’s no way I will resign to him an inch on that.”