The 2018 mid-term elections are just months away, and Rep. Erik Paulsen’s main Democratic challenger, Dean Phillips, is working diligently to unseat him. A longtime resident with a background in business, Phillips has been making the rounds through the 3rd Congressional District in what used to be a milk truck.
Phillips describes himself as “fiscally responsible, socially inclusive. … I don’t want to go to Washington to fight. I want to go to Washington to collaborate and salute the best ideas in the Republican Party with the best progressive ideals that I represent.”
When Phillips was just six months old, his father was killed in Vietnam. His mother married Eddie Phillips, heir to the Phillips Distilling fortune. The Phillips family was known for its philanthropy; Eddie’s father, Jay, began one of the first corporate profit-sharing plans.
After obtaining an MBA in 2000, Dean Phillips served as president of Phillips Distilling for about a decade before becoming chairman of Talenti Gelato, a premium gelato company.
Phillips was inspired to run for Congress both by the ongoing disaster that is the Trump administration and by Paulsen’s vote last year to repeal and replace Obamacare. His daughter, Pia, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma when she was 13, so he’s acutely aware of the need for affordable, adequate healthcare.
Phillips has made election finance reform a central issue in his campaign. He refuses to take money from PACs and lobbyists. As City Pages’ Erika Rivera recently wrote, this puts him “in stark contrast to Paulsen, who has evolved from a moderate state legislator to a virtual caricature of the corporate congressman, routinely voting against his district’s interests in favor of his benefactors. He voted for the recent Republican tax bill, despite its harsh treatment of residents in high-tax states like Minnesota. And Paulsen has been almost obsessive in his pursuit of lowering taxes for the hyper-profitable medical device industry, which sends him more money than it does any other member of Congress.”
As Phillips himself explains, “Whether you’re talking about tax policy or health care policy or gun violence reduction or opioid addiction programs, none of this will be accomplished as long as politicians are beholden to interests that have lots of money and lots of influence.”
Phillips has also contrasted himself against Paulsen by making a point of interacting directly with the people of the district. Paulsen, meanwhile, hasn’t held a town hall event in years. “When we start losing that human interaction,” Phillips says, “I think a lot of people start feeling like they’re not heard and listened to. Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump recognize the same underlying need of people, which is to be heard. I think Donald Trump was part of a wonderful strategy to make people believe he really cared about them.”
But the 3rd Congressional District is deeply divided. It swung for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 and for Hillary Clinton in 2016. And Paulsen, who has represented the district for almost a decade, has the benefit of being the incumbent. If he won, the 48-year-old Phillips would be the first Democrat to represent the district since 1961.
Still, constituents of the 3rd Congressional District have responded positively to the political neophyte. Randi Reitan’s description of the electric atmosphere at Dean Phillips’ first event in Edina, for instance, makes it clear that Paulsen could have his hands full: “It was packed. Standing room only. You could feel the hunger of people wanting to see change in our district.” After another event at the Excelsior library, Shorewood resident Bill Lester said, “He made a lot of good points. He didn’t get up there to promise a lot of different things. He just said, ‘Hey, I’m here to represent you. Here’s what I believe.’”
This November, the voters of Edina and the rest of the district will have to decide what they believe, too.
Featured image via YouTube.