In Minnesota’s traditionally moderate 3rd Congressional District, Rep. Erik Paulsen is facing a competitive challenge in opponent Democrat Dean Phillips, who hopes to unseat the Republican seeking a sixth term in Congress.

Voters will have to weigh heavily Paulsen’s experience and seniority against Phillips’ fresh perspective in a race that is in the national spotlight.

Erik Paulsen is capable, affable and intelligent. If re-elected he will likely continue to represent the district exactly as he has over the last decade – as a moderate to conservative Republican. He has risen through the ranks to a position on the Ways and Means Committee, chairperson of the Joint Economic Committee and co-chair of the House Medical Technology Caucus.

By now voters in the 3rd District are very familiar with Paulsen, who spent 14 years in the Minnesota Legislature before he was first elected to Congress in 2009. But we believe there is appetite, and need, for change in the district held by Republicans since the 1960s.

The most important characteristic of our next congressman will be effectiveness. Where they stand on issues will be of no value if their votes are countered by other blocs from the extremes of their party. Having the position we want won’t be of value unless our congressman can lead.

Our endorsement goes to Dean Phillips, who presents a refreshing alternative to congressional business as usual.

Phillips’ business experience includes serving as the president of the family business – Phillips Distillery – and then as CEO of Talenti Gelato, which was sold in 2014. He now heads Penny’s Coffee, an upscale coffee shop with two locations in Minneapolis.

His service on the board of directors for Allina Health (2005-2011) brings some important knowledge of one of the top concerns of Americans: health care.

Phillips believes in affordable health care for all, but acknowledges the current Affordable Care Act is flawed. He disagrees with the Republican push to repeal and replace the ACA, which Paulsen voted in favor of. According to Phillips, if Medicare had the ability to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies in the same way the VA does, the savings could fund comprehensive health care reform.

Paulsen should be credited for his initiative to repeal Medicare’s cap on medical therapy for seniors. He also said some of the most rewarding work he has done has been in the area of legislation to address human trafficking and opioid abuse, where he said his work in Congress actually has the impact of saving lives.

He has actually bucked the majority of his Republican colleagues in a few instances, such as his support for environmental safeguards to protect the BWCA and his enlightened support for immigration reform. Paulsen and Phillips agree on paths to citizenship for the young, undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers. Paulsen also opposes President Trump’s approach to trade negotiations through the use of tariffs that are having debilitating effects on the agriculture industry, saying, “I don’t think anybody wins a trade war.”

The candidates also agree that the federal government should step up to address its unfunded special education mandates, which Phillips noted total $147 million in the 3rd District alone.

But Paulsen’s unapologetic support of the deficit-inflating tax bill (to the tune of $1.3 trillion) is disappointing. He is certainly intelligent enough to understand the costs for current and future generations to come, but he ignores the revenue losses from the tax bill, glibly proclaiming that spending is the issue and economic growth will take care of it.

Phillips agrees the corporate tax rate needed to be reduced but says it shouldn’t have been cut so drastically. He opposes the reforms in the bill that give most of the credits to the wealthiest Americans

The voters in the district will likely see record amounts of money spent on television and radio ads, lawn signs and direct mail pieces. Phillips said that the race will likely be a “$30 million bloodbath” with neither side able to control the outside money being spent vilifying both candidates.

And when it comes to campaign finance, there are distinct and important differences between the two candidates. Phillips calls campaign finance reform and regulation the “hallmark” of his campaign. He has not, and maintains that he will not, accept campaign contributions from PACs, lobbyists or special interests.

Under current law, Phillips, who is a wealthy man, could contribute unlimited amounts to his own campaign. But he has kept his self-funding to $5,400, the same limit that governs all other individual contributions.

If Phillips wins this election with his refreshing aim to reduce the influence of moneyed interests in politics, it could pave the way for vast improvements in our democracy.

In this race, we think the edge for endorsement goes to Dean Phillips. He is fresh, intelligent and dynamic and has the characteristics of one who can lead others in a difficult political climate. 

— An opinion of the Adams Publishing – ECM Editorial Board. Reactions welcome, send to editorial.board@ecm-inc.com.

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