U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips is excited to represent a purple district. And he’s eager for your input.
U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips says the accessibility that framed his campaign is translating into work in Washington, D.C.
On Jan. 21, he sat down with Southwest News Media to talk about what it’s like being among the freshman class, and how purple districts are fueling collaboration at the nation’s capital.
Eyes around the country watched the 3rd Congressional District’s campaign with interest. Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Eden Prairie, had glided through elections since 2008, but Phillips’ promise to change how campaigns are financed, by turning down PAC and lobbyist money, sparked attention.
On election night, he won by 11 percent. It was the first time a DFL candidate had won the district since 1958.
He is now sworn in — one Deephaven resident among an array of talked-up freshman.
The new class is using social media to open doors and give a behind-the-scenes look, he said, bringing transparency and accessibility in as a trademark of the new generation of politics. He disagrees, though, with the attention that’s been given to the “fringes of both parties.”
“That’s a challenge for us, to recognize that the voices of the few on the far right and far left do not represent the overwhelming majority of both Democrats and Republicans in Congress,” he said. “We have a responsibility to better represent not just our districts, but the entire country, collectively.”
The weekend of Jan. 19 and 20, he was back in Minnesota and went out on Lake Minnetonka in the fish house he used during the campaign. He also attended the North American Pond Hockey Tournament.
“That was like homecoming,” he said. “People in Washington think we’re crazy (for the cold) and that’s why I loved coming home. In fact, when (President Donald Trump) asked us to introduce ourselves, I said ‘I’m Dean Phillips from Minne-snow-ta. I think he even chuckled.”
He, along with 13 others of the Problem Solvers Caucus, met with Trump last week concerning the government shutdown.
Philips answered the following questions from Southwest News Media (some responses may have been edited for length and clarity):
What did you address in the meeting?
Our mission was first and foremost to encourage the president to end the shutdown so we can negotiate a thoughtful and comprehensive solution over homeland security and immigration reform. That was our joint message. The president made his case, and then, to his credit, listened to us make ours. It was a very memorable moment to be able to express to him face-to-face my perspective on how I saw things.
… The case I personally made, considering this is a conversation about security, was that our nation is less safe and secure now than before the shutdown. Because we have TSA agents, air traffic controllers right here at Flying Cloud in Eden Prairie (and) in Farmington not being paid and people being unsafe in skies. Even our border security officers and agents, they’re not being paid. … I was more hopeful there would be a faster resolution.
I really hope the solution is that government, and Congress in good faith, agree to present him with a plan that will rectify the situation. And that’s what I went to Washington to do. To be at the table, where I can encourage understanding.
When you were in high-gear on the campaign trail, what did the formula of being accessible look like?
The formula is simply my personal philosophy. To me the joy of life is encountering people who have lived different experiences and come from different backgrounds and had different perspectives. … And I think it was a successful strategy because it’s a very human strategy. And what we seem to be suffering from now more than anything else is a lack of those invitations, the lack of spaces and places for people to share their perspectives and ideas without being demeaned or lambasted, or even physically attacked. And that’s a reflection on all of us. It’s not a fault of a president or Congress, I think the Congress and president are a reflection of what we’re seeing across the country. And that’s our job, and that’s what the campaign was about: to encourage people to participate.
How is it translating to Congress?
Both my fiancée Annalise and I really made it our personal missions to create conversations and friendships with Republicans on the other side of the aisle. So, a number of our earliest friends in Congress are Republican colleagues. And that’s intentional. And what I’ve discovered so far is that, from both being a member of the Problem Solvers Caucus and having wonderful business with some of my Republican colleagues is that while we do come from different experiences and backgrounds and perspectives, there’s a real joy in being able to acknowledge that and still create friendships and trust and we become both better for it. And I’m already translating that into my service. If we can be successful as a freshman class of democrats and republicans to inspire more of that, then i think we will really be adding value to the national discourse as well.
There’s a lot of talk about this freshman class. I’m curious if you could give some insight into what the atmosphere was like at the swearing-in and moving into office.
It’s a very hopeful, inspired, energetic and youthful freshman class. And it is remarkable. I think it’s roughly 100 new members, and the overwhelming majority of my colleagues on both sides are inspiring in really magnificent ways. We’ve had a Minnesota delegation lunch in which both senators and every member of Congress attended.
You asked about how we’re translating things into service: We’re trying to intentionally all come together, even if we don’t all agree to do so in thoughtful ways. And the freshman class seems even more inspired to do that.
Since the 2016 election, there’s been an anthropological gaze on rural america and curiosity as to whether those districts would switch parties in the midterms. But it was largely suburban areas like CD3 that made a switch with moderate candidates. What did that say to you?
I think what it said is that much of America, and in particular suburban districts, tend to be fiscally responsible. They’re concerned about our national debt, they really care about taxes and tax rates and the economy, but are increasingly socially progressive, and I think that combination is what candidates like me, and those that won in districts like ours, brought to the table. Many had business experience, many had military backgrounds and I think we are candidates that bridge that gulf between the far extremes of two parties and actually represent a far more significant part of the population.
You cosponsored HR 1and HR 8. Is there anything coming down the pipeline soon?
House Resolution No. 1, by definition, was what we were supposed to focus on first, but the shutdown compromised that. It’s three parts: It’s ethics reform for members of congress, it is voter protections and enhancement and, campaign finance reform. It is the beginning. It is not the end, but to me, it provides a foundation from which we can reconstruct thoughtful deliberation, and hopefully progress, in congress.
HR 8 is a universal background check bill that has the support of just about 85 percent of the country, of both sides, including gun owners, of which I am one. I believe that background checks are reasonable and do not compromise the Second Amendment and most of all, will save some lives.
What is the difference for you between the Green New Deal and the Carbon Fee Dividend Plan?
The Green New Deal is ill-defined. On the surface, it is something that is about green energy, but most explanations indicate it’s about a lot more. I am focused on outcomes and, back to energy and environment, the intersection between energy and environment I do believe is reducing our carbon footprint, and it is fundamental if we want to try to affect productions, and address climate change and reduce global warming.
(Rep.) Ted Deutch just introduced a bill that is a Carbon Fee Dividend bill that I support. … We have to start building the same bridges that were built on universal background checks. We have to do the same now on climate and green energy. And it takes both parties to acknowledge truth and then build solutions.
So, I’ve not taken a position on the Green New Deal, because that isn’t a deal. I have taken a position on addressing climate change and promoting green energy and not waiting until it’s too late. Which is the risk we’re bearing right now if we do nothing.
Health care is a frequent topic at area town halls. How do you plan to make health care more accessible and affordable?
The outcome that we all want, Democrats, Republicans, almost everybody, wants, if for more people to have access to high-quality care. Assuming we all agree on that, then we work our way backwards. How can we reduce the cost of care? The first step on that is negotiating drug pricing, reducing the cost of prescription drug costs and then changing the care delivery model, which means rewarding providers for prevention and outcomes, more than procedures. So that’s how we start reducing the cost of care.
And then in terms of expanding care for people, I believe Medicare should be an option for everyone to buy into, a public option. And I say that because most conservatives want to preserve the freedom to make choices, and the promotion of competition and I agree with both. Most Democrats, liberals, want everybody to have healthcare.
To me the bridge is just that: Have a public option that provides competition and is available to everybody and provides people still the option to do what’s best for them. And if Americans want to choose a public insurance system, they will do so, as long as they’re afforded that chance. It should not be imposed on them.
What is the best way for constituents to get in touch with you?
We will be opening our district office hopefully in February. Right now we have our temporary office at the Bloomington City Hall that is open for business during the week. We have our office telephone number, our website and even my email address: email@example.com. People can email, they can call, they can come into our office. We will be a very accessible organization. Not just me but our entire team in Washington. And when I’ll be in town, I’ve committed to hosting at least one public town hall every quarter throughout the district.
We’ll be hosting issue forums and I encourage people to recommend to us what issues they’d like to see covered. I recognized on the campaign trail that too many people have opinions on subjects without the corresponding information. So whether it’s health care or environment or gun violence, campaign finance, (we will) present broad perspectives with panelists representing a diversity of backgrounds and opinions, and share that information in a public forum so people can at least hear the various perspectives before they develop their own opinions. I intend to do a lot more of that.
I want to find ways for people to come together, we have too few of those opportunities except at state fairs and football games and hockey games and I want to create a public space that supports different perspectives.