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Walz hopes to unite metro, rural DFLers

Watching the energy, intelligence and passion that U.S. Rep. Tim Walz brings to his campaign for governor, you can't help but think that the students in his Mankato classroom were lucky to have him for a teacher.

U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, left, is seeking the DFL endorsement for governor in 2018. He talked to a group of about 20 supporters at The Lodge in Detroit Lakes recently. Nathan Bowe/Tribune
U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, left, is seeking the DFL endorsement for governor in 2018. He talked to a group of about 20 supporters at The Lodge in Detroit Lakes recently. Nathan Bowe/Tribune
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Watching the energy, intelligence and passion that U.S. Rep. Tim Walz brings to his campaign for governor, you can't help but think that the students in his Mankato classroom were lucky to have him for a teacher.

And in fact Walz, a moderate Democrat in a red district, won several awards for his teaching, including the 2002 Minnesota Ethics in Education award winner, 2003 Mankato Teacher of the Year, and the 2003 Minnesota Teacher of Excellence.

As a DFLer in the Collin Peterson vein, though perhaps not quite as conservative, many Democrats see Walz as the best way to win back rural Minnesota voters who flocked to Republican Donald Trump in the last election.

"The Grand Canyon gap between rural Minnesota and the Twin Cities is a false concept," Walz told about 20 people from around the region at a meeting in Detroit Lakes last week.

(Walz had meetings planned in Moorhead and Grand Rapids, and supporter Kip Fontaine of Thief River Falls hastily arranged for the meeting in Detroit Lakes, which brought people from across northwest Minnesota.)

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"This is the first time I've met Tim, but I've been following his career, and he fits rural Minnesota to a tee," said Fontaine.

Walz supports mining in the Iron Range and is a strong supporter of gun rights, consistently earning top scores from the National Rifle Association.

Walz said he grew up hunting, spent 24 years in the Army National Guard (when he retired in 2005, he was the highest-ranking enlisted service member ever to serve in Congress) and knows the importance of Second Amendment rights.

He says he's not a "tree hugger," but believes in common sense environmental policies. The move towards a clean energy economy is now economically feasible, he said, pointing to Camp Ripley, which provides its own power via banks of solar panels. Under the panels are pollinator fields, and "tons of copper" is used in the solar energy system. That copper could be mined by Minnesotans, he said.

"Rural folks, just like city folks, want to work hard and have a good life for their children," he said.

As a congressman, he voted for the Affordable Care Act multiple times, he said. Everybody should have access to health care. It's the right thing, and it's good for business and the economy, he said. "Businesses know they're more productive with healthy workers. Some call it socialism, but what's labeled as socialism is oftentimes neighborliness and good economic policies."

The end goal, he said, is "how do we move towards a future that works for everyone?"

Walz believes the DFL is the party most likely to help the average Minnesotan.

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As a child growing up in Nebraska, Social Security survivor benefits helped his family survive. He benefited from good public schools and later from Pell grant and the GI Bill for his college education. Add it all up, he says, and it means "I didn't go to the Democrats, the Democrats came to me."

He senses that many Minnesotans are dissatisfied with President Trump and believes there will be an anti-Trump backlash in 2018.

"This is our opportunity," he said. "This is our time. We're trying to put out policies to improve people's lives. Elections are a means to an end-it's Walz or Wisconsin." (Wisconsin took a sharp right turn under Republican Gov. Scott Walker).

Walz represents Minnesota's 1st Congressional District, which includes Worthington, Mankato, Albert Lea, Faribault, Austin, Rochester and Winona.

He's proud of his work in Congress, especially on the Veterans' Affairs Committee, one of the most functional bipartisan groups in Congress. "We beat back an attempt to privatize the VA last week," he said. Veterans groups supported Walz in that action, he said, but "it drew the Koch brothers' ire on me."

A Walz bill that sought to limit congressional insider trading (the STOCK Act) passed in 2012 with overwhelming bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate.

His bill to help reduce the number of veteran suicides passed both the House and Senate unanimously and was signed by President Obama. He is a member of the House Agriculture Committee and is the ranking member of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee. He serves as co-chair of the National Guard & Reserve Components Caucus, the House Congressional Veterans Jobs Caucus, and the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus. He co-founded the Congressional Propane Caucus.

Walz joined the National Guard when he was 17. His leadership was recognized: in 1989, he was name Nebraska Citizen-Soldier of the Year. He spent a year teaching in China before returning home, and in 1993 he was named the Outstanding Young Nebraskan by the Nebraska Junior Chamber of Commerce for his service in the education, military, and small-business communities.

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His return to Nebraska led to pivotal moments in his life. He accepted a teaching and coaching position. More importantly, he met Gwen Whipple, who was teaching at the same school. They were married, and they moved to Mankato in 1996, where they began teaching and coaching at Mankato West High School. In addition to teaching social studies, Walz helped coach the Mankato West football team that won the school's first state championship.

"To be honest, I did not pay a lot of attention to politics," Walz said in a bio published on his website. "Things changed in 2004. Former President George Bush came to speak in a Mankato quarry. I accompanied two students who wanted to hear the speech. When we arrived, one of my students was turned away because of a John Kerry sticker on his wallet.

We were ordered to board a bus to take us away from the quarry. Though I was allowed to stay-after offensive questioning by a campaigner-the boys were told to leave. This was a teachable moment for them and for me. I decided that, if a command sergeant major could be harassed for wishing to hear his commander-in-chief, the political process was deeply broken.

That night, I became committed to working to help repair our nation's political system."

Walz won his first election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2006, defeating six-term incumbent Gil Gutknecht by a margin of 53 percent to 47 percent. He was re-elected in 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014, and 2016.

Two-term DFL Gov. Mark Dayton will not run again in 2018, so Walz is part of a crowded field. Other candidates vying for the DFL endorsement include: St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, state representatives Tina Liebling and Erin Murphy, Minnesota State Auditor Rebecca Otto, and Paul Thissen, former Speaker and Minority Leader of the Minnesota House.

Ten Republican candidates are vying for the GOP endorsement, including Detroit Lakes native Jeff Johnson.

Related Topics: DETROIT LAKES
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