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Phillips vs Weiler in 3rd District showdown

Two-term incumbent Democrat faces challenge from Republican US Navy veteran.

MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota's 3rd Congressional District has the highest voter turnout in the nation, something incumbent U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips says he appreciates quite a bit.

"I love my job. It’s the most extraordinary experience of my entire life, helping people, listen to people, converting what I hear here in Minnesota into action in Washington," Phillips told KARE.

The district, situated in the western suburbs of Minneapolis, was solidly Republican for decades until 2018 when Democrat Phillips flipped it to blue.

Phillips is one of the heirs to the Phillips Distilling Company and the grandson of advice columnist Abigail Van Buren, aka Dear Abby.  He worked as a business executive, small business owner and philanthropist before jumping into the political arena in 2018 with his converted milk delivery truck dubbed "the government repair truck."

More recently he's been taking two-hour shifts at businesses across the district, to learn more about those industries and hear from the owners and employees about the issues they're experiencing.

"My job is about listening. And the best way to listen is to go to people, not expect them to come to me"

RELATED: 2022 Voter Guide: What to know about Minnesota's elections

As the vice chair of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus in Congress, Phillips has engaged in "Common Ground Workshops" with Republican members, such as Rep. Dusty Johnson of South Dakota. He hosted Johnson at the Minn. State Fair and Johnson took Phillips on a tour around places in our neighboring state to the west.

"We have to create spaces and places and build relationships with people who see things differently. That's what America is about."

Tom Weiler

Phillips faces a challenge from Republican Tom Weiler, who spent 20 years in the U.S. Navy, mostly in the submarine service, where he rose to the rank of commander.

"I would still be out there commanding submarines today, but unfortunately, about five years ago I was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease," Weiler told KARE.

"So, that was a big curveball, a medical curveball for my wife, my family."

Despite the best efforts of his doctors at Walter Reed, Johns Hopkins and the Mayo Clinic, the Navy still decided he couldn't command submarines anymore.

But he got one last deployment aboard the USS Eisenhower, an aircraft carrier, which is where he saw something that led him to politics.

"The morning of May 29th, 2020, I woke up early to prepare for watch as a Battle Watch Captain, turned on Armed Forces Network in my stateroom and out of nowhere, to my shock and sadness, it was the streets of Minneapolis on fire, the 3rd Precinct being abandoned,"

"So, it was at that moment I decided if indeed Parkinson’s prematurely ended my submarine career, I wanted to return home and run for office."

Weiler's version of the government repair truck is his grandfather's vintage fishing boat which he tows around the district, complete with the campaign slogan, "Turn the Ship Around." The novice politician said it didn't take long for him to discover what voters care about right now in the third district.

"Right now, it's inflation first and foremost, followed closely by crime, and education. And those are the three issues that I want to come to Congress and pragmatically solve problems using my leadership and problem-solving skills I've developed in the service."

The Issues

Weiler blames large government spending bills during and after the COVID-19 crisis for the rampant inflation Americans have been dealing with.

"Congressman Phillips has voted in support of over $4 trillion worth of spending since President Biden took office, and that excessive government spending clearly contributes to the inflation problem we’re at today," Weiler remarked.

"I will definitely be a check to the reckless spending of the Bidden agenda. Congressman Phillips is not. He’s voted 100 percent in alignment with President Biden and Speaker Pelosi."

Phillips concedes that government spending can be a contributing factor to inflation, but he said there are a lot of other aspects to consider when it comes to explaining the price spikes hitting consumers and businesses in the past two years.

"Inflation is real, but inflation is lower in the United States than it is in other developed nations. American Government spending did not cause inflation in Britain or Germany or France," Phillips explained.

"I remind everybody we spent $7 trillion that were added to the national debt during the Trump administration in the middle of a pandemic. Along with President Biden by the way, we’ve been trying to keep people safe and secure, maintain their jobs and their paychecks, so they can pay their rent, put food on the table."

Phillips won the endorsement of the US Chamber of Commerce in this election cycle. The organization, which endorses more Republicans than Democrats, cited Phillips for his work to solve a glitch in the Paycheck Protection Program that was putting smaller businesses at a disadvantage.

The Chamber also recognized Phillips for his support of the CHIPS Act, which will boost semiconductor manufacturing and research in this country, making us less dependent on foreign microchip suppliers.

Policing

Amid the aftershocks of the George Floyd murder, Phillips voted for the Justice for George Floyd Act in the house. The bill, which passed the House but failed to get traction in the Senate, banned the use of choke holds and no-knock warrants.

The bill would've also removed qualified immunity from lawsuits for officers at the federal level, which is one of the reasons it was opposed by many law enforcement groups and Republicans.

Weiler cites that vote as an example of Phillips and fellow Democrats trying to undercut police.

"A vote to remove qualified immunity is an absolute game changer for police," Weiler said. "Qualified immunity is a protection for cops, who in the heat of the moment in a good faith make a good faith mistake."

Phillips said he supported the bill hoping it would be changed in the Senate and come back to the House without the qualified immunity language in it.

"Two things can be true at once. We need justice for everybody, and we also need safety for everybody," Phillips said.

"I believe deeply in our police departments. I am proud of the men and women who wear the badge in the 3rd District."

The Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association endorsed Phillips for re-election in 2022, citing his work on behalf of law enforcement.  He introduced the Pathways to Policing Act, designed to bolster police recruitment efforts. He was also an original cosponsor to the Invest to Protect Act.

Phillips introduced the Pathways to Policing Act, H.R. 7826, to bolster police recruitment efforts nationwide. It has been endorsed by the MPPOA as well as many other state and national law enforcement associations. Phillips was also an original cosponsor of the Invest to Protect Act, which recently passed the House with broad, bipartisan support and authorizes additional funding for police departments of 125 or fewer officers - which includes

Civility

Phillips said that politicians behaving childishly, and the "Anger-tainment" industry has capitalized on divisiveness, making it harder for people to get along with each other.

"Legislators can’t legislate compassion or respect or decency or civility, we have to encourage it and model the very behavior we expect from others," Phillips remarked.

Phillips was in the U.S. House Chamber on Jan. 6, 2021 the day of the insurrection against the Capitol aimed at stopping the certification of the 2020 Presidential Election results.

"It was the worst 15 minutes of my life, because we thought we were going to be killed, those of us in the chamber," Phillips recalled.

"What really upset me, and will leave an indelible mark on me forever, is the fact it happened here in the United States."

RELATED: Walz, Jensen rally at Minnesota Capitol to promote turnout

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Inflation blame game

In 2021, the Poynter Institute's Politifact rated claims that Biden caused inflation as "mostly false" because most of the major COVID-relief spending occurred before he took office.

That was followed up in 2022 by a Politifact analysis that said it was "half true" that large government spending bills were contributing to inflation because government spending is part of the overall spending that increases demand for products and services.

Some economists warned the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Biden signed into law would heat up the economy too fast by giving Americans money to spend, and spending can create inflation by increasing demand for limited supplies of goods and services. 

Democrats point out that Congress spent $7 trillion to help offset the economic impacts of COVID-19 before Biden took office. They also note that inflation is worse in Europe, which isn't affected by US government spending.

It's important to note that the $1 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Biden signed in November of 2021 is spending that will roll out across the next decade. It's not all entering the economy at once. The politically divided Minnesota Legislature balked at providing matching funds to take advantage of those dollars.

The $369 million Inflation Reduction Act will also be phased in over a decade. It includes features to reduce the cost of insulin and other prescription drugs, as well as tax incentives to make clean energy devices more affordable.

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