Minnesota’s Fifth Congressional District has been a Democratic stronghold for years, so it would seem its current seat holder, Rep. Keith Ellison, has an easy path to re-election this November.
His Republican challenger, Chris Fields sees things a bit differently.
“I’m no dummy,” said Fields during a recent interview at his condo in the Warehouse District. “In 2006, 60 percent of democrats didn’t vote for [Ellison] in the primary. 44 percent of voters didn’t vote for him in the general. We [Republicans] haven’t put a credible candidate up against him.”
In 2006 Ellison easily won the House seat with 56 percent of the vote. His three opponents combined for 44 percent of the vote. In 2008 and 2010 Ellison carried the district with 70.9 percent and 67.7 percent of the vote.
Fields is critical of Ellison saying he should be doing more for the residents of the district.
“His record is not one of achievement,” said Fields. “We’re at 20 percent unemployment [for African-Americans] and have the largest [educational] achievement gap in the nation. This tells me Keith Ellison is not focused on the people of this district.”
Ellison said Fields misrepresents the facts.
“My top priority as a member of Congress has been creating lasting economic prosperity for working families by helping secure major investments in the Fifth District for transportation projects, bridge repair, and public safety,” said the Congressman. “In North Minneapolis, I’ve worked with partners to secure investments in Summit Academy’s green jobs initiative, the Northside Economic Opportunity Network, and the Northside Achievement Zone; all of which create jobs, spur growth, and help cut the achievement gap so our kids a have a better future.”
Ellison said Fields supports the Republican plan to slash investments in education and job training, which, according to Ellison, would significantly harm the people of the Fifth District.
Fields is a relative newcomer to politics; and for that matter to Minnesota. Born in Bronx, N.Y., Fields spent 21 years in the Marines, retiring as a major. While living in San Diego, Fields met his future wife, who is a defense attorney working for a firm here in Minneapolis. The two married and Fields moved to Minneapolis in April of 2011.
In an era of more conservatism within the Republican Party, many of Fields’ political positions may be considered moderate. The former Marine supports an end to U.S. troop deployment in Afghanistan and even offers a somewhat kind word for President Obama when it comes to his efforts in healthcare.
“[President Obama] gets an A for effort for trying to tackle the issue [of healthcare],” said Fields. “The product he produced is actually a D or F.”
Fields objections to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare, deal with the mandate to force citizens to purchase a product from private insurance companies and an absence of tort reform provisions. “If those things were in there, the grade gets better.”
On the issue of gay marriage, Fields is a bit coy. Fields believes the question of gay marriage is one for states to wrestle with and not an issue for the Federal government, but he said he would be a friend of the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] community. Fields also questions the sincerity of Ellison’s support for the LGBT community.
“[Ellison is] the same dude who’s hanging with all these Saudis and they would stone homosexuals, so how are you a friend of the LGBT community,” questioned Fields.
“Mr. Fields is out of touch with Minnesota values because he continues making statements that seek to divide our communities rather than trying to bring people together,” said Ellison. “I am proud to represent all of the diverse communities in the Fifth District and thankful for the opportunity to have conversations with residents of different races, religions, political views and sexual orientations every day.”
Ellison said for the past four years he has traveled to Saudi Arabia with Minnesota businesses in order to promote understanding and expand economic opportunity for businesses in the state. He went on to state he also works with groups at home and abroad to promote human rights and he proudly supports an individual’s freedom to marry the person they love.
“Minnesotans reject Mr. Fields' belief that it is problematic to talk with folks with whom we disagree because we believe that talking out our differences is the only path toward a more prosperous and peaceful world,” said Ellison.
Fields is also critical of how Ellison handled last year’s tornado that ripped through much of North Minneapolis.
“We didn’t get the attention we needed [from the Federal Government],” said Fields when questioned about the response and relief efforts following the tornado. “We should have gotten just as much assistance as Joplin [Mo.]”.
Joplin was hit by a tornado on the same day as the North Minneapolis tornado. That tornado killed 161 people and caused more than $2 billion in damages.
“[Fields’] statement [regarding tornado response] is completely untrue,” said Ellison. “I worked closely with our governor, our senators, our mayor, and community leaders to mobilize a swift and effective response. We worked around the clock to bring food, water, shelter, and clothing to our neighbors in addition to working together with President Obama and federal agencies to bring needed funds that helped homeowners, renters, and small businesses recover from the disaster.”
Ellison said it is disappointing that someone who moved to Minneapolis just one month before the tornado, would be critical of the Federal government’s swift response.
Fields said he will soon layout his legislative agenda, including his stances on economic policy and education reforms. Come November, he ask voters to keep an open mind.