Sullivan enters Dem field for Walz’s seat

MANKATO — A Mankato man is ready to jump into the upcoming congressional race in southern Minnesota.

Joe Sullivan, 42, is the seventh contender in a crowded Democratic field vying for the House seat occupied by U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, D-1st District, in next year’s election.

Sullivan is kicking off his campaign at 10:30 a.m. today at the Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota.

Walz announced earlier this year he will run for governor in 2018.

Sullivan had been debating a political run earlier this year after hearing about congressional difficulty and federal infighting in Washington, D.C. As Sullivan puts it, Washington has become “exhausting.”

“Every morning I wake up, and the news is another norm broken, another rule that has been thrown out,” Sullivan said. “It is tiring, and I’m very concerned about people checking out.”

Yet Sullivan has never run for office before. He didn’t decide on a campaign until after a visit to Arlington National Cemetery with his family earlier this year. The soldiers and leaders buried there spurred him to consider running for office.

“You can’t help but be struck by just the thousands and thousands of people who have died for this country, who have sacrificed for this country,” Sullivan said. “I was struck by the sacrifice of all these people and I was just like, ‘Our politics is beneath their sacrifice.’ I want to do something about it.”

Sullivan’s no stranger to southern Minnesota. He works as a manager of strategic relations for the Center for Energy and the Environment. Before that, he worked with law firm Flaherty & Hood on southern Minnesota issues.

He moved to the area almost four years ago with his wife, Kara, and children.

Sullivan said his priorities lie in health care, education, agriculture and renewable energy.

Sullivan agrees with universal health care and access, but he’s not as convinced as other Democrats are that a single-payer system is the solution to U.S. health care policy. Sullivan said he hasn’t seen one overarching plan he completely agrees with, but he would like to see Congress focus on expanding public health options and get more access to care for residents.

“I think we need to focus on what are the outcomes that we want.”

On agriculture and education, Sullivan said it’s important for Congress to fully fund programs already in place rather than make budget cuts. Ag food programs and farm subsidies need to be in place for agribusiness to thrive, Sullivan said.

By the same token, he wants federal officials to do more to cut college and university costs for students who want to pursue degrees after high school. Sullivan said he remembered when college students could pay tuition costs with a part-time job, and he wants future students to have the same opportunities.

Though Sullivan doesn’t agree with President Donald Trump’s bombastic flair, he does share Trump’s views on infrastructure — more federal funding is needed for infrastructure projects around the U.S., and especially southern Minnesota.

“We need to do more infrastructure in this country,” Sullivan said. “Infrastructure is what sets the foundation for opportunity.”

He points to southern Minnesota’s burgeoning wind energy industry as evidence more focus on infrastructure is needed. The region boasts a majority of Minnesota’s wind energy production and, therefore, the majority of the 4,000 or so wind energy jobs in the state as well as increased tax revenues with every wind project.

“It’s jobs, healthier communities and hotels that are filled with people who are working at the wind farms and doing construction at the solar facilities,” Sullivan said. “You tell that story, and that’s how you get bipartisan support, and that’s why wind and solar are doing as well as they are.”

Sullivan would like to see more federal emphasis on broadband funding as well.

The Mankato candidate will face tough competition on his path to securing the Democratic party’s nomination for Walz’s 1st Congressional District seat. He’ll square off with North Mankato veteran Dan Feehan, former state Sen. Vicki Jensen, of Owatonna, John Austinson, of Eyota, Johhny Akzam and Regina Mustafa, of Rochester, and Colin Minehart, of Albert Lea.

First Congressional District Vice Chair Jim Hepworth said earlier this month several other Democratic competitors are exploring campaigns as well.

Jim Hagedorn of Blue Earth is the only Republican who has thus far announced a run for Walz’s seat. Several prominent Republican names, including Sen. Jeremy Miller of Winona and Aaron Miller of Byron, have ruled out congressional runs in the upcoming election.

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