Fifth Congressional District Candidate Mike Erlandson said it was a “gut decision” when he decided to walk out on the DFL endorsing convention after being heckled. After he left the endorsement went to Keith Ellison. A few weeks later, Erlandson announced he would run, joining a field of three other candidates challenging Ellison in a September primary for Representative Martin Sabo’s seat.
What happened at the endorsing convention?
Well, I mean, obviously, the convention chose to endorse another candidate. We went full force in earning and wanting to earn the support of the Democratic Farmer Labor Party and the endorsement in the fifth congressional district. It didn’t go that way.
We always knew there would be a primary in the fifth congressional district. You know, I think there was a lot of people who believed with 13 candidates, it was unlikely that the party would choose any one individual because it was so very divided. But I made the decision that day to sort of step off the stage having come to that event to win or to lose or to have it be a draw. That’s what had happened and be done with the campaign.
I was personally disappointed in how we were treated. Not so much in leading up to the effort or even once I had begun my speech, but just as we entered the hall. And I’ve always showed respect to the Democratic Party. I was honored to chair the DFL Party for six years. I don’t think anyone has worked harder in the last maybe decade or two for the Democratic Party—particularly in the role of defeating Republicans and Independents and electing more Democrats at all levels of office so that we can govern in Democratic majorities.
The race for Congress in the fifth congressional district is something that I was excited to be a part of and remain excited to be a part of. It’s a primary that’s very crowded with four people in the race before I made the decision to stay in the race. And I think it will be one that’s based on the issues. As we move forward facing our district, our state and our nation, I think a good healthy debate amongst all the candidates will be good for this race and will be good for which ever one of us prevails on September 12th and make us a better member of Congress and more understanding of the comments and concerns of the residents as a whole and as at large in the fifth congressional district.
Now Mike I wasn’t there when you took the stage. I actually was traveling from the second congressional district where I am to the fifth to see what was going on. And you were apparently heckled while you were on the stage and you said that was what … you at that point said it was a “gut decision” to do what you were going to do. Why do you think what happened, happened the way it did at the convention?
Oh I’m not sure. You know conventions take on their own lives to them and you know I don’t believe that maybe it was any more representative of anything other than a few individuals. But you know it’s a pretty small group of people considering that we’re talking about a very safe Democratic seat in the United States House of Representatives. It’s one that’s general election will take place on September 12th.
If you think about the issues that are facing our state and our nation and how serious they are, I think the voters should have a good opportunity and see a good debate in a real big campaign amongst the candidates. I’m excited to join Ember (Reichgott Junge) and Paul (Ostrow) and Keith and Erik (Thompson) in this race. You know I think we all come from different backgrounds and different levels of experience. And I think each one of us needs to present our own opinion why we feel we’re the most qualified candidate and the one who can provide the most leadership for our district. And that’s the kind of campaign I’m going to run to the primary electorate and really the electorate as a whole here in the fifth district over the course of the next several months.
So, you know, there are many endorsements in the process from labor organizations to individuals, to the party, to multitudes of other organizations and we will continue to seek endorsements. And we will continue to seek the resources and the friendship necessary to run a grassroots campaign here in the fifth district.
Last we chatted you said you had to go home and think about it. You had to think about what you were going to do. Can you tell me why you came to the conclusion that you did—that you wanted to continue running in this race?
Well when I got in the race, 10-11 weeks ago—whatever that was now—we never assumed that there wouldn’t be a primary election. We always assumed that we were a candidate that was a strong candidate that was probably the most qualified candidate for this job. And it’s a very big job, one that I believe I can provide the leadership for the district and help get the job done from day one, which is a uniquely different perspective than the other candidates in this field.
The reality is in part the two weeks subsequent to the convention our child care was on vacation and so I was helping take care of my children and talking to friends, and I’m very pleased that people are very supportive of having me continue in this campaign that we really figured was going to headed towards a primary no matter what happened at the convention. And that certainly is the case.
We’ve got really four, five very uniquely different voices in the race. I think whichever one of us convinces the primary electorate and the general electorate that we can address the issues facing our nation from global warming to health care to education to the budget mess most effectively and really who can hold the Republicans in Washington, D.C. accountable.
I’ve done battle with George Bush and the Republicans in Congress for a long time. I know where the problems are that exist for the Republicans—and this really is about ultimately doing battle with the Republicans and changing the agenda that’s before our nation right now. I have always forced myself—in a positive sense of the word “forced” because it’s something I deeply believe in since I was a very young individual—that if we’re not moving forward on making life better for everybody in our country and in the world then we probably as people who are involved in public service ought to give question to why we’re involved.
And so we have a responsibility to the generations we’ll never know. And I look forward to the opportunity to make the case to the electorate here along with the other candidates who I have the utmost respect for all of them that are in the primary competition as we head towards September 12th.
My race is not going to be a race against Paul or against Keith or against Ember or against Erik, but rather a race about why I believe I’m the most qualified candidate for this job and why I believe I’ve got the skills and the leadership ability to move the ball forward for our district in Washington starting on January of 2007. If we can’t make that case successfully than somebody else will get this very special opportunity serve the district that I’ve had the honor of working for 19 years and one that I certainly love that even grew up in. So it’s a great battle ahead, but one that’s very important to our district and our nation.
You know the very first time I had you on the show you said something that stuck me. In fact I’ve referred to it since then as “The Mike Erlandson Test”. You said we don’t need Democrats who can beat Democrats; we need Democrats who can beat Republicans. Now since it’s almost a forgone conclusion that a Democrat is going to win in the fifth, doesn’t your entering the race—or the primary—or just having the primary take away money that the DFL would rather spend beating Republicans in the sixth, the second or even possibly the fourth?
Well, I think that if I have the opportunity to represent this district starting on September 13th, which would be the day after the (primary), I’m the candidate that’s best positioned to help Coleen (Rowley) or to help Patty (Wetterling) or to help Tim (Waltz) or to help Wendy (Wilde) be successful. And I’ve held fundraisers for Tim Walz, for example, in my home. I’ve been actively involved in trying to give guidance to others of these congressional candidates and these other congressional campaigns across the country. And so that’s a very important job. And I know that if there’s a grassroots campaign to be run as we head towards November to help our governors candidate and Senate candidate as well in the fifth congressional district I think I’m the most positioned to help them beat Republicans.
That was part of the reason that I entered this race. I do believe that the member of Congress from the fifth congressional district like my boss and my mentor (Representative) Martin Sabo has a responsibility not just to this district, but to helping Democrats all across the country and that’s something that we took very seriously in our role as a Democrat that represents a safe congressional district. You know that’s something that allowed me to serve, as the state Democratic Farmer Labor Party chair was a commitment by myself, a commitment by Congressman Sabo, to help advance the Democrats in our state and help advance Democrats in the nation. You do that by rolling up your sleeves and going to work against Republicans.
Clearly there’s going to be a contested primary here in the fifth congressional district. The good news is I don’t think that will distract at all from any of the other campaigns and, in fact, if a strong leader is picked here in the fifth district that can help in those other districts—and I believe I’m that candidate—I think there will be a windfall in the end for the contested races for Congress and for our statewide ticket.
When I had Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer on the show—he dropped out now that he didn’t get the endorsement—one of the things he said was why he was running was that he felt Martin Sabo didn’t really represent the district in the sense that it was a very safe district and that he took very moderate views on things. Are you going to be different than Martin Sabo?
Well, of course, I’ll be different than Martin Sabo, but just as it relates to moderate views, I mean, Congressman Sabo was one of the ten most liberal members of the United States Congress in most of the rankings by the Congressional Quarterly or the National Journal and out of all 535 House members and Senators Mr. Sabo was almost always one of the most liberal. In the last year that Senator Wellstone—for example—was still alive I think Martin was ranked number eight and Paul (Wellstone) was 18th or 20th. So I’m not sure why Mr. Pallmeyer had the objection that he did with Congressman Sabo—somebody who anyone of us that has this opportunity would be honored to have a voting record you score a 100 percent with men and women in labor, you score 100 percent with environmental organizations, you score 100 percent with women’s organizations. That’s what it’s all about.
So when it comes to being different on things working for working men and women or working for equal rights or working for this congressional district with a loud voice to deliver and get the job done—I won’t be different. I might be a little more outspoken than Congressman Sabo because our personalities are a little bit different. He tended to be somewhat of a quiet Norwegian and I’ve always been perhaps too outspoken of an Irish-Swede-Slovak, but I look forward to the opportunity if I get it. And if I get it I know that I’ll do a good job and it’s a district that the representative needs to be a strong leader on progressive liberal ideals. Congressman Sabo was that kind of leader. I’d be honored to be that kind of leader too.
Mike, one last question for you. Obviously Keith Ellison has the backing of the DFL. And with that backing you could say he’s pretty much the front-runner in this race or at least the one that everyone should be gunning for. What do you see as the main difference that somebody should choose you in the primary over Keith Ellison?
Well, again, certainly he has the advantage being not just endorsed candidate, but also a sitting member of the legislature. I think that this job ultimately is about who is the most qualified for the job that we’re applying for. And we’re applying to be a member of the United States Congress.
And for the last 19 years, that’s a job that I’ve been the right-hand to a very good member of Congress. I know this district better than anybody else. I know that I have the leadership skills to get the job done in Washington, D.C. starting from day one and the connections in Washington, D.C. to make it happen. And so if qualifications and if experience and if understanding how to defeat Republicans and their agenda are part of the debate as we move towards September 12th, I think I’m very well positioned to have the opportunity to make my case to the voters of the fifth Congressional District.
But, again, I have nothing negative to say about any of the candidates in the race. We’re just going to make our own case why we’re the most qualified. We have the leadership skills. I think why we’re going to run a campaign on the issues that matter most to the people of the fifth Congressional District again from making sure that our educational system is one that’s top quality to the role of the federal government is involved in that.
I think that there are some new and unique ways that the federal government can get involved in education to be helpful for our local school districts. And obviously fighting for working men and women so we don’t . . . so we have more people with health care versus less people with health care, that people in the labor movement ultimately have the opportunity to organize and collective bargaining—all these things have been under attack by Republicans, including our very planet is under attack with policies that have led to increasing effects of global warming. Things that if we don’t address and change and turn around in the short term, we’re going to be in . . . the problems that we face today will pale in comparison to the problems that we’ll face in the future.
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