Lee finds hope in the center


With the race to succeed U.S. Rep. Martin Sabo already experiencing some of the most polarizing rhetoric of this campaign season, one of the four endorsed candidates on the November ballot says it’s time for voters to seek the middle ground.

Travel executive Tammy Lee, the Independence Party’s choice in the Fifth Congressional District, says she will bring both government and private sector experience to the job—along with a moderate approach to the nation’s fiscal troubles.

“A $10 trillion national debt is immoral,” she says.

Beyond these concerns about the budget, Lee would also work to create a health care system the would encourage association health plans that businesses could afford, craft a “rational energy policy,” and look ahead 10 years when planning transportation policy.

Unlike Sabo, whose position on the House Appropriations Committee has allowed him to deliver billions of dollars in federal pork over the years, Lee says she opposes Congress’s earmarking process, which she argues is responsible for inordinately wasteful spending. “It’s just bad public policy,” she explains. “We need a merit-based system for approving projects.”

The 35-year-old Lee, a native of Kensington, Minnesota, spent several years as a television producer and reporter after graduating from Concordia College in Moorhead. She later worked as a staffer in North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan’s office before landing a job as a Washington lobbyist for U.S. Airways. She’s currently an executive with Mark Travel.

It was her business experience that moved her from a the liberal end of the political spectrum more toward the center, but she stresses that she’ll bring a fair approach to Congress. “You can’t be anti-worker and you can’t be anti-business, because they both fuel the economy,” she says.

As recently as 1998, though, Lee was working for DFL endorsee Skip Humphrey on his gubernatorial campaign. Humphrey and Republican Norm Coleman lost in an upset to Reform Party candidate Jesse Ventura, a race that convinced Lee that there’s enough of an independent base in the district to make a run herself.

“But it’s not about me,” she says. “It’s about crafting a movement here and giving people hope that government can be done differently.”

A single mother of a 3-year-old daughter, Lee is learning firsthand the rigors of a fevered campaign season. But she says she’s getting lots of help from her mother and sister—both of whom have taken up residence in her Golden Valley home—and from her daughter’s father, who Lee says is “very involved” in her daughter’s life.

The schedule, in fact, has not been that much different from her normal commuting routine, in which she spends two days a week at Sun Country’s corporate headquarters in Milwaukee.

Still, the grind has given her a new appreciation for those who seek public office—especially considering how the strongly DFL district stacks up against an independent.

Unlike her Republican opponent, Alan Fine, who has been lashing out at DFLer Keith Ellison since the September 12 primary election, Lee has taken the high road. Indeed, her main pitch to voters is pretty simple: Because it’s just a two-year term, “What have you got to lose?” she says, noting that she’s asking people to “vote their hopes and dreams, not their fears and frustrations.”