Less than 14 hours after he checked out of the Republican Victory Party headquarters in Minneapolis as a victorious, newly-elected member of the United State Congress, Tom Emmer looks … relaxed?
“I did get some rest. I watched a lot of the results roll in with everyone and then went home. It was a pretty exciting night, except for here in Minnesota. That could’ve gone better,” Emmer said, referring to the Governor and Senate races.
Emmer’s candidness is his charm. It worked as a salesman for years traveling the Dakotas, Wisconsin and Minnesota. It worked as a state politician, representing Wright County back when it was House District 19.
It was also his speed bump. See also: The 2010 gubernatorial race.
An unlikely candidate in the first place, he found himself the Republican frontrunner in a year conservative values held on to the same issues Emmer, now 53, pounded as a member of the Legislature. He rallied to the GOP nomination, and ran neck and neck with now Governor Mark Dayton.
When he lost – in a recount – Emmer didn’t know what would happen. Which is where we picked up our Q and A.
NWCT: How did someone who, really, came within a hair of the highest statewide office in Minnesota decide that heading to Washington, D.C., was the next step?
Emmer: First, the governor’s race was a tremendous experience. You don’t go through something like that and come out the same person you were when you started. It effects you. And then, when you lose, you get done and you kind of wonder what it’s all about. So I went back to my radio gig, and I had pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I wasn’t going to run (for public office) again. But then I got word from Michele (Bachmann) and her people that she wasn’t going to run after 2012. She was retiring. The same time that happened, I got some calls. People were saying, ‘You did really well in that district. Maybe this is where you’re needed.’ I talked to my family, to David (FitzSimmons, his campaign manager for governor in 2010 and Albertville Legislator), and it felt right. In servant leadership, you’re called to it. It’s a selfless thing. So this wasn’t about me. It was about serving these people, many of whom I know well.
And the race we just wrapped up was so different. Campaigning for governor is like going uphill with a piano tied to your back. Campaigning in this area is so similar to the Legislature. And I think the experience in D.C. will be similar, on a much bigger scale, to St. Paul. You have a unique collection of peers, coming from different places with different needs and expectations.
NWCT: How does Tom Emmer the politician succeed in Congress?
Emmer: It’s about building relationships, which is something, frankly I think I’m pretty good at. You have someone who is from a similar district in a different state that has similar needs to you? You form a relationship there – get to know them. And maybe together, you can turn those new colleagues into friends who want to work together to get something done.
If you look at Congress today, and the way it’s made up, is there a better time to be a new member? I look at it and there is a roster of people who you look and wonder, ‘How much longer will they be there?’ They’re near the end of great careers. You could see a huge number of these members leaving over this decade. So it’s a great time to be inspired and to be effective at changing the inside of government.
NWCT: How can you best help the residents of your district, here in Minnesota, from there in Washington?
Emmer: Get out of the way. Really. In this area, we need to allow the entrepreneurs who are here the right to do what it is they want to do. We need to ease the tax burdens that have been placed on small businesses. We need to streamline the regulations that have been piling up on people. And there are bunch of places to do that – health care, transportation, energy. This is a district that has coal, nuclear power in Monticello and one of the biggest wind turbine businesses in the country. And transportation is huge.
Plus, this is still an agricultural area. Fifty percent of the small businesses are ag related, and in Stearns County, dairy is the No. 1 business.
NWCT: What’s your biggest ‘wish’ for the President and Republican leadership right now?
Emmer: Republicans have an opportunity now to change direction, something I talked about during the campaign. We can’t be seen as the party that’s against everything. The biggest mistake we’ve made – and this is from a new guy’s perspective – is we’ve been the opposition party, versus the party of solutions. Well, we’ve heard their ideas, and the fact is a lot of them aren’t working. Now it’s time for us to composing the solutions.
With Obamacare, for example, we’ve seen the ideas. We need to be for something, and not against everything. So get rid of the medical device tax, but some up with something that works – like small business pooling together to lower the costs of their insurance.
I think Keystone (pipeline) is something we’ll see pass right away. It’s a solution to a problem in the energy industry, and closer to home, it’s going to free up tons of rail transportation.
It’s going to be up to the President now to lead. People have shown they’re tired of the finger pointing and the games. He still has a chance to get something done.
NWCT: It’s clearly important to the voters in this Congressional District their representative stay connected. How do you do that?
Emmer: Number one, my home will be here, not Washington. People here commute all of the time. I’m going to be a commuter. (Late House Speaker) Tip O’Neill famously said “All politics is local.” I think it’s closer than that. All politics is personal. You have to get out there and be in touch with everyone you can. From the mayors to the public safety officials to the small business guys to the large businesses – they all have something to share and want to be heard. This is a service business, and I know that once I get out there, I can’t stop – you have to come back and tend to that garden.
So a couple of the things we’re going to keep doing is the meetings, and we’re going to keep that office in Otsego, because it’s probably the most central area in our district.
NWCT: What excites you most about this opportunity, having been so close to a much different one four years ago?
Emmer: I just think there are great days ahead. Look, there’s going to be some pain. Some of the things we’ll have to do will be hard. But you look at the future, and I think it’s incredibly bright. I look at the kids – the college kids and the recent graduates – that worked with our campaign and our last campaign – there as connected to it as anyone, and they don’t get enough credit for that. So we’re going to try to keep reaching out to those young people, and young entrepreneurs with great ideas, and keep them involved. That’s great for government. So that excites me.
NWCT: Not to sound cynical, but is it possible to do some of these things with so much outside influence in a place like D.C.?
Emmer: (Smiles) That’s an excuse. It really is. That’s a lot of whining. This is a time, and people know it, to get back to real discussion and debate. If you look at the demographics, a lot of us want the same things. We want to make life better for the next generation. We want to have our kids in a place where they can enjoy the things we’ve enjoyed, only better. So do that. Make the personal relationships you need to get things done. Being a personal politician makes you a good representative. That’s service.