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My reflections on running for Congress to represent southern Minnesota

“I emerge from this experience with a greater respect for those who run for office. It’s a ton of work, you really put yourself out there, you lose a lot of privacy, and you can be subject to abuse. But, it is also a rewarding opportunity to engage directly in issues of importance to the lives of many people,” writes Democrat Jeff Ettinger.

Jeff Ettinger
Jeff Ettinger
REUTERS/John Gress

In the time since the midterm election, I have enjoyed the opportunity to spend more time with my family and friends, and I have also been busy with an array of business and non-profit board meetings.

A number of folks have said to me, “You ought to write a book on what it was like to run for Congress.” Well, I definitely don’t have a full book worth of observations, but I decided to try my hand at an “article.”

The full version is here, but I hope MinnPost readers will get something out of this summary. I would enjoy hearing any reactions or thoughts you might have if you are willing to share them.

I still believe we need more people who can cut through the partisan divide in our country, and I am hopeful that our campaign contributed to this effort.

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I emerge from this experience with a greater respect for those who run for office. It’s a ton of work, you really put yourself out there, you lose a lot of privacy, and you can be subject to abuse. But, it is also a rewarding opportunity to engage directly in issues of importance to the lives of many people. I also really appreciate and admire the tireless folks who support campaigns – who march in parades, put up signs, send postcards, knock on doors, make contributions.

I do have a few suggestions of ways to possibly improve the process. Here it goes:

  1. We need to find ways to have shorter, less expensive campaigns. Other countries do it. Public access to media time might be an answer – there was a TV station that ran two-minute profiles of each candidate for free – very helpful!
  2. I would advocate a change to four-year terms in Congress. We could have half of the seats up every two years, so the national responsiveness could be preserved. Members of Congress basically serve a year then run for office for a year.
  3. We need to get rid of dark money, or at the very least require full disclosure of donors to such funds and accountability for accuracy, like the candidates bear.
  4. We should do more to encourage real content and interaction. The best event of the entire campaign, for me, was a forum hosted during the primary by the Winona State College Democrats and the Winona-area Democrats. It was well-moderated, had over 200 interested audience members of all ages, and allowed voters to formulate an educated opinion about multiple candidates. I believe a certain number of debates or forums should be required … or if the other side is a no-show, all the time should go to the one who shows up (this actually happened in our race in Worthington – it was a great event). They also should be televised and readily available online.
  5. The parties are too strong in Congress (and at the state). Even with a negligible majority, the “winning” party leadership can block hearings, refuse amendments, and bundle issues together for votes that bear little relation to one another.
  6. Most important – we need to accept the results of elections. My Republican opponent was the only one of top four candidates in his party in the primary who said he would have certified the 2020 Presidential election, and I give him credit for that. I am also glad that most of the election deniers lost in the 2022 midterms, and am relieved that most candidates accepted the 2022 results (except you, Kari Lake).

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Finally, I am deeply appreciative to my family for all of their support and to my team for their hard work and dedication. And, thank you to everyone who read my earlier reflection or is reading this summary now. I am glad for the opportunity to share these observations about my experience in running for Congress.

Jeff Ettinger was the Democratic candidate who ran for Minnesota’s 1st Congressional District seat in the 2022 election. He is a former CEO of Hormel Foods.