The long shot: Democrat Roger Kittelson enters CD2 race with focus on trade, single-payer health care

Roger Kittelson

The two-woman race for the DFL nomination in the Second Congressional District is now — at least officially — a three-person contest. This week, Roger Kittelson, a 59-year-old dairy industry professional from Goodhue, launched his bid for Congress.

The soft-spoken Kittelson is no doubt a long shot: The two current DFL candidates, Angie Craig and Mary Lawrence, have been on the campaign trail for months, courting district activists and interest groups, and raising piles of cash — in Lawrence’s case, over $1 million.

Kittelson, who currently works in Minneapolis as a dairy marketing specialist for a Chicago-based food company he declined to name, has only attended a few events, and only began considering a run after Republican incumbent Rep. John Kline announced in September that he would not run for re-election. The “supporters” section of his website is currently empty.

In an interview with MinnPost, however, Kittelson said his late entry into the race is no problem, and that he’ll run a grass-roots, volunteer-based campaign focusing on the issues he cares about most: namely, single-payer health care and international trade deals. “I believe I’m the most electable Democrat in the race based on the issues,” Kittelson said.

Little political experience

Kittelson has little previous political experience. He hasn’t run for office in the state of Minnesota since 1982, when he ran for the Minnesota Legislature. He was defeated by future GOP Speaker of the House Steve Sviggum.

Kittelson, who lives on a farm roughly 15 miles south of Red Wing, went on to build a career in the dairy industry, working as an adviser for the Department of Agriculture on dairy issues, and later in the private sector working as an ingredient buyer for a dairy company. In the 2000s, he moved to Wisconsin to take positions in the federal government and in the private sector, both in the dairy field.

While in Wisconsin, Kittelson made two runs for Congress in the solidly Republican Sixth District, which encompasses the west-central part of that state. In 2004 and 2008, he challenged longtime incumbent Tom Petri, and advanced to the general election in 2008. He would only raise $17,000, however, and was defeated by 28 points, even though Barack Obama carried the district.

Focusing on health care, trade

In the 2008 campaign, Kittelson ran on a platform of single-payer health care and ending the war in Iraq. Now that he is back in Minnesota, he says, “literally, the issues haven’t changed.” Still, he added, “This is a different race, this is a different year, the climate is different.”

That new climate, Kittelson explains, is due to several factors — primarily, that Obamacare had not panned out as expected, and that trade deals, like the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, have hollowed out the manufacturing sector of the country.

On the former, Kittelson says single-payer health care is the best way to lower health care costs for everyone, which he says have gone up under Obamacare. “We actually expected health care costs to go down and they’ve gone up,” he says. “It speaks strongly to the fact that the Affordable Care Act needs to be replaced, and one area I know we can save money is reducing health care costs and providing better health care.”

On the latter, Kittelson says he is “vehemently” opposed to TPP and past trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement. “We’ve lost business overseas that we’ve had here in the U.S. over the last 20 to 30 years. I know what manufacturing does for the community, when you lose manufacturing, you lose the small businesses. Manufacturing jobs are hard to replace,” he says.

“It would be to our best interest to repeal some of the deals we put together,” Kittelson said, including NAFTA, which established a free trade zone between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico in 1994.

It’s an interesting mix of positions. On one hand, opposition to the TPP trade deal is perhaps the single most galvanizing issue among the progressive grass roots, encompassing concerns about jobs, climate change, and intellectual property. On the other hand, serious talk about single-payer health care all but died in 2009, when congressional Democrats failed to include it in Obama’s health care reform package.

Kittelson’s advocacy of the health care point is especially curious in light of his opponents’ deep backgrounds in the field — Craig as an executive for a medical device company and Lawrence as a Department of Veterans Affairs doctor.

Still, Kittelson insists that he brings to the table a seriousness to deal with those issues that he claims the two leading candidates lack. He says he does not see either of them “supporting a vote against TPP, nor do I see them trying to repeal current trade deals.” He added that neither also appeared to have interest in the issue of focusing on single-payer health care.

A campaign spokesman said that Craig does not support TPP, however. Lawrence says she is still reviewing the agreement but “… will not support an agreement that does not respect worker rights, human rights, environmental standards and … will not result in an increase in high-paying jobs in Minnesota’s second congressional district.”

On the campaign trail

Kittelson says he’s spent the past few weeks talking to people in the district, and claims his conversations have borne out his policy agenda. “I consider the number one topic the Pacific trade pact, and number two single-payer health care. For most of the residents, number one is health care costs,” he says.

So far, he says he has visited with Scott, Goodhue, and Wabasha County Democrats. “I’ve done over the last two to three months a little bit of door-knocking, I’ve talked to union representatives who said they’d support me if I put my hat in the ring,” Kittelson says.

“We’re at the beginning stages of this. I know Angie and Mary have people committed — we’re seeking individuals focusing on the issues, trade deals, a single-payer health care plan, and ask them to get on our bus to the precinct caucuses.”

DFL Chair Ken Martin had no specific comment on Kittelson, but said the party is fielding “three excellent candidates.” “It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that there’s an additional entrance in the race,” he added. “I think everyone in the DFL is excited about the opportunity to pick up the seat.”

Kittelson says he will abide by the DFL endorsement, and if he wins it, he says “the money will come.”

“I’m not a multimillionaire, I don’t hang around multimillionaires,” Kittleson says. “I hang around farmers and workers and union guys. That’s the family I associate with. If I get a contribution from those groups I feel fortunate. …We’re not afraid of grass-roots building and that’s what we’re going to have to do.”

“We have a few volunteers who agree with my platform.”

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Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Scott Alan on 11/23/2015 - 02:45 pm.

    The economy

    A single payer system will cripple capitalism in the country. He knows that. Does not care. Poorly financially educated or a Marxist. Pick one. This is the student council running the government. Pity his kind.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 11/24/2015 - 09:43 am.

      The List Is Long

      The list of countries that have gone from 1st world to destitute 3rd world economies is long: Sweden, France, Germany, United Kingdom, and, of course, the poverty stricken land on our border, Canada. It’s much more efficient to spend more of our wealth and get worse outcomes than those socialist hell holes.

      • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 11/25/2015 - 07:49 am.

        The problem is

        “We” don’t have collective wealth so “our wealth” is not a factor. Contrary to those other nations, we’re supposed to be living in a free society. Socialism is the antithesis of that.

    • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 11/24/2015 - 11:52 am.

      UHC

      Universal health care would actually be a boon to capitalism and the marketplace. It would take the burden of paying for and administering health care plans out of the hands of businesses and into the hands of government, which is more efficient at the process. (Government health care plans usually run 3% administrative costs as compared to 30% in the private sector.)

      Second, it lets little companies attract talent and compete with the big guys. Currently many small firms can’t afford to offer their employees health care, which puts them at a competitive disadvantage against the big boys in their market segment.

      Third, it fosters innovations. Someone who wants to be an entrepreneur currently cannot strike out on her own without having a spouse with health benefits or simply forgo health care entirely. With universal care anyone can head out into the marketplace with a new idea, knowing full well they and their family will be covered.

      Fourth, universal health care couple with compensation reform saves a lot of money. Other countries typically pay 40 – 60% less than we do and get better results to boot. That puts more money back in people’s pockets, which in turn lets them buy more goods and services instead of spending money on insurance they may or may not need. That means less money for insurance companies, but there’s always a price to be paid for progress.

      Fifth, UHC along with compensation reform makes people healthier, which makes them more productive employees. They use fewer sick days and are gone less time when they are out.

      To me it sounds like a huge win for businesses.

      • Submitted by Alan Muller on 03/28/2016 - 09:46 am.

        This is all very true.

        How pathetic to see businesses take positions against their own interests on ideological grounds.

  2. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 11/24/2015 - 09:53 am.

    What’s Brody’s Point Here?

    “Kittelson’s advocacy of the health care point is especially curious in light of his opponents’ deep backgrounds in the field — Craig as an executive for a medical device company and Lawrence as a Department of Veterans Affairs doctor.

    How does their experience in the current health care environment under cut Kittelson’s advocacy of single payer? For one, it’s better when voters have a clear choice.What good is it to have 3 candidates who all agree? Second, from the point of view of single payer advocates, Craig and Lawrence may be seen as part of the problem, although Lawrence actually works in a single payer system now.

    Finally, while single payer is on the back burner now due to Obama’s throwing it under the bus to get GOP support (how’d that work out?), it has not disappeared in progressive circles. When the media has published polls that show widespread dissatisfaction with the ACA, it implies (through a lack of drilling down) that all those dissatisfied are opposed to “gov’t take over of healthcare”, when in fact a good deal of the dissatisfaction is due to people feeling the ACA doesn’t go far enough. And how does one get it back on the front burner without making it an issue?

  3. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 11/24/2015 - 03:49 pm.

    Public in the dark

    Kittelson’s candidacy will help elevate these two important issues in the election and force the other candidates to take a position. The public is mostly in the dark about the TPP (mainly because the details have been kept secret for so long). And many of us who supported Obama on the ACA (after he failed to keep his campaign promise on bringing out a “universal health care” option), did so with the understanding that the ACA was a step toward single payer or “universal health care.”

    It’s important that the DFL at least keep up the pressure to continue reform of health insurance. Health insurance is different from but related to health care. It is health care finance.

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