Don Shelby will not run for Congress. He has told the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee of his decision.
Shelby said the DCCC has known for a while that he was likely to pass on the idea, so the DCCC’s Midwest regional political director was not surprised by Shelby’s decision when informed of it Thursday.
Shelby, who wrote for MinnPost for a while after retiring from the WCCO-TV anchor chair, agreed to let MinnPost break the story of his decision.
Shelby said he took the idea of a run for Congress seriously. He believed he would have been a serious contender against incumbent U.S. Rep Erik Paulsen, a Republican, in the western suburban Third District, and many political analysts agreed that with the name recognition and reputation from his years on television, he would have started a political career with substantial assets and good prospects.
The DCCC had based its pitch to him on the idea that Shelby, who has become active on issues of science and the environment, could be a leader in the U.S. House on those issues. Shelby said that his approach on those issues has never been partisan or ideological.
Science and environment
Shelby said he prides himself on making fact-based arguments about science and the environment.
“At this critical juncture, yes, everybody has to get up to speed on science,” Shelby said. “Nothing is more important right now than building an electorate that’s more informed about those facts and that will put people in office who share a real, fact-based understanding of the science.
“So there were times [since he has been weighing a bid for Congress] when I thought, yes, maybe I can be that guy who could not only rally his party but try to bring the parties together so we could at least agree that there is an issue and there are facts. Two plus two equals four,” Shelby said. “It can’t equal five just to make it more politically or ideologically convenient for you.”
Ultimately, Shelby said, he has decided not to enter electoral politics for several reasons. After a lifetime in journalism, he was not comfortable accepting the degree of partisanship necessary to run. Shelby said that he grew up in a Republican household (he modified that with “Teddy Roosevelt Republican, Abraham Lincoln Republican”), that he has voted for as many Republicans as Democrats for president over recent decades, and that he has little interest in following any party line. He doesn’t even consider himself a Democrat.
“If, by definition, you have to be more one or the other, I find myself, probably, without having moved a step in my life, in a place where one would probably identify me as being more in line with the current Democratic Party, based on its issue positions,” he said. “But I didn’t call myself a Democrat. I don’t call myself an independent. Or a centrist. The best ideas aren’t necessarily in the middle. I just want to go where the facts are.”
Factors in decison
Shelby said his decision was influenced by the peculiarities of the House and of the seniority system. If he was elected in November 2014, he would take office as a 67-year-old freshman. He doesn’t believe that the House would listen very much to the ideas of a freshman, nor that he would last long enough to build up much seniority. “I wasn’t a good freshman [in college] when I was 19, because I wanted to be a senior,” he joked.
He feels he is already having a lot of impact on the issues he cares about. He sits on the boards of 10 organizations. He raises funds for causes he believes in. He gives about 125 speeches a year.
He talked over the idea of running for Congress with his close friend, former Congressman Jim Ramstad. Ramstad, a famously moderate Republican, was Paulsen’s predecessor in the Third District. Shelby said Ramstad did not take a clear position on whether Shelby should run, but he did dust off a quote from John F. Kennedy that “you don’t have to be a public official to be a public servant.”
Family considerations seem to have weighed against launching a political career. Shelby has four grandchildren — ages 6, 4, 2 and two months — and is very involved in their lives. His wife, Barbara, who has put up with him for 39 years, is a shy person, he said, and has little tolerance for hearing her husband publicly criticized.
One part of partisan political life that Shelby says he will be glad to skip is “being asked to promote ideas I didn’t believe in for the benefit of someone else.”
“That’s why I initially said I’d be a bad congressman anyway. Being a loud-mouthed know-it-all would probably not serve the district very well,” he said.
The ardors of a campaign were not exactly appealing, but Shelby said that wasn’t much of a problem for him because “I think that I have been campaigning all my life. Just not for a political office — for acceptance, appreciation, attention, as a television anchor.”