Dean Phillips didn’t expect crying at his first town hall.
The recently announced DFL candidate for Minnesota’s 3rd Congressional District, who is running against Rep. Erik Paulsen (R), was brought to tears at the end of his town hall meeting at Southdale Library on Tuesday, May 30.
About 450 jammed the room with seating for about 350 to get their first glimpse of this candidate.
Like many who came to hear him, Phillips said he was “gravely concerned about the direction of our country,” with President Donald Trump’s recent actions. Phillips said Paulsen was “not Donald Trump,” but his votes are “almost perfectly aligned with his and I believe that’s a misrepresentation of this district.”
Phillips was there to do what Paulsen wouldn’t — hold a public town hall meeting and listen.
Video at top: Phillips interview and town hall highlights
Video at bottom: entire Phillips town hall
“Representation first and foremost starts with listening,” Phillips said in an interview before the town hall began. “Rep. Paulsen refuses to host town hall meetings and it’s one of the reasons I’m running.”
Phillips emphasized the importance of listening — especially on the issues where people disagree, such as abortion. He is pro-choice.
“I have equal compassion for those who believe that life is so precious that that shouldn’t ever be allowed,” said Phillips when asked about how he would reach out to pro-lifers. “I recognize that’s an example of humanity where everybody should be respected. And for any of us to not honor people who thoughtfully convey those feelings, I think we’re doing a disservice to ourselves. I really do. These are not misguided people for the most part. Some of the fringes, yes. But for the most part, they care about life and that’s not a bad thing. That’s a good thing. And we are a compassionate country, and I understand that. What I believe in is the right to choose is elevated ever so slightly above that because I as a man in particular should never play a role in that decision.”
Phillips comes from a wealthy family. His great-great grandfather founded Phillips Liquors, now a major liquor distributor. He served as the company’s chief executive officer and president and recently sold Talenti, a gelato company he founded, to consumer goods company Unilever.
“It’s the responsibility of those who have succeeded to take care of those haven’t been so fortunate. And that’s the great blessing of my life and that’s why I’m doing this… to afford opportunity to as many people as I can humanly can.”
His birth father graduated from the University of Minnesota on an ROTC scholarship and then was killed in Vietnam when Phillips was six months old. He was raised by his single mother, who later remarried into the Phillips family. His grandmother was Abigail Van Buren (known for her Dear Abby column), whom he admitted consulting.
Phillips told the packed room of his vision for the district, crediting Donald Trump with energizing the electorate. He said that he’d rather lose the election with 90% turnout than win it with 40% turnout.
Attendees, many of them DFL or DFL leaning, wanted to hear him out. He was interrupted by applause many times.
His first political experience came in middle school in 1980 when Republican John Anderson, running for president as an Independent, spoke to his class. He later interned for Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT). He attended Edina public schools, The Blake School and graduated from Brown University with a BA in Urban Studies and an MBA from the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota.
After listening and talking for nearly two hours, Phillips said he would take one more question. It came from Randi Reitan, mother of a gay son and one of the many activists who worked to defeat an anti-gay marriage amendment in Minnesota.
“This is not a question,” said Reitan. “I’m so glad you came tonight. It’s been hard having Erik Paulsen represent us. We have a gay son and we’ve had great strides for gay rights,” she said tearfully. “It just means so much to see you here saying these wonderful things and I’m filled with hope for the first time.”
Phillips gave Reitan a hug and then stepped back to the front of the room. “Thank you. I can’t believe I’m crying at my first…” He was interrupted by laughter and applause.