Why DFLer Jeff Erdmann Thinks He Can Win in Minnesota’s CD2

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“Our party needs a more authentic approach,” says Jeff Erdmann, a high school teacher and football coach who has announced he is running as a Democrat in Minnesota’s second congressional district. He says Democrats have lost the presidency and majorities in congress because the party has become too reliant on the country’s multimillionaires as donors and as candidates.

“If we are truly going to be the party that says that we are for the working class people and we want to be that working voice to represent their interests, well then we should be able to have candidates that come from those working class values, that live it on a day-to-day basis for years and years.”

Erdmann counts himself as part of the working class. He worked at a mill to pay his way through college and graduate with very little debt. He has been teaching American government classes for the past 27 years and coaches the Roseville High School football team. He thinks he is a better candidate than the one Democrats ran in 2016 — health care executive Angie Craig. She got the DFL endorsement with very little opposition, lost to Republican Jason Lewis by a slim margin of 1.8 percentage points, and has indicated she will run again in 2018.

“I think the voters of district CD2, I think they deserve to have competition. Last go around, Angie self-funded a big chunk. This is what happens in politics, is that you see wealthy people come in and they can write a big check for themselves to loan themselves money, and then competition goes away and in a sense, they have no competition and they get the endorsement. I don’t think that’s good for the democratic process.

“When Stuart Mills (Mills Fleet Farm executive who ran as a Republican for congress in northern Minnesota) goes and tries to buy an election, when Betsy DeVos tries to go and buy a seat as Secretary of Education, I don’t think that’s okay. And when other candidates try to do that, I don’t think that’s okay. Especially when you’re trying to represent the Democratic Party, which is supposed to be kind of against the influence of big money and trying to buy and lessen or reduce, the voice of the people.”

Erdmann says big money is not just having a bad influence on politics; he says with the election of Donald Trump, it’s also having a bad influence on young people.

“This last trimester I had a couple students make the comment that the United States, the whole purpose of our country, is for us to make as much money as possible. And I said, ‘Whoa, no, no, no, no. That’s not what our country’s about. That’s selfish.’”

Erdmann says the students weren’t happy about their stance being labeled selfish. So the next day they brought in some quotes from Adam Smith’s “The Wealth of Nations” to support their position. He realized the students were not looking at the larger picture and decided they should have a broader talk about the meaning of economist and philosopher Smith’s book.

“I went and got some other excerpts from ‘The Wealth of Nations’ that talked about greed, talked about the need for regulation, the role of regulation of government to have a balanced society, and we had some conversation about that.

“And then I also talked to them about … showed them the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and we talked about where in there, go and find how many times capitalism is mentioned. And it’s not.”

“But the big concern and fear from this is students watch what’s happening in society, and they think, ‘Oh, America’s about climbing to the top. And whatever you have to do to the people down here to get to the top, that’s what our country’s about.’ I don’t think that’s what our country is about, and I’m hoping that there’s other Americans that think the same way.”

In his interview with The UpTake’s Jeff Achen, Erdmann talks his views about Donald Trump, Medicare for all, spending, taxes, the national debt, immigration, terrorism, race and policing, gun rights and gender identity. A video of the entire interview, along with a transcript is below.

Full interview and transcript of Jeff Erdmann interview

Meet Jeff Erdmann, a new DFL candidate for Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional District. The UpTake’s Jeff Achen talks with him about everything from money in politics to immigration and everything in between.

Topics: (Click on link to jump to that section in transcript)
4:17 – Why He’s a Democrat
7:44 – On Healthcare
11:12 – On Money in Politics
14:26 – Winning Against Angie Craig
18:22 – Views on Trump Presidency
26:29 – Winning Against Rep. Jason Lewis
27:10 – How to Pass Medicare for All
28:58 – On Government Spending and National Debt
30:49 – On Taxes
33:06 – On Immigration and Refugees
34:36 – On Illegal Immigration
36:00 – On Terrorism and National Security
37:58 – Race and Policing
41:41 – On Gun Rights
44:09 – On Gender Identity

Video and transcript

Video at top: Highlights of interview
Video below: Full inerview


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Jeff Erdmann: My name is Jeff Erdmann. I’ve been a American government teacher for the last 27 years of my career, and head football coach. I grew up in a small town in southeastern Minnesota called Lewiston. After graduating there, I went to Gustavus Adolphus College. I graduated with a secondary social studies teaching major and my coaching license there. I was fortunate, I got a job right out of college at New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva High School, four communities that had combined and just built a new school. I was fortunate ’cause I got a head coaching job right out of the gate. Things went well there with the football aspect, the teaching, I loved. Then we moved to Cannon Falls. I was there for, I think, three years. Head football coach, social studies teacher, and then also athletic director.

We then moved to Winona, Minnesota for a couple years. I was head football coach there as well, and taught. Then we moved back up to Rosemount. The opportunity to coach in this conference, in a premier football conference, was pretty enticing. For the last 17 years I’ve been here as the head football coach, and we’ve been able to create a pretty good program. We’ve developed a culture of success within the program based on hard work and valuing all people, and the contributions that they make to their team. Because of that, we’ve been able to be very fortunate to have some success. I think that same path is something that we need to move forward as a country.

As an American government teacher, I’ve always taught right down the middle. At the end of the year, kids would always come up and ask, “Well are you a democrat? Are you a republican?” And I said, “Well that really doesn’t matter because that’s not my job. My job as a public education teacher is to teach down the middle and to present issues from both the left and the right. ‘Cause liberal and conservative perspectives on most issues, there’s pretty good arguments on both sides if they’re in the middle. I try to do that. I take that very seriously. I haven’t really been involved in politics because I was worried about the impact that that would have on the classroom environment.

Now, obviously something has changed in that I am running for office. After this last election, my wife and I, we’re a family, we’re very frustrated where the direction of the country is going. We’re looking at what can we do? I think our country absolutely needs authentic leadership from people that are willing to do the right thing. I’ve been a teacher and coach for 27 years. If I’m fake, if I’m phony, the kids will eat me up. My students, my players, I can’t do that. I’m gonna be authentic every day. The things that I talk about, I’m gonna model that, I’m gonna say it, I’m gonna do it, and I think that’s something that is lacking right now in elected officials. We’ve decided to run.

Way back, the first week of school every year, I teach this lesson. I’ve got ninth graders that come in. And the ninth graders, they’re kinda nervous ’cause they’re new to the high school, and I teach this concept about the culture of our school and how important it is for them as a citizen of Rosemount High School, to participate in making that culture. I’ll give them this example: at some point today, at Rosemount, you’re probably gonna hear something where a kid says something mean to somebody else, making fun of them, making fun of who they are with, what they look like, whatever it is. How do you respond to that? A) well if it’s funny, you laugh; B) you ignore it; or C) you stand up and say, “You know what? That’s not okay.”

In that lesson, we talk about A and B are basically the same thing. If you ignore something, you’re showing acceptance for it. And by doing that, it’s gonna manifest itself, and the culture that you have, is gonna be wrecked in little chunks all the way through. The value of that lesson is that the students need to know we need to choose C. We need students to pick C to help create that culture that we want in our school building. That same thing can be applied to our country. Our family, after the election, has chosen to choose C.

Why He’s a Democrat
The UpTake:Gotcha. Tell me … It sounds like you’ve got an all American background. How did you form your politics? I’m kinda curious how you came to be a democrat.

Jeff Erdmann: Well I guess you’d look at my life experiences have shaped me. I grew up in a small town and in a small town, there’s a real sense of community because when you’re always working together, you’re helping out your neighbor, that type of thing, I guess that’s something that has shaped my lens and how I look at things.

When I was in college, I had an experience with my uncle, Darvey. He had AIDS. This is 1988. He died of AIDS, and I remember sitting in the church pew and just being really sad ’cause I’m hearing all these positives of what uncle Darvey did for people in his community, in the Twin Cities area where he worked, and he felt like he had to move from where he was at to a different place to be who he was as a person. That shaped me immensely, because that shouldn’t be the case here in America. In America, you should be able to be who you are as a person, and be able to live wherever you want and be treated fairly.

Another example, my dad worked in a flour mill and he had a strong union. Because of that, we were able to have a decent lifestyle growing up. When I say decent lifestyle, it wasn’t like we were rich or anything like that, but he was able to provide a house for us and got to … We had two cars, we had the basic things that people have growing up. That wouldn’t have been the case if he didn’t have a strong union that brought good wages and a good pension, and those types of things. That’s important. I think that that’s something that we as Americans … I always thought that was the American dream, was that if people worked had, they could buy a house and raise their family in a decent situation. I think we’re getting away from that.

Other aspects of why I would be a democrat, age 22, 23, I learned a very valuable lesson. It was one of my first checks or second checks as a teacher, and at that time I was pretty physically … I was in the best shape of my life and I look on there and there’s medicare and medicaid coming out, and I’m like, “Ugh. I don’t like seeing that money come out of my check.” Because at that time, I was trying to buy a truck … I bought a little used Ford Ranger and I was trying to get my payment under 100 bucks. And so I was frustrated that that was coming out of my check.

A few weeks later, I found my mom’s got a rare kidney disease. If it wouldn’t have been for medicaid stepping in, the medicine that she needed to keep herself alive was 5,000 a month. My dad worked in a factory, my mom was a day care provider. If there wasn’t a government program to help them, they would’ve been having a conversation, “We can’t afford this. You’re gonna have to die.” That shouldn’t happen in the wealthiest nation in the world. That shapes me. It’s a variety of different things over the course of my life that this is what the democratic party supports to be those issues and those values. That’s why I’m a democrat.

On Healthcare
The UpTake:Can we take that most recent example as kind of a stepping up point for my next question about healthcare? What’s the government’s role, and what’s your take on healthcare and the healthcare debate that is going on in the country. I know it’s a very broad version of the question, but tell us where you want to dig in on that.

Jeff Erdmann: I believe we need to move towards medicare for all. I think that that’s something that … Back in the Depression when FDR moved to social security, they realized we need this. We absolutely have to have this for the people in our country, and we move towards social security as a way to provide a less stressful life for people so that they had something in retirement to be able provide income for them. That same concept, I think, applies now. We should be able to take care of American citizens if they have trouble with health issues.

I look it, and you can look at it in terms of my lens as a football coach. I look at it this way and I think, “All right. For every player on our team, my job is to get them to reach their full potential so that they can contribute to our team and our team can reach our full potential.” If I’ve got players that are injured, if I’ve got players that are dinged up and they can’t perform to the level that they could perform to, that impacts where we get as a team. Let’s apply that to our country.

If we’ve got citizens that can’t get healthcare, that’s gonna impact the potential that they have and what they contribute to our team. I think it’s absolutely wrong that right now in our country, we are far more concerned about profits for pharmaceuticals, medical device companies, and insurance companies. They are raking in ridiculous profits at our expense, and that’s absolutely wrong. That’s something that has to be fixed.

And I’ve talked to republicans that see this as well. Well they’ll have conversations and say, “Well I think we all know where this is goin.” And I’m like, “All right. Well where do you see it as going?” “Well, going towards medicare for all.” When you have other countries in the world that are doing this already, and their standard of living is higher as far as infant mortality, longevity for how long they’re living, when we start falling there and we’re paying two to two and a half times more than anybody else in the world as far as industrialized nations, that’s not acceptable. That’s not okay.

The UpTake: How do you answer the critics of single payer and of medicare for all, on taxes, raising taxes and paying for it, and that kinda thing?

Jeff Erdmann: Well if people look at how it would work, it’s gonna go from the 1.45 up to 5, 5.5% in a payroll tax, and then that is gonna pay for all the aspects that are needed with it. But when you do this, you’re bringing in everybody. You’ve got all the healthy people, you’ve got everybody under that. I think what we’re seeing today and where all the difficulties that the republics are having with trying to pass something without pushing off 20 some million people off their health insurance, you’re seeing that it can’t be done to keep the profits for all those corporation.

What’s happening though is, so many different aspects of our government is absolutely tainted because of the influence on money on it. You’ve got that influence and you’ve got senators and stuff trying to earn money for their reelection and all that type of thing, and it influences policy. If we’re gonna look at what’s the most cost efficient way to be able to provide and invest in our people and take care of them, medicare for all is the path forward.

On Money in Politics
The UpTake: When you talk about the trouble with money and politics, and things like that … And you also have mentioned before too, I’m looking at your website and other coverage of you, you shouldn’t have to be a millionaire or a billionaire to run for Congress. How are you gonna pay and how are you gonna compete in this election campaign, which conceivably could take millions of dollars or cost millions of dollars to run an effective campaign to win a seat?

Jeff Erdmann: With that, we’ve got a plan in place for how we’re going to go about and get our access out there so people can see who we are. If this is purely about who can raise the most money, I would not be in this race. Okay? I’m in this race because I think I’m the best candidate to beat Jason Lewis. I think I bring a lot to the table as far as leadership, experience, I think I match our district extremely well. I think those types of things are more important than initially the raising of the money. Now if you talk to democratic leadership positions, when I’ve had those conversations, one of the first five minutes, that’s what they talk about, how much money can you raise? It bothers me because that’s before they know who I am, what values I have, what kind of success I’ve had in my career, any of those things.

When I look at that coming from the sports world, when you see the number of losses that the democratic party has, you change approaches, you change strategies. And so, the strategy of having the multimillionaire out there and raising all kinds of money ’cause they’ve got all kinds rich friends, and that type of thing, that hasn’t gone very well for us. The democrats have lost the US House, the US Senate, the presidency. 66% of our states, republicans hold the majority in both chambers in those states. That’s two-thirds. So we need a different approach, and I think our party needs a more authentic approach.

If we are truly going to be the party that says that we are for the working class people and we want to be that working voice to represent their interests, well then we should be able to have candidates that come from those working class values, that live it on a day-to-day basis for years and years. I’m coming from a situation where I have chosen to have a career of service. I’m serving the communities, the families in my communities. And people that want to go do research on me, they can go into New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva, Cannon Falls, Winona, and Rosemount and ask, “What’s this guy like? Is this guy a good guy? Is he fair? Does he do his job well? Does he work hard? Does he treat people with respect?” They can go learn about me. And I think the more that people do that, I think the more that’s gonna help in our bid to get where we need to get to. And then that fundraising will kick in as well.

The more attention we can get on a national scene is … Well first we need to start here obviously. And then as we catch momentum, there’s good things that can happen, and we’re seeing that. There’s a lot of people that are frustrated with where our country is going. I think there’s never been a time where there’s maybe a better opportunity for somebody in my situation that can’t write a million dollar check for my campaign. But who’s authentic and who’s gonna absolutely represent the people, because I’ve been working that for 27 years.

Winning Against Angie Craig
The UpTake: Well speaking specifically about the second congressional district, it’s been a touch district for democrats. Since 1941, there’s only been one democrat to hold the office. Is the district changing? Do you feel that now would be the time for a democrat back in the congressional leadership position here?

Jeff Erdmann: The demographics are showing that it’s changing a little bit. I think … I look at what’s more important, is the messaging coming from the democratic candidate and who that candidate is, as opposed to initially the demographics of the district.

The UpTake: Angie Craig has announced she’s gonna run again. Why should democrats support you over her? What sets you apart? Are there some major policy differences? I’m sure you paid attention to her campaign against Jason Lewis, why do you think she lost? Can you talk a little bit about her in that sense and what you think you might have to offer that’s different or better than her?

Jeff Erdmann: Okay. There’s a lot of questions you just asked in there.
The UpTake: Sorry. Yep, yep.

The UpTake: Let’s start with the first one.
Jeff Erdmann: all right.
The UpTake: Why should democrats support you over Angie Craig?

Jeff Erdmann: Angie’s running again and we don’t know what her platform is, so it’s hard to make a comparison as far as that. I think there’s definitely comparisons between us. I think there’s a lot of differences between us. And as the campaign rolls out, I think people are gonna see that and they’ll have an opportunity to choose, to see how that plays into their voting decisions and what they value.

I’ve chosen a career where I’m gonna work with our future leaders and I’ve committed to them for 27 years of service, where I’m in the community and I’m working with individuals, I’m working with the families. That’s something that I think there’s a lot of value placed on that. If you’re looking for people that are gonna authentically go to Washington, D.C. and call for change and absolutely mean it, I think you’re gonna want authentic leadership in that. That type of service, I don’t think we have members of Congress that are serving their constituents in that capacity. I’ve been doing that for 27 years with the people that have been my constituents as students, as athletes. I’m used to that and people out in the community have seen me in that capacity. The more that people come listen to me, I’m hoping that they’re going to be able to see the authenticity with how I approach not just this, but everything I do in my life. As a teacher, we may not get the biggest paychecks, but integrity is a very, very important thing. And I think that’s something that Congress absolutely needs.

The UpTake: Okay. Well I know this is always a tricky question to ask you to critique another candidate, especially another democratic candidate, but I want to give you an opportunity to answer the question one more time. Do you have any critiques of Angie Craig and what she’s offered or how she campaigned? ‘Cause at some point you’re gonna have to distinguish yourself from her to democratic voters-

Jeff Erdmann: Absolutely.
The UpTake: And say- “I deserve the endorsement.”

Jeff Erdmann: There’s a reason I’m doing this, because I think that I’m a better candidate than Angie Craig. I think the voters of district CD2, I think they deserve to have competition. Last go around, Angie (inaudible), self-funded a big chunk. This is what happens in politics, is that you see wealthy people come in and they can write a big check for themselves to loan themselves money, and then competition goes away and in a sense, they have no competition and they get the endorsement. I don’t think that’s good for the democratic process. When Stuart Mills goes and tries to buy an election, when Betsy DeVos tries to go and buy a seat as Secretary of Education, I don’t think that’s okay. And when other candidates try to do that, I don’t think that’s okay. Especially when you’re trying to represent the Democratic Party, which is supposed to be kind of against the influence of big money and trying to buy and lessen or reduce, the voice of the people.

Views on Trump Presidency
The UpTake:Talking again about values and the political climate, has President Trump and Trump’s campaign for president shifted political norms? Do you think he’s moved people’s expectations for politics or the expectations on politicians, or the expectations politicians set for themselves? Are political norms different moving forward?

Jeff Erdmann: I hope-
The UpTake: Do you think he’s still the anomaly?

Jeff Erdmann: I hope not. This last year was so hard teaching and following it as a teacher in class. This is my subject matter. So many of the just degrading comments that were made towards other human beings, it’s not okay. When you’ve got kids watching this and they think, “Oh, this is the way that it is,” that’s not good for our future. There’s a couple comments I’d make on this.

This last trimester I had a couple students make the comment that the United States, the whole purpose of our country, is for us to make as much money as possible. And I said, “Whoa, no, no, no, no. That’s not what our country’s about. That’s selfish.” They shared with me the next day, they brought in a letter, and they didn’t like that I referred to that stance as being selfish. And then they had some quotes from Adam Smith’s ‘The Wealth of Nations’, which promotes the business perspective quite a bit. We arranged a time to meet, and I went and got some other excerpts from ‘The Wealth of Nations’ that talked about greed, talked about the need for regulation, the role of regulation of government to have a balanced society, and we had some conversation about that.

And then I also talked to them about … Showed them the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and we talked about where in there, go and find how many times capitalism is mentioned. And it’s not. We talked about ‘The Wealth of Nations’ was published in 1776 and that’s kind of a magical day, and so it wasn’t that that influenced our country. But the big concern and fear from this is students watch what’s happening in society, and they think, “Oh, America’s about climbing to the top. And whatever you have to do to the people down here to get to the top, that’s what our country’s about.” I don’t think that’s what our country is about, and I’m hoping that there’s other Americans that think the same way.

The UpTake: What kind of job do you think President Trump has done in his first six months as president, his first few months in president?

Jeff Erdmann: I think-
The UpTake: Is he doing damage? Is he-

Jeff Erdmann:He’s doing a ton of damage for our country. Yeah, he has not had a good six months. I don’t know if that’s real surprising from how he handled himself in the campaign itself. When you’re degrading the press and freedom of the press, when you are meeting with Russian officials in the Oval Office with no press there or no American people there and only the Russian press, when you’ve got all of these things that are taking place that the media’s finding out and even republicans are acknowledging, why is this going on with Russia? When you have all of those types of things going on, that’s not good for our country. When you have taken action of pulling us out of the Paris Agreement, that lowers our standard in the world.

I think a big reason for that is he’s trying to follow through on his promise to the coal miners. You’ve got Ohio and you’ve got Pennsylvania, the 9th and 11th largest coal producing states in our country. And this is one of the flaws I think in the electoral college, is that when you make campaign promises to that, nothing else is working for you. They haven’t been able to pass anything. Now he has to try to deliver a promise with that, and so he pulls us out of the Paris Agreement. That’s not okay.

The UpTake:If I can redirect the question a little bit to … From discussions that I’ve had with people that are still supporting Trump, people that voted for him, in large part are still supporting him to a large degree. Many of them, that I have spoken with personally, make this distinction between his character and some of the policies and the direction of things he’s doing with finances and legislation. There’s a distinction there. They’ll say, “Well I don’t agree with them. He should get off Twitter.” But he’s doing the things, he’s making the country financially more stable or … They’ll make those distinctions. What do you say to that? What do you say to that when … ‘Cause I know I think that many of the democrats and many of the progressive in the Progressive movement continue to point at Trump and say, “Look at what a bad character he is.” And yet, I think the right is always arguing for policy and legislative stuff, and financial approaches, and the fundamental differences that progressives and conservatives have on that side of things. What do you say to that criticism?

Jeff Erdmann:When you’re president of the United States, there needs to be leadership that you’re demonstrating. If you have control of the House, your party has control of the House, and you have control of the Senate, and you can’t get bills passed through, well this is a democracy. There should be working with the other side. That’s the way the system is supposed to work. When Mr. Trump comes out and says, “Well now I think we should just have it repeal and have it fail, and work on replacement,” that’s not leadership. Okay? We’re supposed to be there to help him do what’s best for American people.

The concept of being able to reach across the aisle and have conversations … When Affordable Care Act was passed, Republicans were part of the process. They made all kinds of amendments. There were involved in that process. That’s the way it’s supposed to work. When democrats are excluded from the health bill, when they’re excluded and don’t have an opportunity to make amendments, that’s wrong. That’s trampling on the system and the process that our country has set up and established. That’s not okay and that should not be the norm. We need political reform to move back so we can have discussions between the liberal perspective and the conservative perspective, and where the merits fall in there. We can have debate in going back.

We’ve got members of Congress right now, 95% of the time, they’re voting with their party. They’re voting with their party. There is not the working together. Back in the ’70s and ’80s, it was down to like 70 to 85% voting with their party. There was a lot more compromise and working things out, and we’ve gotten away from that. Part of the reason we’ve gotten away from that is because of the redistricting and how the lines are drawn, so that candidates that win election, they know they’ve got a very high chance of winning again, so they can say whatever they want. They can take more extreme perspectives.

Candidates that … People that get into the House and they want to kinda work up the chain, they know they have to vote with the party. Because if they want to be a lifelong politician and they want to get to a chair spot, ’cause if they get to a chair spot, now they have all kinds of money that comes in. ‘Cause everybody, both sides are gonna give money to the chair because the power of being a committee chair. That in itself causes us to have the polarization. We need to have political reform to change that. We need to have independent agencies drawing those lines so that we can create competition in House races. The more competitive those races are, awesome. Then you’re gonna have situations where you’re gonna have to have candidates, are gonna have to appeal and be actually concerned about their constituents, and maybe more of a middle approach.

Mr. Lewis does not have town halls here. He doesn’t need … He looks at it and, “Why should I have a town hall? I know my stances are not real popular with a lot of the people. They’re gonna come out and they’re gonna ask questions.” That’s what representation is. That’s what representatives are supposed to do. If you can’t answer their questions, you’re doing something wrong. The process we have now, we’ve got candidates, we have people that are elected in an office, but they don’t feel they necessarily have to represent because of all the dark money, all the money that comes in to help win reelection and keep their position.

Winning Against Rep. Jason Lewis
The UpTake: Can you speak a little bit more about Representative Lewis and what kind of job he’s doing representing our district, and why you’d like to replace him?

Jeff Erdmann: Well the lack of representation is a great place to start. If you’re gonna be a person that wants to represent CD2, you need to be able to come meet with the voters. You need to be able to come out and have them have an opportunity to ask questions for why you supported this, this or this. His moving to the telephone type of town hall, I think that’s weak leadership. If you can’t go out before the people that you’re saying you’re gonna represent, I don’t think you’re following through on what a representative is supposed to be.

How to Pass Medicare for All

The UpTake: I don’t want to go too far backwards on questions, but I did have kind of an addendum to that single pair conversation, medicare for all. What do you think the odds are or how will you work to get some of that to be a reality, and how far are you willing to compromise if you can’t get it?

Jeff Erdmann: That needs to … There’s a couple different paths for it. Number one is making it something that the Democratic Party embraces. Within the Democratic Party itself, we’ve got a lot of people that are very attached to medicare for all, and then you have others that are still tied to the corporate world and they want to be able to have ways of making money off of people’s health insurance, off their medical devices. They want to be able to make, their capital gains and all their investments, they want to be able to make money off that. There’s that debate, needs to take place in the Democratic Party so that if we can get the party to move to where the Democratic Party stands for that, now we have a much better chance of making that happen.

The other way is through political reform. Okay? If we can remove money from politics, if we can start working on removing money from politics, now we can get to where we can have debates on the merit of the argument, as opposed to how much money goes to this representative or this senator. It would be great if we had one of the two parties, would stand up and say, “Yeah, we think money is tainting our process right now, and we think we should absolutely remove money from government itself as far as the influence.” Citizens United was only a five to four ruling, and yet look at the damage it’s caused and how much voice it’s given to big money and large corporations, and taking away from citizens.

On Government Spending and National Debt

The UpTake: Let’s talk a little bit about the money that government is spending. What can be done to address government spending? Better prioritization of spending? Specific cuts that you have in mind? Is it going okay? What’s your take generally on government spending? Is it out of control?

Jeff Erdmann: Well we’ve got 20 trillion in debt and we’ve got the interest growing on that, that is absolutely a concern. That is something that we are passing on to future societies. And I know as democrats, that’s something that doesn’t usually get placed as a concern for us, but it is a concern. We as families, we understand that. If you have a large amount of debt, you don’t go out and buy a Lexus. You need to be prudent in what you’re doing with how you’re handling your funds. Now along with that, then what are ways that we can increase our tax base, or possibly remove regulations and loop holes to allow us to have money coming in fairly?

When you have tax loop holes for large corporations where you have one of every fourth Future 500 companies has years where they pay no income tax, that’s not okay. When you have wealthy people that are able to work the system and not pay any income tax, that’s wrong. We need to get those things fixed, because they benefit from our roads, they benefit from our military, they benefit from our strong public education systems. Those types of things need to be addressed and fixed. We need to have a fair tax system, a simpler tax system, where the lobbyists and the lawyers out in D.C. aren’t able to do all of their backroom deals and all that stuff to create manipulation of the system for certain groups. That’s not acceptable. We need to remove some of that, take that out, and I think if we can do that with money as well in politics, that’s gonna allow us to get to a good place where we aren’t pushing all of that burden down onto the middle class.

On Taxes
The UpTake: One of the, I think, refrains that we’ve heard in the political races from people on the right to people on the left when they’re talking is, who’s going to pay for it? It’s a phrase that I think we’ve heard. In your mind, in terms of looking at taxation, when is raising taxes appropriate and necessary?

Jeff Erdmann: Well, let’s look at that. Let’s look at healthcare. With healthcare itself, if we have a situation where we would raise the medicare up to 5% and it’s a payroll tax, so now all of us know that we have an opportunity, we know what our costs are gonna be. Whereas from year to year, we have double digit increases in our premiums, we’ve got deductibles, they’ve got all of this complexity that makes it ridiculously complex for people to know what they’re doing and how much it’s gonna be paid. If we can reduce that, there’s gonna be a lot of positives on our economy.

When I’ve gone to house parties, I’ve had people tell me, if we had medicare for all, they would leave their job day one and go start small business. Because the only reason they’re holding their job is because of the need for the health insurance. If we can have that taken away, think of the level playing field that allows small business, what it does for individuals that maybe are not in a happy situation with their job, that could absolutely stimulate our economy in a good, good way by bringing all of those costs down. The reason that we have such ridiculous costs is because they’re manipulating their government system and we can’t negotiate for pharmaceuticals to lower the drug prices? That’s not acceptable.

My kids in class, they understand if you go to Costco, you can buy a lot of something that’s gonna be a lot cheaper. Why are we not able to do that with our drugs, our pharmaceuticals? We can do some things that are common sense approaches that bring our expenses down. We’re spending 17% of our GDP on healthcare. You’ve got the insurance agents, the health insurance companies, you’ve got the medical device, you’ve got them all raking in profits like crazy, making millions at our expense. If we can reduce that, we’re gonna have more money for people to go out and spend on their own, and stimulate the economy and all of those types of positives.

On Immigration and Refugees
The UpTake: I just want to ask a very broad question on the next topic. Where do you stand on immigration? What’s going on with our immigration system, and the larger question about refugees in our country and things like that? Do you have some thoughts on that?

Jeff Erdmann: The refugees, let’s talk about that first. I think that the travel ban, I think that was a political manipulation to make certain promises to people, to try to develop a stigma of immigrants coming into our country, of negative connotations attached to it. I don’t think that’s American. If there are issues, then let’s point out those issues and let’s talk about them as opposed to just doing a travel ban. When news reporters are going over and talking about this, they’re showing that those refugees, it’s taking 12 months, 16 months, for them to go through the processes to come to our country. But when we have a political party that is kinda representing that as if they’re coming over next Thursday, you know what I’m getting at? That’s not right. Okay? We have legitimate processes for people to go through. I think it’s the manipulation of that and not sharing all of the information, that’s maybe skewing how we look at refugees coming into our country. There’s a certain amount of hypocrisy in this, that we are a country created by immigration and that we would take that type of approach.

On Illegal Immigration

The UpTake:Talk about illegal immigration and some of the concerns that folks have, I’m sure from a variety of political perspectives, about particularly immigrants from Mexico and from some of the southern countries, coming in and streaming into the country illegally. What’s your take on our immigration system and some of the fixes that need to take place?

Jeff Erdmann: With illegal immigrants, we need to have a process. If this is what the law is, we need to enforce the law. Now with that said, if we have, and I’ll look at this in a … Again, I’m going back to a football analogy, or sports analogy. If I’ve got people that want to be on our team, and they are willing to leave their family and come to a place where they might have issues with language, and become productive members of that society, and they are gonna follow the rules, and they’re gonna work hard, and they’re going to fill needs for jobs in our economy, I think we need to look at, well geeze, these are great people. We want these people to be a part of our society. How can we make this work where they can have an opportunity to be here and possibly have a path to citizenship? I think there’s a lot of political aspects of trying to bring negative attention towards a certain group because it might benefit people politically.

On Terrorism and National Security

The UpTake: Certainly. Terrorism and national security are important topics for many Americans. What actions would you take in office to keep our country safe and our world peaceful?

Jeff Erdmann: Is there a certain area that you’re talking about? It’s …

The UpTake: Well, I think … Yeah, any day you turn on the news and there’s a terrorist attack or that kind of thing, what’s your kind of, your thoughts on-

Jeff Erdmann:Here, I’ll give you an example of this. The last day of school, we’ve got a football player that was graduating who’s going into the military. He came up to me and he wished me good luck in this venture, and I looked at him and I said, “John, I just want you to know, I’m gonna have your back. I’m gonna have your back. Not only with making sure that you have what you need, making sure that you’re taken care of, but then when your service is done, that we’re also gonna take care of you in that capacity as well.” We need to take care of our military, our veterans, that’s something that is a promise that we have given to them. And not only for them, but for future generations that are coming. They’re gonna watch how we treat our veterans, and that’s an important thing for us to do.

Now with that said, we also need to have balance. We need to have balance in how we’re spending money in regards to our domestic life here and what we’re doing outside in regards to foreign policy. I think that we’ve been pretty aggressive at looking at going to war, and the not realizing the ramifications of that for our country and the long term ramifications for our country. If we were going to … If I was in the House and we’re voting on whether or not we have a declaration of war, I’m gonna take that very, very seriously on whether or not I’m gonna approve that. Because I think we’ve been … Maybe we’ve made some bad decisions with that in the last 20 years.

Race and Policing

The UpTake:I want to move on to another topic, race and policing. What do communities of color need to understand about you and your stance or views on things, whether it’s relations with the police or gun violence? And what do the police need to know about you and your stance and your views?

Jeff Erdmann:Right now the media, they love promoting that American citizens can’t be supportive of police and yet support Black Lives Matter. I think that is mutually something that we can support both aspects of that. When police officers are out doing their job protecting us and making our communities safe, there’s a tremendous amount of pressure on them with their own safety when we have an incredible amount of guns out in society. That’s something that’s a reality. When you talk to police officers, when you hear them talk about their job and the concerns with their jobs, that is something that is absolutely real in their life, and that’s something that we have to be aware of as well.

Now with that said, there needs to be training for police officers in deescalating situations and when they have confrontations. Now, obviously some of the things we’ve seen lately, there hasn’t necessarily been confrontations, it’s just been initiated. I think all of us in society understand that, I’m a teacher in the United States, there are gonna be some teachers that are not very good and don’t do their job properly. There’s gonna be that in any profession that you find. I think that also applies for law enforcement and every other career that’s out there. I think as citizens, we need to show some tolerance and acknowledgement of that, but we also need to have answers for what’s happening. When we have people systematically killed, that’s not okay, and that can’t happen over, and over, and over, and over again.

There’s a part of this that … In one of my government classes, we show a video called ‘The Eye of the Storm’ and it’s about a lesson that elementary teacher did with her students back in late ’60s, early ’70s, and it was called the ‘blue-eyed, brown-eyed’. A lot of people might know what this is, but on one day, she tells the blue-eyed kids that they’re better than the brown-eyed kids. And then what do you see happen on that day? The blue-eyed kids, who are the better group and think they’re better, they perform better. The group that says that they’re the brown-eyeds and they perform less. The next day, she flips it around and the results flip.

But during that video, they’re taping all of this, and this is small town Iowa, so these are kids that have been in first grade, second grade, and third grade together. During one of those days, one of the little boys says, “Mrs. Elliott, Mrs. Elliott, maybe you need to get the yard stick in case those brown-eyeds get out of hand.” Wow. That young man is saying that, “Because I’m better today, get the hard stick because you can use the yard stick to discipline them.” Two days earlier, he probably wouldn’t have offered, “get the yard stick to beat us if we’re naughty.” What had happened is he had a false sense of, “I’m better than somebody else,” and so now it’s okay to use this type of approach. In society, when we have things in society where we have people get a false sense of superiority over others, I think that absolutely is not acceptable in our society. And I think that leads to actions that are not good for our country.

On Gun Rights

The UpTake:Let’s talk about gun rights, gun ownership, and gun violence. They’re all different ways of approaching the topic of guns in our society. What are your views on gun rights and ownership? And then also, the second question will be how do you reduce gun violence? Can you take that first question, what are your views on gun ownership?

Jeff Erdmann:I’ve never owned a gun in my life, yet the Second Amendment is important. I grew up in a small town. I was the guy that always drove the deer. ‘Cause I didn’t have a gun. My buddies, they’d go deer hunting and I’d be the one making all the noise driving through the valley. That’s an important thing. The hunting aspect, I don’t know if there’s anybody that challenges the hunting part of it. The hunting part of it is a big deal in our culture. We had a win last against Lakeville North, incredible football game. On the way back, I’m sitting on the bus and I’ve got two of my guys that are talking and they’re talking about going hunting with their grandpa that weekend, and the musket that was gonna get passed down. It was a beautiful thing because they’re talking about intergenerational interactions with family and connecting with family. We in education, we’re trying to get kids to have intergenerational type of conversations. There’s a great thing with the hunting aspect of it.

Now, I’ve talked to all kinds of people that own guns and that’s a very strong issue for them. There’s a very high percentage of them that understand that important role of background checks. I think there’s an absolute common ground in realization that background checks are a simple thing that we can do to make sure that people that have them are also people that are gonna have some respect for the power that that brings. Now this gets back to the role of money. When you have money in politics that can influence legislators, you’re not gonna have background checks put in.

We saw the republicans, people that, on their taxes got tax credits for mental illness, they’ve allowed them to have gun ownership rights. They just passed it in January. That’s not okay. Why does that happen? Well when you bring in outside money from the National Rifle Association, you’re gonna buy influence and that’s not acceptable. When we have democrats and republicans and commons sense people coming together and money is taken out of it, you can find areas where they can work together and come up with things that are gonna be better for our society moving forward.

On Gender Identity

The UpTake:I want to about another kind of a civil rights area. Where do you stand on issues of gender identity and civil rights? I’m thinking being a school teacher and coach, what are your thoughts on some of the transgender issues that have become hot button political topics, like the bathroom bill and things like that?

Jeff Erdmann: Americans, every person in their own country has value and is somebody that can contribute to our society. Trying to put people down and label them, and make them feel inferior in our society, that doesn’t help our potential as a country. I think that’s something we need to realize. If we are genuinely interested in looking at what’s best for our country moving forward, we need to recognize individual rights.

The UpTake:I think that’s all the questions I had. How do people engage with you and learn more about you? Obviously you have a website and some social media, what’s the best way for people to kind of follow you over the next, like you said, a couple of years, right?

Jeff Erdmann: Right, yeah. Yeah. Liking our Facebook page, following our Facebook page, going online. If they like what they’re seeing from us and want to volunteer, we’d welcome that support as well. We’ve got a pretty active presence on Twitter and Instagram as well, so they can see what we’re doing. And-

The UpTake:You think … Yeah, go ahead.

Jeff Erdmann:I’m sorry. And that’s something that … We’ve gotten off to a big start here in the summer because as a teacher and a coach, my job kicks in the year coming up. That’s gonna kinda reduce my ability time wise to be out and about. People can still follow what we’re doing with our online presence as well.

The UpTake:Yeah, well thank you very much for your time today.

Jeff Erdmann:Thank you.

Jeff Achen

Jeff was a television, print, and digital reporter from 1999 until 2009. He has worked extensively in the nonprofit and journalism communities of the Twin Cities since 2006, serving as a digital strategist for Minnesota Philanthropy Partners and GiveMN.org from 2010 until 2014. Jeff is an active video producer, photographer and owner of CallSign51, a creative services company specializing in video production and photography. He is a longstanding member of the Society of Professional Journalists and former Minnesota Pro Chapter board member. Additionally, he is a Navy veteran and Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (Nepal).

Michael McIntee

Michael McIntee is a former network TV news executive with more than 30 years of broadcasting experience. He began his broadcasting career at the University of Minnesota's student radio station. He is an expert producer, writer, video editor who has a fondness for new technology but denies that he is a geek. More about Michael McIntee »

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