Chris Fields is the endorsed Republican candidate in Minnesota's Fifth Congressional District.
Fields spoke with Tom Crann of All Things Considered on Tuesday about the issues motivating his campaign against DFL U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison.
An edited transcript of that interview is below.
Tom Crann: You've been publicly critical of Keith Ellison's handling of the tornado response, especially the federal response to it. I'm wondering what you would have done differently, especially after the notification that the FEMA funds largely were not coming through?
Chris Fields: What we could have done differently is energize different parts of the federal government to get a much more concentrated response to individual property damages. The reason I say that can be done, is that as a 21-year Marine, I have seen my government in action. I know that when we want to make something happen, we can.
Crann: He says his office did all they could, and he signed on to a letter with the two U.S. senators. Do you think there's more there that can be done directly?
Fields: Signing on to a letter is just simply not enough. We need action, we need focused leadership. That is something that the president would have heard from me, I don't care what party he's in. He would have known that we are facing this disproportionate level of damage right here in northside [Minneapolis]. In other words, northside is already in trouble economically, this natural disaster increased the distress level in the neighborhood. That's where the real criticism lies there. You can make that happen. We're the United States, we can put a man on the moon. We can make those funds available, and we can make people whole again.
Crann: You also said Ellison focuses on issues in the Middle East concerning Palestinians, Syrians and Egyptians. Isn't the role of a congressman also balancing the needs of the district and doing larger issues, whether they're domestic or foreign policy issues? How would you balance those issues?
Fields: Balance is important. Absolutely. But right now we are disproportionately hurting in the city of Minneapolis and in the northside... We have to have focused energy in our inner cities.
Crann: You would focus primarily on the economic situation in your home district if elected, and not on larger international issues?
Fields: My interest is based on the need for the congressional district, and the need is in education and in increased economic activity. We have the largest achievement gap in education between black and white students in the entire country. We also have the largest unemployment gap between blacks and whites in the entire country. That needs to be addressed, and it's a crisis.
Crann: What's your top idea to fix that?
Fields: Our top idea to fix that is to create an enterprise zone for economic activity, one where we can increase private investment into Minneapolis, in our district. Then with regard to education, we want to see a different role for the Department of Education. And we want to see increased dollars and responsibilities being brought back into the district at the state level.
Crann: It's a reliably blue district, so what message do you have that you think will change that?
Fields: Take a look at who I am. You're not going to find a typical Republican pedigree. And I don't come at politics with a typical left-right slant. I've been a Marine for the last 21 years. I've put my country first above all things.
I come from the South Bronx, from an economically challenged environment. My mother was 15 when she had me. She had three kids before she was 20. I understand welfare, I understand food stamps. I understand what it's like growing up in a tough inner city. And I understand some of the things that can make life better.
How do we win? My whole contention going in is this: we win when we can pull people together. Let's work together and let's solve our problems. It cannot be left versus right. It takes all of us to make our place whole again.
Interview transcribed and edited by Jon Collins, MPR reporter.