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Fifth Democrat announces bid for 1st District seat

MANKATO — A fifth Democrat announced today he will vie for the open 1st Congressional District seat.

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Dan Feehan
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MANKATO — A fifth Democrat announced today he will vie for the open 1st Congressional District seat.

U.S. Army veteran Dan Feehan officially declared his candidacy this morning at a park in Mankato. Slated to join him were former Austin DFL Rep. Robin Brown and her husband, former Grand Meadow Superintendent Joe Brown, who is now superintendent of Fairmont Area Schools.

During an interview with the Post Bulletin, Feehan said his experience as both an Iraq War veteran and a middle school teacher in a low-income area give him a unique perspective that would be valuable in Congress.

"I've had, back-to-back, two exposures of federal policy impacting on a human level and seeing how federal policies can result in life or death, how it can make the difference in opportunity and lack of opportunity," Feehan said.

He joins a crowded field of candidates battling for the chance to replace 1st District DFL Rep. Tim Walz, who is not seeking re-election. Walz is instead running for governor in 2018. Other Democrats running are Rochester web developer Johnny Akzam, Byron High School teacher John Austinson, former Owatonna state Sen. Vicki Jensen, Albert Lea electronic pull-tabs salesman Colin Minehart. Feehan said he plans to abide by the party's endorsement process.

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So far, Jim Hagedorn, of Blue Earth, is the only declared Republican in the race. He narrowly lost to Walz last year. But several other Republicans are mulling a bid, including Olmsted County Republican Chairman Aaron Miller, Rochester Sen. Carla Nelson, Rochester Rep. Nels Pierson and Luverne Rep. Joe Schomacker.

From Army captain to teacher

Feehan, 34, recently moved from the Washington, D.C., area to North Mankato. While he has been away from the state for 20 years, Feehan said he considers himself a Minnesotan. He grew up in Red Wing and was saddened when his family moved to a suburb of Chicago when he was 14 years old. He decided to attend Georgetown University, and it was there he was inspired to join the military. One morning during his second week on campus as a freshman, he saw people rushing to a building with a high view. He followed them and saw the Pentagon was on fire. The date was Sept. 11, 2001.

"I sat and watched. And I sat and wept. And I sat and something clicked," Feehan said.

He enrolled in Army ROTC and not long after graduating in 2005, he was headed to Iraq. His job in Iraq was to help find and defuse roadside bombs. He later completed a second tour of duty in Iraq with the goal of finding insurgents at nighttime. When he left the Army, he had attained the rank of captain and earned the Bronze Star for Service. He then taught middle school math to low-income students in Gary, Ind.

Feehan went on to graduate from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government in 2013 and later became the deputy assistant secretary of defense for readiness for the Obama administration.

So why run for office? Feehan said he has long believed in the importance of service. He remembers being 4-years-old and his father, Patrick Feehan, running for the Minnesota Senate with a goal of helping others. He is also motivated by the election of Republican President Donald Trump.

"I woke up on Jan. 20, and I started to believe the world is less safe than it was yesterday," Feehan said.

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If elected, Feehan said his first priority would be expanding economic opportunities. He said there are plenty of jobs but not enough people with the skills to do them. To help address that, he said it's important to do a better job educating students about all the career options out there — including those that don't require a four-year degree.

Feehan said making sure everyone has access to affordable health care will also be a priority. His third focus is national security. He said after 16 years of war, it is time that Congress vote on re-authorizing military action and set clear conditions.

"We have an increasingly dangerous world brought on by an executive who has little regard for our allies, our partners in the world and who has thoroughly alienated those we didn't share a lot in common with in the first place," Feehan said.

An expensive, competitive race

The 1st Congressional District race is expected to get plenty of national attention. It is one of 12 House districts that voted for Trump and is represented by a Democrat. Minnesota First District Republicans' Chairman Jeremy Munson said conservatives are well positioned to win back the seat.

"The message, I think, in our district is that they like Donald Trump and they want a candidate that will support his policies. So we're going to send somebody to Washington that will help support that," Munson said.

Minnesota DFL Chairman Ken Martin said he expects Democrats to fight hard to keep the seat blue. He said the large number of DFL candidates running is part of a nationwide trend of frustrated citizens deciding to run for office for the first time in the wake of last year's election.

"That same energy you are seeing all over the country, you are seeing in the 1st Congressional District," Martin said. "We couldn't be more excited than we are about the slate of candidates who are running down there."

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