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Anderson makes outsider, populist campaign for senate

U.S. Senate candidate Bob Anderson is challenging Republican-endorsed candidate Karin Housley in the GOP primary Tuesday, Aug. 14. Gabriel Lagarde / Brainerd Dispatch

Populism is popular—evidenced by a slew of political hopefuls at every level of government, both sides of the aisle, headlined by the likes of one-time presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and President Donald Trump.

And U.S. Senate candidate Bob Anderson wants to join these political outsiders. As one might expect of a Republican candidate, Anderson spoke glowingly of the president—whose stunning election, he noted, inspired Anderson to make his latest foray into politics—yet he also praised Sanders and complimented his counterpart on the DFL side, Richard Painter.

All of them, he said, are candidates who garner widespread support by shunning the inside track for the views of an outsider looking in.

"It's a very different world out there than the political environment. I really want to change politics," Anderson told the Dispatch Thursday, Aug. 9. "I think we have a president that is at least giving us a chance to change status quo."

At the same time, he expressed disdain for his GOP-endorsed opponent Karin Housley and the incumbent, DFLer Sen. Tina Smith—both of whom, he told the Dispatch, represent establishment-types steeped in PAC money, too afraid to engage their opponents and debate face to face.

"Both parties aren't fighting for us," Anderson said. "They're fighting for the power of the party."

Perhaps most prominently, Anderson is a staunch mental health advocate—going so far to say the issue underlines virtually every problem the United States faces, while also being the catalyst to his own ascendency into the public sphere.

"What actually brought me into politics was fighting for the (Mental Health Parity and Equity Act of 2008)," said Anderson, who noted he was appalled the legislation authored by former Sen. Paul Wellstone languished for so long.

"I have major depression myself and come from a long family history," he said. "I was fortunate that we had good insurance that we were providing for our employees, so I was able to get treatment. It made such a difference in my life that I wanted to pay back society. I wanted everybody to have equal access to the treatment I had."

As such, the outsider bucks Republican orthodoxy—noting, as Anderson did, that his platform includes a hybridized health care system that guarantees a public option, open to all and not tied to employment, even if this stance branded him a socialist by members of his own party.

Increasing access, promoting competition between insurance providers and decreasing premiums, also factor heavily in the discussion, he added.

A "pro-life Catholic" and grandfather, Anderson, 60, is a lifelong Minnesotan. Originally of Richfield, he was exposed to both public and private Catholic schools growing up. He's been employed as a dental ceramist in his family business—Anderson Dental Inc.—for 42 years. This, he said, makes him a good advocate for alternative education routes like apprenticeships and trades, as well as empathetic to both employers and employees.

During that time he's dabbled in the political arena—often in the form of activism for mental health causes; his brushes with public office amounting to runs for the 6th Congressional District in 2008 and 2010 as a member of the Independence Party.

Taking aim at specialized congressional health care plans and pensions, Anderson said elected officials need "to feel the pain" of their constituents. As such, he rejects these perks and said he will limit himself to two terms at maximum if elected.

The opioid epidemic

The number of Minnesotans who succumbed to drug overdoses rose from 129 to 637 between 2000 and 2016, according to a report filed in September by the Minnesota Department of Health. In 2016 alone, 395 deaths and more than 2,000 hospitalizations were directly tied to opiate abuse—though these statistics do not capture other indirect social impacts.

Anderson characterized the issue that's growing, in part, because of stigmas against mental health issues—issues, in turn, he said, that need to be combated preemptively through education and awareness, as well as after the fact through beefed-up treatment centers and similar resources.

"We have to have the resources available and we have to have the awareness—this is something that's becoming an epidemic in our society," Anderson said. "There are issues—people that are addicted, we need treatment. They need to know there is help out there. People helping people is really positive."

In an attempt to counteract the legitimized avenues for pouring prescription opiates into Minnesota counties—namely, pharmacies with lackadaisical prescription protocols and pharmaceutical companies that profit from the epidemic—Anderson said he would be in favor of legalizing medical marijuana in the state.

All in all, he said he is in support of community-wide, holistic approaches to combating addiction like that currently featured in LIttle Falls.

Economics in greater Minnesota

Crow Wing County has experienced episodes of economic challenges as a result of shifting job markets and the loss of community cornerstones through the decades—for example, the departure of iron ore companies from the Cuyuna Range area during the '60s, or the closure of paper mills in Brainerd, with the Wausau mill closing as recently as 2013.

Emphasizing that Minnesota and the country as a whole have to be business-friendly in order to spur job growth, Anderson said he supports tax cuts and decreased regulations—measures, he noted, that not only benefit business but also bolster individual wealth and well-being. Mining and blue-collar manufacturing jobs stand out in particular, he noted, but, more so, making sure jobs are retained in the U.S. are a focal point of his candidacy.

"Jobs—any part of the state—is important. Not only rural or greater Minnesota, but in the Cities, too," said Anderson, who noted he's in favor of necessary, practical regulations, while he would do away with the bureaucratic red tape. "We need regulations, but we need common-sense regulations. There's a balance to be regulated, but produce a product on a world market."

As for educating a workforce to staff these industries, Anderson said, there's a two-fold approach—one, to ensure primary, middle and high school students are steered toward productive vocational careers by tweaking public education; and two, by changing how society prizes four-year degrees to the detriment of other equally viable post-secondary paths.

"Often there's an overemphasis on the four-year degree," said Anderson, who iterated his own successful path as a one-time apprentice. "But, there's nothing wrong with the vocations and having a trade and the job market is changing. ... We need welders, we need electricians, we need people to go into manufacturing."

The student debt bubble

In 2010, student loan debt surpassed credit card debt as the largest form of individual debt in the United States—$1.4 trillion. While this may inhibit economic mobility and opportunities for young Americans in an individual sense, it also poses a threat to the long-term health of the economy. With more and more money delegated to paying off loans, and less disposable income, commerce may suffer as a result.

Iterating his emphasis on alternative—and often cheaper—post-secondary paths, Anderson also took aim the student loan industry.

"Borrowing money with (students) paying higher interest rates than banks can get is absolutely ridiculous," Anderson said. "If education is as important as everyone says it is—as we all know, knowledge is the key—then there shouldn't be the interest on top of it."

It's about accountability—both in terms of lenders, Anderson said, as well as ensuring students graduate with a degree and don't incur useless dead debt. At the same time, he said he couldn't support student loan debt forgiveness or write-offs at this time.

All in all, he noted, it's about making sure education in Minnesota and the United States isn't a business venture, but service to the public.

The gun debate

Labeling himself as pro-Second Amendment, Anderson said he wouldn't be in favor of adding any new laws to limit gun sales or who has access to firearms—rejecting background checks, buyer's waiting periods, interstate records transparency, restricting bump stocks and other moderate measures.

Anderson said it's about properly enforcing laws already on the books—though, when prompted to specify what laws were not being enforced, he said there were none. Anderson said, beyond enforcement, it's about promoting increased awareness and resources to combat addiction and mental illness that often drive gun violence.

"It's not so much the gun, it's the people whose hands it's in," said Anderson, who wouldn't explain how high levels of gun violence—which are largely unique to the United States—don't correlate to similar mental health problems in comparable nations like Australia, Canada and Japan. "The gun always gets blamed."

Mining and environmentalism

In terms of renewables versus fossil fuels, Anderson characterised his position as "all of the above"—backing a diverse portfolio of natural gas and oil, as well as geothermal, wind power and solar energy.

Advocating that Minnesotans can have both—mining that creates jobs, yet is safe for the environment—Anderson said he's in favor of PolyMet Mining and Twin Metals initiatives.

"We have the regulations, we have the agencies in the state to make sure the environment (is protected)" Anderson said. "We do have a lot of resources up in that area and we do need work. I'm pro-mining, I'm pro-jobs. ... I'm a steward of the land."

Anderson also said he's in favor of Enbridge Line 3 and similar crude oil pipelines.

Big money in politics

"I think it's absolutely ridiculous how much money is being spent on campaigns," Anderson said. He noted much of his platform is based on populist, grassroots principals—and that means a rejection of big corporate money and political PAC dollars. "When you take that money from big PACs, when you take money from special interests, you are a puppet. I have no strings attached."

Anderson said he's trying to set an example of what a people-driven, populist campaign can do through social media and non-traditional means of garnering votes.

At the same time, Anderson said he stands by the directive of the Supreme Court in terms of Citizens United v. FEC—a landmark 2010 court case that granted corporations personhood, or similar rights and privileges as human beings.

Instead, Anderson said, it should be the responsibility of candidates to reject PAC money—from corporations or unions or other special interests—and for voters to reward them for their integrity in the voting booth.

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