When was the last time you heard a Republican accuse a Democrat of shafting the poor and minorities?
Meet Chris Fields, a former U.S. Marine major seeking the GOP nod to face Rep. Keith Ellison in the 2012 election. Fields points to Ellison co-chairing the Progressive Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives as one of his failings.
“There are 105 members in the caucus, and they've been largely absent when it comes to fixing issues for large blocs of folks who haven't been traditionally served very well,” Fields said.
It’s a marked change from who see Ellison’s Muslim faith—contrasting their own Christianity—as the main reason voters should pick them. , who ran against Ellison in 2008 with a campaign that stressed Ellison's Muslim faith, only managed to drum up 3.74 percent of the vote.
Fields is one of three children born to a young, single mother in New York City’s Bronx neighborhood. These roots, he said, help him empathize with the problems of minorities.
“It defines me as much as being a Marine,” he said.
Fields tells of politicians who came to visit a nonprofit his stepfather helped to build in his neighborhood, and he compares them with Ellison.
“I watched politicians walk in there and say ‘Henry, you're doing a great job,’ get the photo op and leave,” Fields said. “He'd still struggle to get those resources to keep the nonprofit going.
“The Tea Party (Caucus) has 60 members, they are setting the agenda in Washington D.C.,” Fields said. “Those 105 members of the Progressive Caucus aren't controlling the (national) debate. They aren't reaching down to see that the resources they control are getting down to the people in need.”
Some might argue Ellison and other progressives, as members of the minority party, lack the visibility or power to have deeper impacts. Fields rejects this, saying Ellison still has a bully pulpit to affect local issues in the Fifth District. Some observers don’t buy Fields' rationale.
One of them is Ramon Leon, a prominent member of the Twin Cities’ Latino community who’s been long involved with urban economic development initiatives. Leon is CEO of the Latino Development Corporation, but stressed he was speaking only for himself, based on his years of experience.
“Congressman Ellison can advocate and meet with people and tell them that 'These organizations are doing great work in our state, and they should be receiving more support,'” Leon said. “Money may be allocated for a social service program, but it has to be implemented in an effective way. That’s not the final responsibility of congressmen or senators. It is us in the field who need to take responsibility for the way those resources are used.”
While Fields verbalizes support for the poor and minorities, he is also a self-described conservative. He said the government needs to deregulate small businesses to help spur economic development in poor areas. He also dismisses social programs as the answer to poverty or the problems of the inner city. Rather, he advocates handing funding for education and other staples to states and local governments.
“The myth here is that we have to spend more, but I'm not convinced that we do,” he said. “It’s more that we need to look at what we're spending money on, and do we need to spend money on it. Let's have those big brain-picking conversations. We can squeeze out of the federal government a better way to make our dollars more effective.”