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Walz chasing re-election

ST. PAUL -- Tim Walz started his congressional career at the top.

He became president of the U.S. House freshman caucus right after his election two years ago, and gained publicity far beyond the borders of his southern Minnesota 1st Congressional District.

Walz's name often was tossed around as a potential U.S. Senate candidate, something unusual for a first-term congressman. But he did not waiver in his decision to seek re-election.

His fellow freshman elected Walz their leader because he is into "coalition building," he said. But it also helped that Minnesotans are known for getting along with others and making government work.

The most surprising thing he encountered in his first two years in Washington was "the hyperpartisanship" that he said leads to more focus on ideology than producing good results.

Still, he said, "the system allows the voice of the people to win out," such as when he won financial help for severe southeast Minnesota flooding and for extra hazardous duty pay for soldiers in Kosovo.

"Whenever partisanship raises its head, I have to tell you, I become very, very uncomfortable with that," Walz said.

The congressman said he pushes for cooperation from opponents.

"I have always said it is very unhealthy to assume they do not love their country or their state as much as we do," he said.

As a high school teacher and National Guard member, Walz said he feels at home in Congress.

"This is what the founders envisioned," he said.

As freshmen president, Walz was in a good position to educate others about the farm bill Congress passed earlier this year. Colleagues listened, he said, because his district receives more government farm payments than most parts of the country.

His opponent, Brian Davis, complained that Walz is tied too closely to Democratic leaders such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco.

"He says he is bucking party leadership when he voted with Nancy Pelosi nearly 100 percent of the time," Davis said.

Walz beat six-term GOP U.S. Rep. Gil Gutknecht in 2006, getting 53 percent of the vote in a district that had been considered safe for Republicans.

Walz grew up in eastern Nebraska and joined the National Guard when he was 17. He eventually spent 24 years in the Guard, which laid the groundwork for his current emphasis on veterans' issues.

After becoming a teacher, Walz participated in a Harvard University program to teach in China. As a Mankato West High School coach, Walz led his team to two state football championships.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.