Former Department of Defense official and Army veteran Dan Feehan announced his run for Minnesota's first congressional district July 11.
The Red Wing native will join a pool of four candidates — three fellow Democrats and one Republican — hoping to secure votes for the state's southernmost district during the 2018 U.S. House race.
Democrat Rep. Tim Walz, who currently represents the district, announced his candidacy for governor in March.
Feehan served four years in the U.S. Army after his 2005 graduation from Georgetown University, completing two tours in Iraq and earning a Captain rank as well as a Bronze Star honor.
His military service led to a two-year teaching career in Gary, Indiana, before completing his Master's Degree in public policy from Harvard University in 2013.
He went on to work as a White House fellow and eventually became the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Readiness, a position he held until earlier this year.
The skills acquired through a career in service, Feehan said, would offer unique qualifications that set him apart from other lawmakers.
"I don't think that I could be a good policymaker if I didn't know what it was like to serve in that way," Feehan said of his military experience. "You learn through service, the burden of caring for other people's lives. You learn in a classroom what it means for a teacher to empower students' futures; you help them find what they want to do, how they want to better themselves."
Feehan said his experience as a policymaker for U.S. service men and women introduced him to members of Congress whose motivations were "not deeply rooted in service experience" — a tendency he hopes challenge in office.
"Policy impacts lives, and that is on the forefront of my mind," he said. "Policy is hard work, and I've learned how to navigate it. I've learned how to make sure a good idea makes it all the way to the end."
Feehan said last fall's presidential election catalyzed his bid for congress — a shift he expected to uproot his position at the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
"I knew that I would likely not have a job and wanted to find another way to serve," he said. "I answered this urgent call that I feel."
Feehan moved from Washington, D.C. to North Mankato earlier this year. He said his conversations with community members in his home state shaped his priorities as a hopeful congressman.
Health care access and affordability, he said, tops the list. If elected, Feehan said he would work to improve the Affordable Care Act to combat expensive premiums and preserve medicaid so "people who've gotten a taste of the right to health care can experience it."
"Ideally, I am part of a group of people who want to fix the Affordable Care Act the same way we fixed Medicare," he said.
Health care, Feehan said, is closely linked to another priority he identified: building up Minnesota's economic opportunities.
"Jobs can't be strong if our health care can't be strong," he said."Farmers have to stay strong here," adding that Minnesota's increasingly older agricultural workforce calls for lawmakers to reevaluate "what our future farmers will look like."
He emphasized a need to retrain Minnesota's workforce and increase K-12 students' exposure to career opportunities in their own communities.
Feehan also ranked national security among his top priorities. Constituents, he said, are looking for a "calm, reasoned approach" to U.S. tension with Russia, China and North Korea.
For a region like southern Minnesota, home to nearly 50,000 veterans, Feehan said easing ongoing conflicts would mean freeing up "resources that can go toward southern Minnesota rather than overseas."
As a congressman, Feehan said his experience in public policy would help him challenge the "direct drain" of partisanship.
"I have made a career having to work with people I don't necessarily agree with," he said. "If you polled everyone I've worked with, they might not agree with my policy, but they would agree with my leadership. "
Feehan joins Democrats Vicki Jensen, a former state senator, and Colin Minehart. Jim Hagedorn, the sole Republican candidate so far, will run for the seat for the third election in a row.
The elected candidate will represent Minnesota's first congressional district, which covers Rice, Steele, Dodge, Faribault, Winona and Olmsted counties as well as the city of Rochester.