Outdoors to announce his candidacy for an 8th Congressional District election that's still 18 months away, Ray "Skip" Sandman noted the stiff wind and said, "Whitecaps on the lake - what a beautiful day."
It was Sandman's first-and-last direct reference to water. Protecting water sources from precious-metals mining on the Iron Range had been Sandman's primary message when he campaigned in an unsuccessful bid for Congress in 2014 as a member of the Green Party.
Now independent, Sandman, 63, revealed a broader platform Sunday during his announcement at Central Hillside Park.
"Last time, I was criticized for being a one-issue candidate," Sandman said. "I'm not. I came out (today) for northern Minnesota."
Saying he'd fight for stronger unions, better women's health care and a $15-per-hour minimum wage, in addition to his continued advocacy for the environment, Sandman pledged to distinguish himself from Washington, D.C. politicians, who, he said, no longer consider the people.
"I'm here for the people - that's what I'm here for," Sandman said, deriding party politics. "Parties don't dictate what happens, people dictate what happens. If elected, I will listen to the people."
Sandman ripped on Republicans in Washington for acting against the will of the people, and lamented President Donald Trump's proposed federal budget cuts. Sandman specifically pointed out proposed cuts to after-school programs totaling $1.2 billion.
"How would that affect Duluth and the Iron Range?" Sandman said. "That stuff can't happen."
As the Green Party candidate in the 2014 8th District race, Sandman garnered 4.3 percent of the vote, or close to 11,500 votes, in a race won by three-time incumbent Rep. Rick Nolan, DFL-Crosby. Sandman skipped the 2016 race after receiving an artificial heart valve. His supporters were happy to see him back on the trail in the 8th.
"I was delighted to find out he was doing this," said Kathryn Wegner of Duluth, one of roughly a dozen supporters to turn out for the announcement. "Everything he says is something I've been thinking."
Wegner said she admires Nolan, but that his "deep ties to mining are creating a huge divide."
Sandman concurred and added that he doesn't believe Nolan has protected unions or Iron Range miners well enough.
"No. 1 in this whole thing is to make unions even stronger," Sandman said.
A Vietnam veteran and retired corrections officer who lives in Lincoln Park, Sandman said he learned from his prior run at a Congressional seat. He campaigned "backwards," he said, by starting too late. With his campaign off and running much sooner this time, Sandman said he wants to position himself as a "catalyst for the real change."
"We all think Skip is a good man," said Shawn Carr, a fellow veteran. "He's a breath of fresh air."
As Nolan has in the past, Sandman called for an overturning of Citizens United, the 2010 Supreme Court decision that granted corporate personhood and has led to infusions of corporate money into campaigns for political office. The 8th District race in recent elections has become widely known for being one of the most expensive campaigns in the country. But when Sandman ran in 2014, he typically had little more than $1,000 in his campaign coffers at any given time compared to the multi-million dollar war chests belonging to Nolan and two-time Republican challenger Stewart Mills.
Neither Nolan nor Mills has made their 8th District intentions clear to date. Mills said after last November's roughly half-percentage-point loss that he wouldn't rule out running a third-straight time. Meanwhile, Nolan has yet to rebuff efforts to recruit him into the wide-open race for Minnesota governor that headlines the 2018 ballot. His supporters say a decision is expected early this summer. Nolan has said he hasn't fully vetted his potential for the governor's race yet, given how busy the Congressional session has been.
With a broader platform, Sandman sounded like a candidate hopeful for a bigger movement.
"We deserve better as people," he said. "As citizens, we can do better."