A police officer from Northeastern Minnesota announces a run for Congress during a hot summer more than 16 months before a national election.
It's what Rep. Pete Stauber, R-Hermantown, did prior to winning election in Minnesota's 8th Congressional District in 2018 — and it's the path Hibbing native Chris Kelley will attempt as he makes an independent bid at the 5th District seat representing Minneapolis in 2020.
Touting a long service history in the Minneapolis Police Department and the Army and Army Reserves, Kelley announced his campaign this week. Kelley has yet to meet his fellow Northlander in Stauber, but the new candidate acknowledged similarities.
"We've got some very good working-class values and family is important," Kelley, 49, said. "He's a family-oriented guy and he’s had a great career."
In announcing, Kelley made a beeline to criticize 5th District incumbent Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minneapolis, describing her as abandoning the district and caught up in her own celebrity.
"There seems to be a theme to some of the current politicians who are being overly vocal: let’s attack the people who do the jobs, yet they won't do theirs," Kelley told the News Tribune on the topic of immigration reform.
The issue would appear to be a pillar of Kelley's campaign. He called the lack of immigration reform a bipartisan failure. He was appalled at criticism of Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, who Kelley believes are overwhelmed, underfunded and under-supported by Congress.
"There's not a cop or anybody in law enforcement who wants to see anybody suffer," Kelley said. "We do need secure borders. You don't have a country without a border, and allowing anybody to walk in is ridiculous."
Kelley said he believes in a path to citizenship for children arriving in the country under circumstances not under their control.
"We have a lot of good people coming in that will help the country," Kelley said. "Security is the issue with a porous border."
Kelly traveled the world with the Army, including three wartime deployments. He's got 20 years working the streets of Minneapolis as a patrol cop. Asked about race, he said he believes those experiences have made a difference in his understanding of people.
"Being a police officer, I deal with all types of people; it doesn't matter who they are," he said. "I don't think it's a factor."
Campaigning for the endorsement of the Independence-Alliance Party of Minnesota, Kelley has said he would accept an endorsement from President Donald Trump.
"Who wouldn't from a sitting president?" Kelley said. "Plus, if I'm successful, I'll need a good working relationship with the other people in office."
Kelley said he differs from Republicans when it comes to things such as union issues, including the right to negotiate for wages and safer working environments.
"Republicans aren't as supportive to unions," Kelley said, "It's one of the areas where we differ."
Kelley grew up in Hibbing as one of three sons to a pipe-fitter father and a mother who was a homemaker. His parents are lifelong Democrats and union politics were a topic at the supper table. They're part of Kelley's large network of family members on the Iron Range, including a brother who works as a police sergeant in Virginia. Reminiscing the other day, Kelley said he was comforted by the knowledge and times spent growing up close to both sets of grandparents and a number of aunts and uncles.
"I enjoy talking to people," he said. "Moving into politics gives me a greater ability to engage people on things that are important and I can have an impact on while representing them."
Kelley blamed "identity politics" for being "very important in causing division in the Democratic party." He's keen on debating Omar, whose campaign had yet to acknowledge Kelley's attempts to call it out.
"I would love to debate our current rep at some point," Kelley said.