Congressional candidate Paula Overby organized her campaign around a central goal to "make politics friendly again." In her second run for Minnesota's 2nd Congressional District, the Independent Party candidate hopes to challenge the bipartisan political process.
"We've reached a state where people don't even want to talk about politics because they're so polarizing," she said. "Everything's focused around the idea that we have those two choices. People want change, but they're not being offered any. So, it's a matter of trying to choose between the best of two evils, from media advertising that tells us really nothing."
Overby ran for Congress in 2014 against Democrat Mike Obermueller and incumbent Republican John Kline. This year, she will contend with Democrat Angie Craig and Republican Jason Lewis. Kline is retiring.
Despite a notoriously polarized 2016 presidential race, a mid-September Gallup poll indicated about 40 percent of Americans identify as independent as opposed to Republican or Democrat.
Overby hopes to connect with voters with elements she feels are missing from bipartisan candidates' campaigns: transparency, accountability and accessibility.
"The first thing that I can promise people is that they're going to be able to connect with me," she said. "I'll have regular office hours, I'll be investing my time in representing their issues. Our candidates today spend at least 50 percent of their time just raising money for their next campaign and they're not representing us."
Regular attendance at events and public forums, Overby said, is crucial to engaging voters and changing the political process.
According to a notice from League of Women Voters Northfield-Cannon Falls, a Sept. 29 congressional candidate forum at St. Olaf College was canceled due to "lack of affirmative response to participation from the major party candidates." On Wednesday, Overby was the sole congressional candidate to attend a forum on motorcycle rights hosted in Bellechester by the Association of Independent Riders.
"Your candidates won't even talk to you now. What are they going to do after they're elected?" she said. "They're not going to be representing you, they're going to be representing PACs and corporate interests paying their salaries."
After graduating from the University of Minnesota with degrees in psychology and computer sciences, Overby worked in both the community-based mental health field and later as a quality assurance data analyst. As a community activist, she addressed issues such as sexual violence and intimate partner abuse.
She is also the first openly transgender Minnesotan to run for Congress.
Overby said her background and experiences make her "uniquely qualified" to connect with a broad spectrum of Minnesotans.
"I can talk to men, and I can talk to women, and I can understand that they have very different needs," she said. "I can talk to wealthy people, I can talk to very poor people and understand that they have very different priorities. I understand the issues of retirement and social security, and yet I am very concerned about the issues of student debt and job opportunities."
Overby said her support of small businesses and independent farmers would benefit regions like Goodhue County, where farming and manufacturing sectors serve as an economic foundation.
"Our whole platform is organized around the concept of restoring and empowering communities, individuals, families," she said. "Small business, rural farms and independent farm owners are starving for capital because it's all going to extremely wealthy corporations. We have corporations in this country that are borrowing at 1 or 2 percent to buy stock and invest, with students paying 6 or 7 percent."
Overby also hopes to address access to healthcare in rural communities. She spoke in favor of county-based purchasing plans including South Country Alliance, which offers localized health care services in counties throughout Minnesota, including Goodhue, Wabasha, Waseca, Wadena and Steele counties.
"Services are local, your jobs are local, this is the kind of community model we need to expand on," she said. "Those are really important to rural communities. Our rural communities are struggling."