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Mills "keeping the door open" for 2018 run

Stewart Mills III, a former GOP candidate for U.S. Congress, addresses the 2017 annual convention of the Crow Wing County Republicans Saturday as Doug Kern, former Crow Wing County GOP chair, looks on. Zach Kayser/Brainerd Dispatch

Stewart Mills III may give yet another go at running for office, he said Saturday.

The two-time candidate for Minnesota's 8th U.S. Congressional District made the remarks while speaking to the annual Crow Wing County Republicans convention at Central Lakes College.

"I'm keeping the door open," he said. "I have several months before I have to make that decision."

Mills also had a harsh recollection of the 2016 election, which he lost to incumbent Democrat Rick Nolan by less than a percentage point. He said national Democratic-aligned groups like the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and House Majority PAC had poured money into the district.

"They came in, and they bought the election for him," he said.

Nolan is considering a run for governor in 2018, which didn't sit well with MIlls.

"He is now trying to rebrand himself as somebody that can win in a tough rural district," he said. But Nolan's 2016 voters came mostly from urban areas like Duluth, as well as the Iron Range, Mills said. The Nolan supporters were putting forward a false narrative that he can run in a rural setting, Mills said.

State-level legislators also spoke to the crowd, giving an update on the happenings at the Minnesota Legislature.

Rep. Josh Heintzeman, R-Nisswa, told of how much easier it was to get things done now that both chambers, the Minnesota House of Representatives and Senate, were controlled by Republicans.

"It really is incredible to have both chambers working together, communicating with each other, and seeing legislation work through the process without some of the challenges I saw in my first term," he said."

Heintzeman and fellow Rep. Dale Lueck, R-Aitkin, also took questions and comments from the audience. Republican activist Bill Dian wanted to know the progress of a bill intended to stiffen penalties for protesters blocking highways. It's moving through the House of Representatives and a vote on it could be coming this week, Heintzeman replied.

"What's controversial about saying apparently, Minnesota's law is not hard enough on people that are going to block ambulances, going to block people on their way to a cancer treatment at Mayo Clinic, going to walk into an airport and shut down a terminal?" Heintzeman said. "Clearly, we're going to have to do something to increase the repercussions for those folks that decide that they're just going to violate your rights as you're just simply trying to move to get to work, or whatever the case may be."

Heintzeman is a prominent figure in the annual "March for Life" demonstration, which blocks traffic in downtown Brainerd as it protests abortion. However, that march is conducted lawfully and in cooperation with law enforcement, which gave them a police escort in 2017.

Former city council member Mary Koep asked about whether the issue of bathroom accommodations for transgender people would come up in the Legislature.

Heintzeman responded by talking about a bill he sponsored that would allow health insurance companies to not have to cover gender transitions.

Lueck acknowledged that there were people with genuine gender identity issues that required consideration. However, he said, those accommodations shouldn't upend what most people were used to. People should look to their faith as a guide, Lueck said.

"This has nothing to do with the Bible," Dian said. "If I say I'm a brain surgeon, that doesn't mean I'm a brain surgeon."

The situation was more complex than that, Lueck countered. Every human being is unique.

"Let's not turn this into a buffalo herd stampede, and we just run over everything in front of us, assuming it's that simple," Lueck said.

Hyatt elected as Crow Wing County GOP chair

Since 2017 was an off year with no major elections in November, Saturday's proceedings did not include voting on resolutions to forward to the state party platform. Rather, the Crow Wing County Republicans elected people to lead their own group.

Doug Kern, who had served as chair for the better part of a decade, stepped down and was replaced by Forest Hyatt. Kern emphasized that he wasn't stepping away from his commitment to the GOP, merely the post itself. He wanted to step down in order to make time to pursue other things, he said.

Hyatt has a decades-long history as a conservative voice in local politics. He made unsuccessful bids for the Brainerd School Board, Brainerd mayor, and the Minnesota Senate. He ran a last-minute write-in campaign in 2006 against then-incumbent Minnesota Sen. Paul Koering, R-Fort Ripley, an openly gay man. Hyatt told the Dispatch at the time he was concerned that Koering might advance a gay agenda as a senator.

The race to lead the entire Minnesota branch of the party also touched down in Brainerd on Saturday. Jennifer Carnahan, candidate for state party chair, spoke to the crowd, along with Jennifer DeJournett, running for deputy chair.

As Kern noted, Saturday's turnout was small compared to the packed house for the 2016 convention. About 30 people showed up for the 2017 convention.