An independent streak

Tammy Lee aims to offer voters in the Fifth Congressional District an alternative

As a former television reporter, Tammy Lee has been to war-torn Bosnia, weathered hurricanes while on the air, and learned the ins and outs of politics as a member of the White House press corps.

But now the former Fox News correspondent is ready for a new adventure - this time as a member of Congress. A self-described fiscal moderate and social progressive, Lee is running as the Independence Party candidate in the Fifth Congressional District. The district will have an open seat for the first time in 28 years with the retirement of longtime U.S. Rep. Martin Sabo (D-Minn.), and Lee is convinced that she will appeal to moderates who are tired of the vocal extremists in both the Democratic and Republican parties.

&#8220There's a great opportunity now more than before to run and win as an Independent,” said Lee, a 35-year-old Golden Valley resident who has spent the past seven years working as an executive in the airline and travel industry.

She's confident that an Independent can win the Fifth Congressional District, which is widely viewed as a DFL stronghold and is a district many political observers view as one of the most Democratic in the country. Lee, once an active Democrat who worked on Hubert H. &#8220Skip” Humphrey's gubernatorial campaign in 1998 and served as a press secretary to U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), said there are numerous &#8220pockets” of independents in the Fifth Congressional District.

Lee's campaign is looking to gain traction while Democrats spend time focused on a primary battle this fall.

&#8220It's an excellent opportunity to get out there and get known while the Democrats are still out there fighting over their nominee,” said Tim Penny, a former DFL U.S. Congressman who is serving as Lee's campaign co-chair.

In a district where many political observers agree it would be difficult for a Republican to win, Lee's campaign organizers are positioning her as the best alternative available for moderate Republicans. At the same time, they also say she will be the best alternative for DFLers who are unhappy after what could be a divisive September primary.

&#8220I think that she can win by making herself the alternative to the DFL-endorsed candidate,” said George Soule, Lee's campaign treasurer.

Still, no one in her campaign is saying the job of winning in the heavily DFL Fifth Congressional District is going to come without a lot of hard work.

&#8220It's not going to be easy, and Tammy knows that,” said Jack Uldrich, Lee's campaign co-chair who was the director of planning for former Gov. Jesse Ventura's administration and a former Republican candidate for the Fifth Congressional District seat.

Lee's top priorities include balancing the budget, investing in public schools, implementing health care reforms and investing in renewable and alternative energies. Lee said her 2 1/2-year-old daughter, Lissa, is one of the reasons she is running for Congress. A single parent, Lee said she wants to see issues such as investment in education and affordable health care become top priorities for the nation for the sake of her daughter's future.

She emphasized that Congress needs to drastically reel in spending and said she would start balancing the budget by rolling back tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

Lee said the United States needs to begin the process of withdrawing from Iraq, but she wants to leave one military unit there to deal with reconstruction. On abortion, she calls herself &#8220pro-woman and pro-child” by supporting a woman's right to an abortion during the first trimester but not late-term abortions. On the subject of gay marriage, she said she supports civil unions. When it comes to the nation's struggle over immigration, Lee supports penalizing immigrants who come to the United States illegally. But she thinks illegal immigrants who have been in the country for a number of years and are law-abiding should pay a penalty and then get &#8220into the system” so they are contributing fully - socially and economically - to the government.

&#8220Building a wall around this country is not going to solve the illegal immigration problem,” Lee said.

While Lee acknowledged that being an Independent would leave her without the backing of and networking within one of the two major political parties on Capitol Hill, she said it would also allow her to broker better deals between Democrats and Republicans. She also argues that she could be in a powerful position if this fall's elections leave her the lone independent in a Congress closely divided between the two major parties, where she would be the crucial swing vote on many issues.

Lee - who has sported the campaign slogan &#8220Old Boys' Club, Meet the New Girl” - said she's not interested in politics as usual.

&#8220I'm trying to do politics as different,” she said.

Kari VanDerVeen can be reached at [email protected] and 436-4373.