Q&A with Dave Thomas, a government teacher trying to get to the state House

By: - July 21, 2022 6:00 am

Dave Thomas is a government teacher running for the DFL nomination to represent District 66A — parts of St. Paul, Lauderdale, Falcon Heights and Roseville — in the Minnesota House. Courtesy photo.

Editor’s note: In June, the Reformer interviewed Leigh Finke, the other DFL candidate in House District 66A. You can read it here.  

As a government teacher at MTS Secondary, a charter school in Minneapolis, Dave Thomas believes he has an edge against others running for office on the DFL ticket. 

“You get a lot of lawyers, a lot of activists, a lot of people that are in the system, as I would say, and they know how the government is working,” said Thomas, who has worked in education for 15 years. “But I think having people who know how the government should work is equally as important.”

The Falcon Heights resident is running against Leigh Finke in the DFL primary in August to represent District 66A — covering parts of St. Paul, Lauderdale, Falcon Heights, and Roseville — in the Minnesota House. Whoever wins is likely to win the general election in the blue district in November.

In addition to his day job, Thomas is an Iraq War veteran, married father of two, and former member of the Falcon Heights parks commission and fire department.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Why did you decide to run for office?

I’m running because I’m very concerned about the future of not just the state, but the whole country. Not enough is being done to achieve the agenda of the left. It’s been two years of the worst pandemic in our lifetimes and no one’s talking about universal health care. It’s not at the forefront of every conversation that we have when people are dying in debt. We’ve got an entire generation of people my age and younger who are shackled with student loan debt that they can’t get rid of. We have people caught up in the justice system because of police violence, cannabis prohibition, and for-profit prisons that have not been adequately dealt with.

And the DFL really needs to work on being inclusive and listening to the needs of its constituents. It struggles to maintain the upper hand in messaging even though we have the best ideas. 

In 2014, you ran as an independent against U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum (DFL) in the 4th Congressional District. Why have you changed parties since then?

I was running on free tuition for universities, to promote the idea. The party changed when more young people entered the DFL. Their policies kind of changed from what I call “Boomercrat policies” to more Millennial-focused policies like universal health care and universal higher education. I felt there was now a home. I’ve been with the party for eight years now and I’ve gone to every local caucus, and I even was nominated as an alternative delegate for the 2018 convention when we picked the governor. 

Economically speaking I feel (free tuition) is one of the biggest things we could do to not only help get people into housing and help fix the housing market, but also to keep us competitive when we’re competing against countries like China, Germany, India.

I would get rid of the federal student loan program in the state of Minnesota. Its purpose was to make education affordable and accessible, but instead what has happened is that the schools just keep raising their tuition. And so they just keep raising the amount that they’ll loan to a person. We have kids coming out with $80K in loans for a teaching or a social service degree that will never, ever pay that debt off. Like me, I’m a teacher. I have $30K in student loan debt. I served for 10 years. I went overseas. I had one of the best GI bills, and they drained that.

What about K-12 education?

I would like to see the pre-K system and the before and after school systems integrated into K-12, so we can get state funding. My wife and I pay $500 a month just to go to work, and we only do mornings. If you’re a single mother who has to do both and you make less money — we’re just taxing people for having kids. That’s not the society we want. I want to promote people raising families. Let’s stop punishing parents. 

How has your time in the U.S. Army and your status now as a veteran informed your campaign?

I don’t like to speak for other veterans, but it’s an important thing to me. It’s really part of who I am. I think we need more veterans in politics right now. We have a low number of veterans in the DFL. We have the lowest number of veterans in Congress (since WWII), and that’s concerning because I think people who have fought have a different understanding — not a better understanding — of what we’re doing here. 

It’s also important that we recognize the sacrifices that people made. I look at my own sacrifices and I consider it nothing when I see what some of my fellow veterans have given. If it weren’t for the Army, I wouldn’t have everything I have right now. And then I look at other people and I see the stuff that they gave and it’s just concerning. It makes me want to work harder so I can say that your sacrifices are not in vain. We’re going to take care of veterans. 

You say that police reform is another one of your big issues. What changes would you like to see in the district or the state?

I ran all those years ago running on police reform, I would get done with the debate, and people would come up to me and ask, why are you anti-cop? I’d have to say, I’m not anti-cop. I want police to be able to do their job effectively, but we are not holding people accountable and people are dying. That was before Philando Castile was killed — not even a football field from my front door. That was before George Floyd was killed. 

Some of the reforms that I would like to see are community-focused policing. Let’s have police live in the communities they serve. When your kids play on the same softball team as my kids, when we see each other at school or at the coffee shop, we’re going to have different interactions when we talk. Making the community the focus, I think, is the key instead of punishment.

I’d also like to see mandatory de-escalation and mental illness training for relicensure. I’d like to see them have to do at least 25 hours of community service to hit relicensure. We just need a little bit more accountability. If there were legal settlements due to police violence or police negligence, that should come out of their own pension funds. Right away you’d see older police telling younger police to control themselves because they don’t want to lose $2 million of their pension fund because somebody didn’t keep themselves within the law and accidentally murdered someone.

In a GOP-controlled house, which is a likely scenario, is there anything you can work with the other party on and find compromise?

If people are listening, I think it won’t be so bad. I think the DFL got lucky that the Supreme Court threw women under the bus. That’s going to bring a lot of women out, which helps the DFL. Will it bring as many Republicans out? I don’t think in Minnesota it will.

In terms of working with the other side, I’m all for that. But with the GOP, it’s often just a take and take situation. It’s one of the reasons I strongly support term limits and anti-lobbying legislation. If people get in there and have six years to accomplish a goal, they’re going to work differently. You’re going to see members on both sides of the aisle more willing to work with the other side.

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Colleen Connolly
Colleen Connolly

Colleen Connolly is a Minneapolis-based bilingual journalist writing about immigration, education, Latin America and other issues. Connolly has also worked as a digital news editor at the Chicago Tribune and NBC Chicago.