Back in class, Bills prepares for Senate campaign
On Monday morning, three days after he secured the GOP endorsement to run for United States Senate, Kurt Bills was asking a group of high school students for their opinion.
He didn't want to know about legislative policies, though. He wanted to know about his teaching style.
Bills was back in his first-hour AP economics class at Rosemount High School Monday, and it was evaluation day. Students filled out forms and they talked about the effectiveness of the lesson plan. They did not talk about Bills' political victory, or about his upcoming campaign. At least not while class was in session.
That's the way things have been ever since the longtime teacher won a seat in the Minnesota House of Representatives two years ago, and it's the way Bills likes it. Outside of class he's Rep. Bills or candidate Bills. But once the bell rings he's just Mr. Bills.
"These young men and women have been so professional," said Bills, who for the past two legislative sessions has held onto that AP econ class while turning the rest of his teaching load over to a long-term substitute. "I explained to them once I have many different hats to wear, and I would appreciate it if I could just be a teacher."
Just how much Bills can continue to be a teacher next fall will depend on what happens between now and November. If he can beat incumbent Amy Klobuchar, Bills will be too busy in Washington to hold onto even that first-hour class. If he can't, he will likely be back to a full class load.
For now, at least, things are going about as well as expected. The last candidate to enter the race, Bills earned 53 percent of the vote on the first ballot Friday at the GOP state convention in St. Cloud. He earned 64 percent of the vote - and the endorsement - on the second ballot.
Bills told convention delegates he is like David fighting the Goliath of Klobuchar and other Washington Democrats.
"I humbly ask you to send me to Washington to defeat the giants," he said.
Minnesota Republican Chairman Pat Shortridge said even with the three-man race, he is confident the party will be behind Bills.
Bills also let delegates know they were endorsing a small-business owner. He and his wife own a home day care center.
Bills said he felt confident heading into the convention. Bills and his supporters have put in a lot of work in the months since he made his announcement on the corner of Highway 3 and 145th Street.
"We thought we had a good base going in," he said. "We had worked really hard to create a good grassroots organization."
They did it bit by bit.
"It's just a lot of phone calls and a lot of networking and having great people calling during the day while I was teaching and in the legislature," Bills said.
Those efforts are likely to get even more intense now that Bills is officially the GOP's candidate. Bills, who's message has been about bringing what he calls Econ 101 to Washington, has outfitted a blue school bus for his campaign and he expects to spend much of the summer traveling the state with his family.
"The family is 100 percent on board," Bills said. "They want to drive around the state with us and see the state.... We hope to take the whole family and stay together. If we can't do that, I don't know if I could do this."