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Rosemount state Rep. Bills announces run for US Senate

Kurt Bills talks with people following his announcement Thursday.

After two years on the Rosemount City Council and a little more than a year in the Minnesota House of Representatives, Kurt Bills once again has his eye on a bigger office.

Bills announced Thursday that he plans to seek the Republican endorsement in the race to unseat U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar. Standing in front of supporters at the corner of Highway 3 and 145th Street in downtown Rosemount, the longtime high school economics professor said he wants to bring Economics 101, the focus of his House campaign, to Washington, D.C.

Bills, for the past 15 years an economics teacher at Rosemount High School, said it was the lessons he teaches his students every day that helped convince him he could make a difference.

"It comes down to what I teach and what I've been involved in for 15 years and the fact it doesn't matter how deep the deficit is," Bills said in Monday interview. "It doesn't seem to matter, Republican or Democrat. I keep teaching these kids numbers that are terrible.

"I know that there are solutions on the Democratic side. I know there are solutions on the Republican side. We just need to move forward."

Bills deflected questions about his specific plans to address economic issues, saying that Thursday's event was for people to get to know him.

Bills told the crowd that gathered Thursday that he traced his political involvement to a 2008 class in which a student asked what they could do to address some of the economic issues Bills had been teaching about. That comment inspired Bills to run for city council, he said, and ultimately to seek higher office. He said his focus is "fixing what is broken and standing up for what is right."

"It would be a lot easier to sit back home with my family, but I care too much about them, my state and my country," he said.

The idea of running for Senate has been percolating in Bills' mind for the past six months. He got some encouragement, he said, and said with big-name candidates likely to challenge Al Franken in 2014 this seemed like the best time to run.

"There's a vacuum right now, and I think I can step in with my specific skills," he said.

With his Senate campaign just getting under way, Bills said he plans to make this new office his focus. He said he will abide by the Republican party's endorsement, and said he does not plan to seek reelection to his House seat. He said he is "all in" for his Senate run.

"It lines up with my character to not have that out," he said.

Campaign work has already begun. Bills has spent time since his announcement visiting district conventions around the area. He said the reception so far has been encouraging.

"We're getting a lot of traction and a lot of help from young people, former students," he said.

Bills expects it will be difficult to get the kind of funding Klobuchar has access to. He talked about loading his family into an RV in the summer and turning a summer vacation into a campaign trip.

"You have to go grass roots," he said. "You have to get people involved."

Bills' decision creates a vacancy in the local House race. So far, Democrat Jeff Wilfahrt is the only one who has declared his intention to run. Bills believes there are candidates on the Republican side who can step forward, though.

"I believe there are people from our district who are incredibly skilled and incredibly intelligent," he said. "I think we've found a bunch of them who can step up and do the work."