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Election over, Bills is ready to return to the classroom

RHS teacher Kurt Bills returned to his classroom the day after the Nov. 6 election.

Kurt Bills spent several years as the wrestling coach at Rosemount High School, a job that meant annual meetings with national power Apple Valley. Which is to say, he had a pretty good idea what he was up against when he announced plans last March to challenge Amy Klobuchar for a seat in the United States Senate.

In the end, Bills' Senate campaign ended a lot like those matches against the Eagles. He lost, and it wasn't particularly close. Some national news organizations called the race for Klobuchar just eight minutes after polls had closed, and the incumbent Senator finished with 65.2 percent of the vote to Bills' 30.56 percent.

In wrestling terms, that's a pretty decisive pin.

For Bills, the loss brings to an end, at least for now, a political career that progressed from newcomer city council candidate to Minnesota Representative to Senate candidate in the span of just four years. And for now, at least, that's just fine with Bills. The Rosemount High School economics teacher never gave up his first hour AP class even during the thick of his campaign. On Friday morning, he was back at work lecturing his students on economic theory, and when the new trimester starts he'll be back to a full teaching load.

In the meantime, Bills is spending time with his family and catching up on chores around the house. On Thursday afternoon, he was working on the furnace. He also has to put away all the outdoor equipment at the daycare he and his wife, Cindy, own.

"There are lots of things that have been, not neglected, but, having a home you need to do the upkeep and maintenance," he said. "We'll get that done."

The students Bills will return to later this month are a big part of the reason he ran for office in the first place. He got enough questions in class about why the economy was struggling that he decided to put himself in a position to do something about it. He moved quickly from city council to Minnesota House, winning the state seat before he was halfway through his council term. He announced his decision to run for Senate just over halfway through a House term he will wrap up at the end of the year.

Bills learned quickly that running a statewide campaign takes a lot of work. He had to build support to win the Republican Party's endorsement, which he did on the second ballot. Then, he had to travel the state on a limited budget.

Bills often brought his family with him on the big blue school bus he had outfitted for the campaign. His four children have been in parades in just about every part of the state, and Bills joked in his concession speech last Tuesday night that his son set a state record for eating Tootsie Rolls.

"We had to have put on 100,000 miles or more trying to talk to people about the economy and also offer solutions," he said. "It was exhausting. I would typically go to bed around midnight, sometimes a little bit before, sometimes a little bit after. I was up at 5 every morning."

There were parts of the process Bills liked. But there were also frustrations. He didn't always feel like he had the full support of his party. There were too many factions within the Republican Party, he said, each looking for something a little different. Even after he received the endorsement, Bills felt like some of those factions were still holding out for a perfect candidate who was never going to show up.

Some of that frustration came out in Bills' concession speech.

"If we don't become the party of addition and multiplication we will become the party of division and subtraction," he said. "It's time to start learning that once you have that endorsement process you come together and run against the opponent. The opponent is the blue guys."

Bills also never felt like statewide media took his campaign seriously. He patterned his campaign explicitly after the campaign of Paul Wellstone, down to replicating one of Wellstone's commercials. But where Wellstone was treated as a scrappy underdog, Bills often felt ignored.

"I think the Star Tribune called the race in February," he said.

Bills hasn't ruled out a future run for office, but he doesn't have any immediate plans. He likes Anna Wills, who last week won the election for his House seat. He is happy being what he describes as a shooting star rather than a guiding light in Minnesota politics.

He sees a certain irony in the fact that, after a campaign in which economic issues were his focus, he is currently teaching his students about debt and the national deficit.

Still, he's happy where he is.

"I love teaching," he said. "I think it's what I'm called to do."

In other words, no more worrying about Apple Valley.