It was “one hit too many” for Neil Shah, an “ordinary guy” from North Oaks who hopes to end Gov. Tim Walz’s political career.
For Shah, a doctor and owner of a dermatology practice, it’s personal.
“Walz came after my business. He hurt my patients in delay of diagnosis and restricting elective procedures, and he’s for programs that are going to hurt the development of my kids in school — either keep them out of school, lock them down for no reason, make them wear a mask or force them to be in indoctrination camps,” Shah explained.
It was the last piece that was the “final straw” for Shah, a father of three young children.
“I said I can’t take it anymore. I’m an ordinary guy. I’ve got a great life. I’ve got a beautiful family. I’ve got a great business. But if people like me don’t stand up, what kind of country are my kids going to live in? What kind of state are they going to live in? I love this place,” he said.
But after a year of international attention, almost exclusively negative, people don’t view Minnesota the way Shah does.
“Business owners and builders don’t view this as a place where you can come despite an amazing workforce, a world-class research institution, and like three or four months of nice weather per year,” Shah said, joking about the weather like any good Minnesotan.
“We need to work on that narrative. We need to turn this into the Texas or Florida of the north. That’s a heavy lift, but it starts by actually having ordinary people finally deciding enough is enough and it’s time to stand up. That’s what made me decide to run,” he continued.
Shah, a son of Indian immigrants, recently sat down with Alpha News for his first one-on-one interview since announcing his candidacy. That conversation is printed below, lightly edited for length and clarity.
Alpha News (AN): You’re the second doctor to enter the race on the Republican side. Why should voters pick you over someone like Dr. Scott Jensen?
Neil Shah (NS): Scott has certainly done some great work with COVID, but I’m a younger candidate with school-age children who can really connect with the parents who are really concerned about what’s happening with indoctrination in our public schools. And that’s a huge issue. I think everyone right of center is going to be on the right side of this — school choice is the answer. But when you talk about emotionally connecting, there’s a visceral fear and concern that I have for my kids and I think that’s going to come across in a positive way to parents who share those same concerns and have them to the same degree.
I also think that, as a person of color, I blow up a lot of narratives that the left is going to try to throw at us — that we’re a party of racists, that we’re disconnected. I get my hair cut at the same barbershop that Keith Ellison gets his hair cut. Everyone there knows I’m running for governor and the conversations you have, they’re so productive. I’ve been having my hair cut at the same barber for like 12 years and so you get to know folks over time, you have these conversations, and there really is the opportunity with the right candidates to meaningfully grow the conservative base in ways that I think the establishment doesn’t understand.
For instance, the left is talking about vaccine passports. Well, like 28% of blacks are vaccinated. So what the left is talking about is the new Jim Crow. We have an opportunity to seize on that and say, look, they may hand out money; we hand out opportunity. And freedom. We defend your freedom, and we need the correct messengers delivering that message to these communities.
Trump did great with Hispanic and black communities and we need to build on that in a meaningful way. So I think that’s a significant difference as well.
I really look forward to being able to connect with rural conservatives, suburban, female conservatives, where we just got kind of crushed in the last few elections, and I think for the first time ever being able to go after that urban core in some meaningful way. Now that’s a multi-decade process, but you’ve got to start somewhere and I think I’m the person to do it.
We moved out here from St. Paul for the schools. Mounds View is a phenomenal school district, and Sara and I are both public school products. But we made the decision to pull our kids out and so they’re going to be going to Liberty this fall and that was not easy.
As public school kids, you believe in that promise. The wokeism that’s infecting it is really very concerning to me. I have mixed-race kids. They’re not going to be taught to look at people based on the color of their skin. I was trying to explain to my eight-year-old what critical race theory is because that’s such a concerning thing to me coming from an immigrant family.
And she was like, “Why would anybody care what color somebody’s skin is?” I was like, “Well, we didn’t for a long time until Barack Obama decided to make it cool again.” I’ve certainly met racists. There are certainly terrible people out there, but certainly there was no systemic racism and racism was dying. Now it’s back and it’s extraordinarily pernicious and I’m so happy to see ordinary people fighting, getting out there, running for school board positions, understanding what this means. You lose the kids, you lose. You lose the country. That’s where we’re at.
AN: On the topic of critical race theory, how do you respond to the claim that conservatives just don’t want to talk about racism and slavery?
NS: Like I wrote on my website, United States history has ugly moments, and there are definitely points in time where you should not have liked what America did, but you should always have loved the promise of America. That is the main difference between the modern left and people who are moderate, center-left, center-right, and conservatives. We believe in the promise of America that was laid out in the Constitution. Yes, it took time to realize that dream, but it was laid out intentionally by the framers to end in equality for all Americans. It took patriots fighting against southern Dixiecrat, Jim Crow laws in the ‘60s — amazing patriots — to do that. They paid in blood, some with their lives, to get us to the point where we judge people based on the content of their character, their hard work, and determination. I find it so disturbing that we’re walking that back, that we’re denigrating the work of Martin Luther King and other patriots who fought so hard to get us equality of opportunity. We achieved it.
Critical race theory seeks to impose equal outcomes on everybody. It seeks to teach people that intrinsically, if you’re white, you’re an oppressor. They believe that any inequality of outcomes is de facto evidence of inequality of opportunity. That’s simply a false assertion and they are asserting it louder and louder. But there is plenty of evidence to the contrary. For example, Nigerian immigrants who are very black do extraordinarily well, they do just as well as Indian immigrants, like my parents. Both of those groups do better than blacks or whites in this country. So how can you possibly be a systemically racist country?
No one on the conservative side wants to gloss over the ugly parts of our history. Slavery was real, the three-fifths compromise was real. The Supreme Court once ruled that blacks could not be citizens. All of these things are what we want to teach our children, but we want to teach them that we overcame those things. We are the greatest country that humans have ever made and it’s an ongoing experiment to maintain that greatness. There are times we fell short of the original promise, but we continue to move forward in a positive way.
That assertion, by the radical left, by the teachers unions, that we somehow want to gloss over the ugly points in history — no. My kids will learn about the My Lai massacre, my kids will learn about Jim Crow. They will learn all these things, and they will learn that Americans stepped up and said this is wrong and we fixed it. That’s what’s so great about this country.
AN: You’ve never held elected office. Do you think your outsider status will help or hurt you?
NS: It’s absolutely true. I’m not a career politician. I’m an ordinary man, small-business owner, physician, a parent, a husband. I think that is a huge bonus. When you’re talking about the disaffected grassroots in this state, all over this country, who have not been served by career politicians on either side of the aisle, they’re looking for someone who’s different. They’re looking for someone who believes in what they do, who views this as public service, who wants to fight this fight, serve their time and then go back to their life.
This is not a job. This is not a career. This is a duty. It’s an honor and a privilege to serve that duty and when you are done, you go back to your home. I would love to go back to just being a regular old guy operating on skin cancer and running a business and spending time with my kids. I think it’s a strength. I think grassroots activists, I think everyday Minnesotans can see through what the career politicians are, and they’re frustrated with that. So I think it’s a strength.
AN: Not every election is about Donald Trump, but we have to ask. What do you think about Trump’s impact on the Republican Party and what do you think the future of the party looks like?
NS: Donald Trump seemed like he was hated at times equally between people who should have been his allies in the Republican Party and the left. He represented a risk to the establishment order, and the establishment order simply wants to stay in power and do the bare minimum required to remain comfortably in the St. Paul boys and girls club at the Capitol. They don’t have an interest in putting their neck out to defend the Republic or to start the reform process where it’s sorely needed. I think that is what Trump’s presidency ultimately was an indictment of — this system that benefits a political elite at the expense of common, everyday individuals.
So Donald Trump is not running for governor of Minnesota, but I think he awoke a great patriotic mass that finally saw there are people out there who are willing to stand up and fight to defend this country, to defend this Constitution, to defend our borders and our way of life. They got very excited about that and I hope to grow that base of patriots who love this country, just like I do, love this state and want to see it in a better place.
AN: If you win the Republican nomination, you’ll be facing off against Gov. Walz. What do you think is the biggest failure of his administration?
NS: The Walz administration had no central animating principle. They did not defend freedom. They did not keep us safe. Walz was unable to stand up to unelected bureaucrats and make hard decisions. It’s not easy being the executive. That’s not in the job description and your department of health, your experts, are going to have only one variable that they’re optimizing for. Your job is to do the hard work of saying, “Yep, I get that, but I can’t destroy all of these small businesses, I can’t force people to give up liberty and put their kids into masks.”
We scorched freedom. We scorched liberty. We destroyed the economy. We stole trillions of dollars in future earnings from a generation of children who had their education subsumed to the will, the anti-science will, of the unions. I think there’s real, visceral anger about just what that did and what it continues to do. They’re talking about locking down again this fall, putting kids in masks again this fall. Where’s the data to support that? There’s no pushback and I don’t know if it’s just because Gov. Walz lacks any credible experience in a technical field or if it’s just because he lacks the political courage to ask hard questions, but the fact is he’s an inadequate executive to defend liberty or our economy or our children and way of life.
AN: You want to reach minority voters but you also back the police. Do you think you can do both?
NS: They’re not mutually exclusive. Polling has been done on defund the police in black, urban communities and 60 percent want more police.
The answer from them is the same: we don’t want to get shot if we’re unarmed, but we need cops to defend our cities and our neighborhoods. And that’s it. It’s that simple. No one wants to shoot unarmed people. I think we need to double down on training for law enforcement professionals, make sure they have the support they need, and then make sure we have mechanisms so you don’t have bad cops hanging around and ruining it for good cops.
I think there’s now an openness, I hope there’s an openness, in law enforcement to confront some of those difficult issues. None of these are going to be easy conversations, but I can tell you what the wrong answer is. The wrong answer is defund the police. The wrong answer is remove law enforcement from these areas. The right answer is get people to the table, talk about how we can improve training, how we can improve outcomes.
It’s about understanding the reality that defund the police sounds good to the leftist elite firmly ensconced in their safe neighborhoods. It sounds horrific to people who live in these neighborhoods that are getting just crushed by crime. We’ve lost two kids under 10 to stray bullets this year. We’re on pace for Murderapolis stats. Carjackings make it so no one wants to go patronize downtown businesses or go into the city. It’s gross and it’s incredible and it’s easy for Jacob Frey and the Minneapolis City Council people with their security details to defund the police, but this is not what people in Minneapolis or St. Paul want.
AN: There’s some chatter online about your past donations. You’ve donated to a variety of both Democrats and Republicans. Can you explain that?
NS: I’m a businessman trying to survive as an independent medical practice and a few years ago we tried to keep the remnants of the independent medical establishment together and tried to look at working with the career politicians on both sides to see if there was any opportunity to get laws to defend our business group.
We met with people on both sides. We’d go to these dinners and it shows up as a donation to their campaign. Ultimately, what was so disappointing about that entire process was that career politicians on both sides did not care at all. They’re in the pockets of big medicine and they don’t care about independent physicians trying to make it. So that’s another reason why I’m running against this entire machine that’s fundamentally broken. They wouldn’t listen to us then. They don’t care at all about us now and they don’t care about small-business owners throughout the state. That’s what Walz’s lockdowns showed.