Just three months ago, Jim Graves says,
running for Congress had hardly crossed
his mind. What a difference this spring
Graves, a hotelier who hasn’t held elected
office, is the Democratic challenger to one
of the most widely known members of
Congress, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn.
Graves aims to do what three consecutive
DFLers have failed to do in Minnesota’s
conservative 6th District: beat Bachmann, a
former presidential candidate, national tea
party figure and campaign-fundraising
In a lengthy interview with the Times last
week, Graves cited his business resume,
his roots in Central Minnesota and what he
calls his political independence and
centrism as reasons he can topple
Bachmann, who’s serving her third term.
Bachmann received a similar interview
request but had not responded as of
The Independence Party of Minnesota’s
2010 gubernatorial candidate, Tom
Horner, told the Times this week that he’s
supporting Graves’ campaign. Graves touts
Horner’s support as evidence he can
appeal to the political center.
Graves also was notably cool toward his
party’s standard-bearer, President Barack
“I’m not here to endorse Obama’s first
term,” Graves said.
Graves instead likens himself to his party’s
other top-of-ticket candidate in Minnesota,
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar. He says that, like
Klobuchar, he’s a moderate Democrat who
supports free-market policies.
Graves has been active in Minnesota DFL
politics, raising campaign cash for Obama
and Klobuchar. But until recently, Graves
says, he hadn’t seen himself in the role of a
After hearing a television host lament the
polarized state of Congress and the lack of
good candidates for national office, Graves
said he started mulling a congressional run.
Feedback from friends and loved ones bolstered his conviction that he could help
solve the problem.
“I said: ‘You know, maybe it’s my time to
come out of my comfort zone and really do
something, and contribute and give back
for all that I’ve received,’ ” Graves said.
St. Cloud roots
Until his name surfaced in March as a
possible congressional candidate, Graves
was known for his ventures in the
hospitality industry, not for his politics.
Graves, 58, is CEO of Graves World
Hospitality, a hotel development and
management firm with holdings that include
the posh Graves 601 Hotel Minneapolis
and the Le St-Germain Suite Hotel in St.
Cloud. Jim Graves’ son, Ben Graves, now
runs the company’s day-to-day
operations, Jim Graves said.
Before moving into the luxury hotel market,
Graves founded the midscale AmericInn
hotel brand. He built many of the first
AmericInn locations in Central Minnesota
before selling his share of the brand to
another investor in 1994.
Graves grew up in St. Cloud in what he
describes as a working-class family. A
graduate of Cathedral High School and St.
Cloud State University, Graves met his
future wife, then Julie Popilek, at Cathedral.
Jim and Julie Graves went on to have three
sons, all of whom are now grown.
Jim Graves says he helped pay his way
through St. Cloud State by waking at 5:30
a.m. each morning to clean the since-
demolished Hayes Theater in downtown St.
Cloud. In the evenings, he says he and his
wife would sing folk songs in local bars and
After earning a degree in elementary
education, Graves taught at Holy Spirit
School in St. Cloud for two years before
entering the development and construction
“I always had an entrepreneurial spirit,”
Graves said. “And truth be told, I really
enjoyed teaching. But I wanted a little bit
more of a challenge, and I wanted a little
bit more income.”
After working for Avon Lumber and for St.
Cloud developer Dan Brutger, Graves
formed his own company, which became
the AmericInn chain, in 1979.
“I always built the company on following
through, doing what we committed to,”
Graves said. “That formula really worked for us.”
Cool to Obama
Graves’ policy views reflect his background
as a successful entrepreneur, as well as
what he describes as a libertarian tack on
Graves is pro-choice and told the Times he
believes same-sex marriage should be
But Graves doesn’t embrace recent
attempts by Obama and Democratic
lawmakers to reform the health care and
financial industries. Regarding Obama’s
signature pieces of legislation, the health
care and financial overhaul acts of 2010,
Graves says he won’t rule out voting to
repeal either of them.
Bachmann has been an outspoken voice in
Congress to repeal both laws.
Graves also criticizes Obama’s push to
raise taxes on wealthy Americans through
the so-called Buffett Rule, which would set
a minimum effective tax rate for
“I don’t think we need to talk about class
warfare,” Graves said. “I think we need to
find common solutions.”
With the Bush tax cuts set to expire at the
end of this year, Graves says he opposes
letting the tax cuts expire for the poor or
middle class and won’t rule out voting to
extend them for the wealthiest Americans
On the health care act, Graves said he
supports its provisions preventing insurers
from denying coverage to children with
pre-existing conditions and allowing young
adults to stay on their parents’ health
coverage until they’re 26.
But Graves said the bill was missing an
important component: tort reform.
Frequently cited by Republicans as part of
the solution to lowering health care costs,
Graves says its enactment could curtail
defensive practices by health care
Graves said he’s corresponding with
experts at the Mayo Clinic and St. Cloud-
based CentraCare Health System for more
counsel on health care policy.
“I’m doing the research to say: How can we
make this bill better? Or do we have to
start all over again?” Graves said.
Graves also distances himself from the
signature financial-industry legislation
signed by Obama, the Dodd-Frank law.
Dodd-Frank contains consumer-protection
provisions Graves says he supports. He
lauds provisions that limit speculative
investment by traditional banking firms,
and says he wishes the bill had done more
in that respect.
But Graves says the law is too voluminous
and contains provisions that are “onerous”
for small community banks.
“I think it went overboard,” Graves said.
If elected, Graves says he would focus on
creating jobs nationally and in the 6th
District. He says the biggest thing Congress
can do to boost the national economy is
change its rancorous tone to give greater
confidence to the private sector.
In Central Minnesota, Graves says his top
economic-development priorities include
extending Northstar commuter rail service
to St. Cloud and regaining commercial air
service at St. Cloud Regional Airport.
“As a representative, first and foremost I’m
basically the salesperson for this district,”
Graves had lived in St. Cloud for more than
four decades before moving to Minneapolis
in 2000, which Graves says put him in
better position to manage his hospitality
business. But recently, Graves purchased a
home near St. Cloud State University.
Graves says it was important for him to be
living back in St. Cloud for his congressional
“I’m the same guy I always was,” Graves
said. “I’m just a kid from north St. Cloud.
“I haven’t changed at all.”