My Political Involvement : LUSENET : M.Ed./International Falls : One Thread

) on October 21, 1998. ------------------------------------------------------------------------

My Political Involvement By Karen S. Rigdon

Approximately three years ago, the mother of two of my piano students, Ms. Tess Banion, spurned my initial curiosity about political processes and the DFL party in Minnesota. The family had moved from Kansas where the woman had organized various unions and worked on campaigns for numerous candidates in the Democratic Party. Ms. Tess Banion joined a service organization (The Rainy Lake Women's Club) I was a member of and we both volunteered to be on a special committee for education.

The committee was formed to research different ways to finance public education in Minnesota if a bill passed that would lower our property taxes due to removal of the educational funding dollars. We needed to analyze the problems other states had when these bills passed and find ways to earmark dollars for education so that the quality of education in our state would not be compromised.

After several months of committee meetings, Ms. Banion decided to ask our state representative and speaker of the house, Irv Anderson, to meet with her to discuss the findings of our group. Anderson, impressed with Ms. Banion's eloquence and political savvy, offered her a job at the state capital in research. Ms. Banion is presently the head of research for the DFL and is always accessible to me for any questions or concerns I may have concerning politics. She knows where to steer you if she cannot provide the answers herself.

After my friend moved down to the Twin Cities I was asked to be a delegate for the DFL and represent our district. I gladly accepted and had several opportunities to attend conventions with two other women delegates from International Falls. It was an extraordinary learning experience. However, shortly after all the hoopla my "political life" fell silent.

When I read that becoming involved in the political process was a suggestion under our grading contract I felt that familiar tingle of excitement from the past. Then, in mid October, an advertisement for the Koochiching County DFL 20th Annual Walleye Feed appeared in our local newspaper. I made several phone calls and told everyone I saw about the politicians that were coming up for the event. "We've never had a line-up like this before. Don't miss this one!" I urged.

Before attending the event I called John Fredericksen, the superintendent of our school district, and asked him what would benefit our district educationally that would be appropriate to ask for. His vast amount of political knowledge amazed and humbled me. As I listened to him, I searched his words for an area that I could write about or discuss with a gubernatorial candidate without looking as though I hadn't done my homework. I finally decided that an area I could comfortably address would be the huge fine that is imposed on our district if teacher contracts are not settled by a certain date. The fines end up impacting the children in the classroom - period. They are the ones who come up short and have to do without. The contracts if handled at the state level would spare all the negative local disparity between teachers and management.

The line-up of candidates at the dinner was indeed inspiring. Attorney General Hubert "Skip" Humphrey III, state representative Irv Anderson, U.S. 8th District Representative James Oberstar, and DFL candidates Mike Hatch, Edwina Garcia and Nancy Larson. Hatch seeks the office of attorney general. Garcia is campaigning for secretary of state. Larson is running for state auditor. The candidates arrived as the DFL supporters were having supper. Each one came to our table, shook our hands, and spoke with us for a few minutes. This had a wonderful, intimate, small town "feel".

Oberstar was the first to speak. The gratitude of his local constituents permeated Union Hall as they applauded Oberstar's success in persuading Northwest Airlines to lower airfares to and from International Falls. He told the audience, "You are not the end of the line; you're the beginning". Oberstar also spoke of the new highway bill he developed that secured $100 million for projects in the district.

When Humphrey spoke he clarified that his support of gun control was not aimed at eliminating hunting but to help stop shootings in urban Minnesota. "We don't have a license to hunt people," Humphrey said. He noticeably was wearing a pair of blue jeans with his suit coat and mentioned that he had been grouse hunting earlier that day. Humphrey showed a charming concern over the fact that some people call him old-fashioned and others say his budget is a mess. He said he supports the timber industry and that his ties with environmental groups don't justify our concern. A small amount of time was given to his negative opinion of Coleman's tax relief and budget proposals. The entire group of six praised each other and urged the constituents to elect the full slate of DFL candidates. It was clear by the rushed pace of the speeches that they had other places to go. However, in the last minutes as Irv Anderson was closing, Ladd Kocinski and I spoke with Oberstar and had our picture taken with him. We thanked him for coming to the Falls and told him how much it meant to our small town. I asked him where he lived and he told me he traveled back and forth between Chilsom and Washington DC. We also thanked him for getting our airfares lowered. Ladd and I also had our photo taken with Humphrey and exchanged a few words with him about gun control. Moments later they all hurried past us to a van waiting outside.

The evening left me feeling exhilarated and prepared me for Election Day. I felt that the candidates were trustworthy, competent and sincere and I was thrilled that they had come to the "beginning of the line" to introduce themselves to us. About seventy people had been in attendance and all were "charged-up" and applauded after many of the comments made.

Skip Humphrey is and has always been an advocate for seniors. He also wants to procure the votes of the teachers. At a recent educational conference at River Centre he told 1,500 teachers that he is the candidate committed to public education. He wants smaller class sizes and all children reading by second grade. Early childhood education development is at the nucleus of his plan.

The DFL party in general seeks to improve public education and has a brochure that touts their ambitions and successes in education, opportunity, and community. Their educational achievements include: | "Created more accountability, including statewide testing for elementary and secondary students and tough new graduation requirements." | "Added more choices for families through charter schools, open enrollment and post-secondary options." | "Provided more support for public schools from the state, so property taxpayers can get a break and students in all parts of the state can count on access to a high quality education."

Teachers must be concerned about who wins elections because they are responsible for the learners in their classrooms that will be the future of Minnesota and the United States. I hope the DFL wins this election because I believe that Humphrey and his colleagues will transform public education in Minnesota and make our state a better, safer, more innovative place to live, learn, and grow in.

-- Anonymous, November 04, 1998

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