(Editor’s note: The following opinion piece, written in the first-person style, should actually be published as a guest column on the Opinion Page. However, because it is longer than a guest column and would not fit on the Opinion Page and because there are several photos to go with it, the Sartell Newsleader decided to publish it in the news section of the paper.)
by Ben Davis
America’s political culture is vibrantly astir. Wanting to observe this movement firsthand, my friend Jack and I left school early on the morning of May 18 and headed to the River’s Edge Convention Center for a day of experiential learning at the Republican Party of Minnesota 2012 State Convention.
Our plan was simple: represent both the Sartell Newsleader and Sartell High School, score as many interviews as possible and always look like we know what we are doing. It was this latter portion that was initially tested, for we attempted to enter the convention floor without our press passes and were pointed by the ostensibly friendly sergeant-at-arms to the media table. It was there we acquired our weekend press passes — our access to the political world.
Most of the morning was low-key. We introduced ourselves to journalists and walked around the building a few times. Armed with my notepad and Jack with his camera, I asked a few people (campaign staffers and random convention-goers who appeared interesting) questions, and Jack snapped some photos as we slowly waded ourselves into the process.
The highlight of that morning was the endorsement for the U.S. Senate position, which involved the convention delegates voting to nominate who will run against Amy Klobuchar as a Republican this fall. The three main contenders were Kurt Bills, a current atate representative and high school economics teacher from Rosemount; Pete Hegseth, a soldier who has won a bronze star and turned Vets for Freedom into a successful organization; and Dan Severson, a retired Air Force pilot known for his 2010 Minnesota Secretary of State bid. Bills was the incoming favorite (he had even been endorsed by Ron Paul) and spoke first to the eager crowd, citing he has, “the morals to fight” and offering the epigram, “The idea that not everybody gets a trophy is a good thing.”
Hegseth was second to speak, and he overpoweringly reiterated his Christian faith and military background. Hegseth apparently supports American military autonomy, as he emphatically stated his goal to make sure, “my son will never be fighting under a blue helmet and a UN flag.”
Finally, Dan Severson gave a focused speech on his military and political background, as well as his “proven Christian character.” Despite his vehement support of voter ID laws (critics say it could disenfranchise American minorities), Severson was supported on stage by contingents of minority populations, and he shrewdly commented, “our minority groups are growing and we (Minnesota’s Republicans) aren’t reaching out to them.”
After two ballots, Bills was endorsed with just more than 64 percent of the delegate’s vote.
Ron Paul headlined the evening, and Jack and I used our press passes to full advantage by standing no farther than 10 feet from the congressman. Paul’s unscripted speech ran the gamut as he covered topics ranging from his, “non-violent revolution of ideas” to his libertarian stance limiting government involvement. This was exemplified by Paul’s comment about allowing the population to drink raw milk (in response, a farmer in the crowd zealously shook his half gallon of raw milk amidst wild cheers from the crowd, and I equally zealously tried to take a picture of him with one of Jack’s cameras). To conclude the evening, Jack and I met with our local state representative, Tim O’Driscoll, who scored us an interview and a few pictures with current Minnesota Speaker of the House Kurt Zellers.
On Saturday morning Jack and I, going on empty stomachs after scrambling out of our respective houses, searched the convention for any type of free food and found something much better than our coveted breakfast: Bills. Representative Bills was taking a well-deserved break in a side room, and Jack and I parlayed this coincidence into an impromptu interview. Bills talked about the importance of private growth to educational funding, saying, “Public school teachers should be standing up for the private sector.” In response to the question, “How does being aligned with a political party affect your teaching?” Bills responded that teachers are “educators, not indoctrinators” and stressed the objective, historical side to his economics lessons. Finally, we discussed his children, the dog he brought home without asking his wife and his experiences coaching high school wrestling, football and tennis. Despite the meager four questions I had written down in case we got the chance to interview Bills, our conversation continued for 20 minutes.
Overall, Jack and I greatly enjoyed the frenetic people and energy of the convention. Because we did preliminary research and asked intelligent questions, we were never patronized because of our age –or lack thereof. Rather we seemed to be respected because of our genuine interest. Although we had no previous political or journalistic experience, throughout the course of the convention we met three state representatives, the Minnesota Speaker of the House, the endorsed Republican U.S. Senate candidate (and his wife) and countless journalists with whom we exchanged email addresses. Our work proved both the benefits of embracing our chance with vim and vigor and the potential opportunities found when the TV is not being watched and video games are not being played.
Finally, Jack and I were able to embrace the freedom we have in America and participate in a tiny sliver of our country’s great democratic process.