Sovietizing Our Youth 2.0
For each of my re-election campaigns I’d invite constituents to join a “Kitchen Cabinet” to help think about issues facing our neighborhoods and what legislation we might propose. About a dozen of us were gathered in my living room on a summer night in 1998 when the doorbell rang and I first met David Strand.
David lived in my district on Summit Avenue and had just retired after many years working for 3M as their Vice-President for European Operations. He said he’d always admired my work on behalf of the less fortunate (from a distance), had voted for me by absentee ballot, and, now that he was back in the States, wanted to join the Kitchen Cabinet. David talked about how in Europe every child, rich and poor alike, is born into a community with free child care and health care, that as a business person you need to know the difference between an expense and an investment (or you won’t stay in business for long), and that Minnesota might profit by looking at how successful this early childhood education system was in Europe.
By 1998 there was study after study showing that investing in early childhood education paid big dividends in terms of increased high school graduation rates, reduced crime, more citizens paying taxes (rather than relying on public assistance), etc.; and study after study showing that of the world’s twenty wealthiest democracies, the United States was #1 for children in poverty, infant mortality, juvenile incarceration, etc.
So we thought David had a good idea. But given the anti-government sentiment taking hold at the Capitol I suggested that we start with the premise that although an education system including birth to Kindergarten was inevitable, we should start by experimenting with a community-governance system rather than a state-run system. So the Kitchen Cabinet had me draft a bill to appropriate money for three demonstration projects – one in rural Minnesota, one in suburban Minnesota, and one in the Twin Cities – to see how a community could go about setting standards for the quality that would be required to receive government funding.
The day arrived for David to testify. Republican Barb Sykora chaired the Early Education Finance Committee. David explained his business credentials first and then his idea. But the Republicans on the Committee, including Sykora, literally laughed at him. What an embarrassment to have people in positions of supposed esteem laugh at ordinary citizens. But David was undeterred. After the hearing he said “Obviously I need to better understand the Republican mind-set – do you have a Republican friend I can talk to?”
“Sure,” I said, “Tim Pawlenty is a friend of mine – he’s the Republican Majority Leader.” And to Tim’s credit he gave me and David an audience. No one was in Tim’s office except him, me, and David. Tim listened politely as David carefully explained the businessman’s perspective on knowing the difference between spending and investing, then leaned back in his chair, and said:
“You know David, some of us just don’t think it’s the government’s responsibility to intervene when there’s been failed parenting.” And, of course, our bill never got out of committee.
Three years later Tim was Governor Pawlenty and David was writing a weekly column for the Aitkin Independent Age, having sold his Summit Avenue home and moved to Lake Mille Lacs. In this particular column David repeated Pawlenty’s quote (above) and argued that sometimes it takes a whole village to raise a child – and that a Pawlenty regime of no new taxes and dismantling health and education programs was short-sighted.
Every Governor has a “Chief Counsel” as their lawyer and Pawlenty’s Chief Counsel demanded that the Aitkin paper retract the column saying Pawlenty never said such a thing. The editor of the Aitkin paper asked David if the quote was accurate. David said it was and that I could vouch for its accuracy. The editor asked me to write an affidavit, which I did, and then told the Governor’s lawyer there would be no retraction. That was the end of the matter. Pawlenty backed-down, but I’m still not sure if Pawlenty was reconsidering the politics in his quote (and that’s why he didn’t want it repeated) or just wanted to be a bully.