Getting called “Andy Sandanista” was not the way I wanted things to start-out. Perhaps if I’d had a quick retort (like I did that time in the Judge’s chambers), and said something like, “Well, if it isn’t the Democratic Phony Labor Caucus,” then I could have cracked my glass ceiling the first day on the job, but I was too earnest to be a smart-aleck back.
My first year at The Capitol, I mostly watched and listened, as told to. By my second year I had a full slate of bills. But first, two more stories from that first year:
Around the second week of my first session, a fellow Progressive (we had a Progressive Legislators Caucus) told me, “When in doubt, vote with Willard.” Rep Willard Munger, who sat right behind me on the House Floor, was the Dean of the Legislature, the Champion of Minnesota’s Lakes and Natural Resources, a man with a Trail named after him stretching from Saint Paul to Duluth. A couple days after getting that advice, a bill comes up for a floor vote where I’m not sure whether pushing the green button or the red button would be best for most Minnesotans. So I look up at the Voting Board in front of me to see which way Willard is voting, but he hasn’t voted yet. Just then there’s this tap on my shoulder and it’s Willard saying “Which way you voting on this one, Dawkins?” To this day I don’t know if Willard was part of an initiation rite of passage or genuinely wasn’t sure which way to vote and respected my opinion.
Around the second month of session, I gave my Maiden Floor Speech, impromptu and unplanned. I just couldn’t refrain after listening to so much hypocrisy. The Republicans were actually arguing that a law the court had declared unconstitutional shouldn’t be deleted from our statute books. The Democrats were arguing that it didn’t make sense to keep something in our law books that people would read thinking it was the law when it wasn’t. The trouble was that it was all about sex, and even back then the Republicans were behind the times, and extremist about regulating people’s personal lives. The law (which was no longer the law) said that gas stations couldn’t dispense Prophylactics to combat STDs (among other things). When I stood up I described how, almost half the Sundays of the year, there are Vikings Cheerleaders parading around on TV scantily clad; everyday merchandisers are legally making money pushing sex to sell their products, and complained that in a society that gives so many mixed messages that sex is tantalizing, wonderful, and verboten, it’s really the height of hypocrisy to argue against a straight-forward message (not even a change in the law) telling kids at least Be Safe.
My second year “Neighborhoods Agenda” was almost all brass tacks, nuts & bolts, concrete ways to help Saint Paul and its neighborhoods. Many of these bills later became enacted, and some are mentioned in other stories. In addition to being pragmatic in a nuts & bolts way, any politician worth their salt, needs to provide leadership painting a vision of what might be someday, if not just yet. It’s a belief I still strongly hold. Come on You Future Politicians! What’s the vision for the future?
Tomorrow: Come On Third Parties!