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Running for office brings insight

It’s good to be back.

Running for office was an interesting experience, but one of the most fascinating things I learned was how little most voters think about our lawmakers and how our legislature works. It turned out I, too, knew a lot less than I thought I did. It’s amazing how much you can learn by getting out and meeting your neighbors across the district, which covers all of Carlton County and a few adjacent townships in St. Louis and Pine counties.

While campaigning, people were almost always friendly and nice. (There was the drunk guy at the Cromwell parade who called my 13-year-old son a “baby killer,” though.) But most people were polite, and willing to talk. For those who didn’t already know me, the first question most people had was: Are you a Democrat, or a Republican? As if the political party that endorsed me was more important than my judgment, legislative ability, and commitment to my community. Maybe it is — both parties have done a pretty good job of marketing themselves, and also of pitting themselves against each other. I suspect that 85 percent of the vote comes from people who identify as Democrats or Republicans. I’m not sure whether that’s bad or good. But the number of people who agreed to vote for me simply because I was a Democrat surprised me; so did the number of people who said they liked my stance and positions, but it was too bad I was not a Republican so they could vote for me. For the record, I’m pretty moderate, politically.

I was also shocked at how many people wanted their representative to curb inflation and gas prices, as if the state legislature has any control over those two issues. They don’t. Both are caused by market forces, and any legislative control over them are at the federal level, not at the state level. But that didn’t stop many people from asking me what I planned to do about it, if elected. And crime. So many people complained about rising crime that I checked into it — crime is actually pretty low in Carlton County. But a surprising number of people wanted to vote for someone who said they would address those issues. Propaganda works, I suppose.

For those who liked to engage candidates in conversation, I often asked them this question: name three members of the U.S. House of Representatives. People usually named Lauren Boebert, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Pete Stauber (who represents us), and a few other Congressmembers from around our region, such as Ilhan Omar. A surprising number named Mitch McConnell, who is actually in the Senate, not the House. But the most popular answer? Marjorie Taylor Greene. By far.

To me, that means people are more influenced by entertainment than they realize. At the time, Greene was one of the least-effective members of Congress (since then, she’s really used her position to gain an incredible amount of power in the House of Representatives). She had no committee assignments; she spent very little time legislating, and had just four bills passed, including one that renamed a post office in her district. Yet, she enjoys very high name recognition, and is admired by many of her supporters. She spent most of her time saying outrageous things on social media and on cable TV talk shows. Effective leadership is no longer measured by getting things done, I guess, rather by shouting the loudest and most extreme things. Such acts are now the measure of political success. I don’t like it.

There seems to be apathy around the country when it comes to voting. But our community is certainly engaged. We had a nearly 70-percent voter turnout, which is pretty good; in presidential election years, roughly 90 percent of us cast ballots. That’s an impressive number, and it shows that our region cares about the important role each of us plays in a democracy. I encourage people to stay engaged and pay attention to what our leaders are doing.

Pete Radosevich is the publisher of the Pine Knot News community newspaper and an attorney in Esko who hosts the cable access talk show Harry’s Gang on CAT-7. His opinions are his own. Contact him at [email protected].

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