Spending this last week in the classroom is bittersweet. Even though I will be teaching again in the fall, I seem to have a little more incentive to be the best teacher I can before I spend a few months in St. Paul. Typically, the beginning of the second semester can be a difficult stretch, especially when it is 10 below zero, dark at 5pm, and starting a new semester with new students but with the same curriculum. I enjoy meeting new students, but I will miss those students moving on to American History 9 or perhaps 12th grade Economics.
A new teacher is shadowing me this week, ready to take over my classes. I want to do the best I can for the new teacher. I want to model my passion for social studies, civics, and the current issues of the day. Today we brainstormed the question, “Why Do We Need Government?” The students provided several responses. “We need to keep order. We need security…police…fire departments and other essential services.” We discussed others. A government helps maintain institutions and a government enables a nation to put its ideals into practice. Another student shared her thoughts, “Government should be whatever the people want it to be.”
As our discussion moved to the roots of American government, we talked about democracy. We talked about the difference between a direct democracy and a republic or representative democracy. I couldn’t help but think about the township meeting I attended last night. While specific issues and concerns were shared, I heard from supervisors about the need for citizen involvement. How can we empower our local citizens? What works at the local level? How can local policy best represent the values of local citizens? How can a township government be at its best? When citizens get involved, great things can happen. When people take an interest and share their expertise, solutions can be generated. When we take ownership of our government at the local, state, and federal level, we can solve many problems.
Before the start of the legislative session on February 12, I have meetings planned with the mayors, school superintendents, nursing home administrators, farmers, YMCA directors, Rotary Club members, and county commissioners. I will begin a new semester, not so much the teacher, but more as a student. I will be learning what these citizens know about government. With this knowledge, I hope to be the best legislator I can be. And I am excited for the opportunity.
On January 22, 2008 at 4:30pm, I was sworn in as a member of the Minnesota Senate. The Senator-elect title officially ended. It still feels odd when people call me Senator, but maybe slightly less than before. I am sure I will get used to it, because everyone in the Capitol refers to me as Senator. Someone suggested it is because it is easier to say Senator than to try and remember everyone’s name. Regardless, I do feel a great deal of respect from the legislators and staffers who work there.
I was pleased to have family and friends join me for my swearing in ceremony. Winning a special election means I am the only person sworn in so I get to choose the time and place that will happen. It also means I get more than 2 tickets to the ceremony, typical for those senators sworn in after a regular election cycle. My mom and brother and sister and their families all hopped in the truck and drove up from Iowa. I greeted them at the front steps of the Capitol and said, “This is where I work!” As a teacher, I remember showing a crusty old video of the Minnesota Capitol, how it was built, its symbols, and architecture. It looks much better in person. I am still in awe of the beauty of this magnificent building.
The judge asked me to raise my right hand as I promised (solemnly swore) to uphold the Constitution of the United States…so help me God. And I had the opportunity to say a few words to the 50 or so people in the Senate Chambers that afternoon.
I am humbled. I am humbled to be here in this beautiful room and in this wonderful building. I am humbled…to be a part of this legislature and humbled to serve the people of this state.
I spoke of my humble beginnings in a small town in Iowa. A good upbringing in a good Norwegian family. Common Sense. A good moral compass. Hard work. A good work ethic.
I spoke of the humble beginnings of a campaign that started less than 2 months ago. Humbled that people have put their faith in me to represent them in a democracy I am so proud to be a part of.
I promised to stay humble. I promised to stay true to my beginnings, true to my vision, and true to the family, volunteers, constituents, friends, and voters who made this day possible. I am humbled.
My daughters and nephews and nieces were able to vote on the electronic board from various Senate desks. They passed such laws as a shorter school year and pizza every day all year. We took lots of pictures. Pictures of me and my family, volunteers, friends, and fellow Senators. And we took some more pictures. We had some cake in the private room behind the front desk. During session, this room is for senators only…no lobbyists, no legislative staffers or pages allowed. We all ran up to Room 306, my new office. And took some more pictures.
It was a wonderful day for me and my family and many of my closest friends. I know I will never experience a day quite like that again. I thank Senator Pogemiller and his staff for his gracious accomodations in helping me feel like a Senator. I thank Michelle Kelm-Helgen for her assistance in making this a special day.
Most of all, I thank my family and friends. I am indeed, humbled.
Disclaimer: For those of you who know me, you know that I interject a lot of humor in whatever I do. I use humor in my classroom, in my relationships with family and friends, and my observations on life. While I intend to take my role as Senator very seriously, I will not stray too far from the qualities that make up who I am. As a rookie Senator and blogger, keep in mind that my writings will focus on the issues we all share but may include some tongue in cheek observations that only I can share. Thanks for taking the time to read and share in my experiences.
On Tuesday of this week, January 22, I will be sworn in as a Senator in the Minnesota Senate. The weeks since the Special election on January 3 have brought a certain level of calm to the Dahle household. Hundreds of congratulatory calls and emails have been replaced with dozens of requests for meetings and appearances before the start of the legislative session which begins February 12.
I have been busy teaching these last few weeks of the fall semester at Northfield High School and I will begin transitioning into my role as a legislator representing District 25. How does one learn to be a Senator? In piecemeal fashion, I have gathered information through meetings, emails, and phone calls about some of the nuts and bolts of how the legislature does its business. I received a 3 ring binder titled, “Minnesota Senate Policies for Senators and Staff” and some other publications focusing on Senate Contacts and a Legislative Preview. I guess I had some faraway vision of sitting alone in the Senate chamber for “my orientation” while various Senate staffers trotted out power points and lectures on such topics such as:
senate dress code
bill writing 101
handling constituent problems
how a bill becomes law
the Senate copy machine
taxation dos and don’ts
lobbyist: friend or foe?
Majority whips and other important people
Apparently, there is quite a bit of “orientation” for new Senators in a regular election year, but I am pretty much on my own at this point in my term. While my political science background and years of teaching Civics will help me with many of these topics, a textbook explanation and the real thing seldom match up. The Majority Leader’s Chief of Staff has been fabulous about getting me the information and resources I need to settle in. In addition, dozens of Senators and Representatives have offered advice and help in getting started. (But there are still some immediate concerns, such as how to get a parking permit and a key card to get into the Capitol and my office).
While we speak, a small Senate conference room with a large table and 6 chairs is being transformed into an office with a desk and chair, bookcase with the obligatory legislative manuals, a lamp, and file cabinet. There will soon hang a nameplate above the door that says Senator Kevin Dahle. In a few weeks there will be a legislative assistant working outside that office who will help me with the day to day duties of bill making, constituent concerns, committee hearings, and research. I am in the process of hiring that person.
I am excited about the opportunity and experiences that lie ahead. I sometime lay awake at night wondering how I can represent such a diverse district. How can I make a difference and work with both parties to improve the quality of life as we know it in district 25 and Minnesota? If politicians can think less about my interests and your interests and think more about our interests, we can find the common ground necessary to better serve the public interest and solve the problems we all face. On January 22, I will be ready to tackle those issues. In the meantime, I need to stop by the Sergeant of Arms and Human Resources to pick up my photo ID, parking pass, and a key to the Capitol.
Next: My swearing in.
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