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Further, in addition to her five biological children, Bachmann claims to have taken in 23 foster children. It was through the foster children that she grew exasperated with federal standards for students, which led to the school board candidacy. (Her own children, for the most part, were taught at the charter school or home schooled.) "School board members had some autonomy to reject some standards," Bachmann says.
All five candidates lost, but there was a benefit for Bachmann. For starters, the Stillwater school board race coincided with a statewide trend toward moderate Republicans getting forced out by social conservatives at the grassroots level. It also gave Bachmann a fledgling political base to seek another office.
In 2000, she turned her sights to the state Senate, running against Gary Laidig, a 28-year incumbent Republican, in the party's primary. Laidig was viewed as a centrist, and Bachmann's hard-right platform divided longtime GOP diehards. But Bachmann, with a war chest of $43,000 to Laidig's $23,000, won the party's endorsement. (Norm Coleman, then still mayor of St. Paul, stumped for her.) She went on to defeat DFLer Ted Thompson in the general election. "A lot of political types didn't think she could win," Thompson recalls now. "But she had name recognition because of that school board run."
It was around this time that questions regarding Bachmann's résumé surfaced. She had a law degree, she said, and claimed to be a tax litigation attorney. But opponents said they could find no evidence that she had practiced law. Bachmann sets the record straight by saying she worked in the U.S. Department of the Treasury, representing the IRS against people who underpaid or didn't pay their taxes. She did this from 1988 to 1993.
Her law degree, it emerged, is from Coburn School of Law in Tulsa, which is affiliated with Oral Roberts University. "She's part of the Jerry Falwell moral majority," says one political observer. "That's a legitimate issue if she's running for Congress." When asked about her religous beliefs mixing with her politics, Bachmann responds, "I believe in God. But that is not really relevant."
Two years later, because of redistricting, Bachmann was facing a 10-year incumbent DFLer for the seat in District 52. By ratcheting up her antiabortion rhetoric, vowing to bring more local control to classrooms, and signing a no-new-taxes pledge, Bachmann defeated Jane Krentz.
Some politics-watchers in the district, however, aren't sure that issues are driving Bachmann's success. "Voters aren't looking beneath the surface," claims Renee Murray, a Lake Elmo resident who has done some work for the DFL in District 56. "She's bright, attractive, and presents well. I'm not knocking anyone, but we've got a lot of wealthy, affluent people who are busy, and they just see an 'R' next to her name and vote for her."
Correct or not,that assessment doesn't change the fact that Bachmann's worldview has become increasingly common around the halls of Minnesota government. Bachmann has been involved with the Maple River Education Coalition, a conservative group that started in 1998 as, according to its website, "a handful of parents committed to preserving educational freedom for their children." The group, renamed EdWatch in 2003, repeatedly railed against the state's Profile of Learning standards, as did Bachmann in her original state Senate campaign. And last year, Bachmann proposed a bill that would have opted the state out of federal No Child Left Behind standards--not necessarily because compliance was both unfunded and expensive, but because, in her opinion, the federal government has no place in local schools.
And then there is her apparent relationship with Olive Tree Ministries, a Maple Grove-based outfit that believes we are living in end times. The two main issues the ministry is concerned with: gay marriage and Israel. "True Bible scholars have always said that 'Israel is God's timepiece for the end of the age,'" Olive Tree's website proclaims. "Many Bible translations of Psalm 102:16 read, 'When the Lord builds up Zion (Israel), He shall appear in His glory.'"
The Olive Tree website has a testimonial from Bachmann, and claims that she attended one of the organization's conferences. And last spring, she appeared on a radio show hosted by one Jan Markell to discuss "what's in the news from a biblical perspective." (Bachmann claims to not know about Olive Tree. Nor does she recall doing the program with Markell, saying she grants interviews to several media outlets.)
Markell is the founder of Olive Tree, what she calls a "Messianic" and "Jew for Jesus" ministry. On KKMS-AM (980) last March, Bachmann called the gay marriage issue a "ticking time bomb" that must be voted on by Minnesotans before "an activist judge could impose his morality on all Minnesotans."
She went on: "Gay marriage is a very real threat to the states. We need people to be in prayer so that we can get it voted on in the Senate floor." She urged people to attend a rally at the Capitol, because "we will be beseeching the Lord." Bachmann slipped easily into the role of right-wing evangelist, entreating listeners that "our state will change forever if gay marriage goes through.
"Little children will be forced to learn that homosexuality is normal and natural and perhaps they should try it," she continued, claiming that a gay agenda would infiltrate schools. "It will take away the civil rights of little children to be protected in their innocence, but also the rights of parents to control their kids' education and threaten their deeply held religious beliefs." Bachmann then claimed taxpayers and businesses would be forced to pay for same-sex benefits, and the rights of churches and religious organizations would be taken away.
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