To pass the time between the seven ballots it required for the DFL to endorse Mike Hatch for governor at its convention in Rochester last month, the party brought up each one of its congressional candidates for brief introductory remarks. In a bit of an upset, the one who most wowed the crowd was not the gifted orator from the Fifth District, State Representative Keith Ellison, or nationally known child safety advocate Patty Wetterling from the Sixth District, or popular incumbent Betty McCollum from the Fourth District. It was pint-sized fireplug Tim Walz, a military veteran, schoolteacher, and coach from Mankato making his first-ever run for office against incumbent Gil Gutknecht in the First District.
The highlight of his brief address occurred when he talked about losing his hearing as a result of his military service, only to get it back through laser surgery paid for by his teacher-related health plan. One morning he woke up to a beautiful sound he had never heard before and asked his wife what it was. That's your four-year-old daughter, singing to herself to wake up, the way she usually does, his wife replied.
Tim Walz with his daughter: "My wife and I spent many years having this little girl and that was a decision made at the fertility clinic and Mayo between my wife and myself. I don't want the government involved in that."
Pausing briefly for effect, Walz then roared into the microphone, Every citizen deserves to have enough health coverage to be able to hear his or her child sing themselves awake in the morning!
City Pages caught up with the 42-year-old candidate the Wall Street Journal describes as "the Republican nightmare in the First District" last week when he visited the Twin Cities to meet with supporters.
City Pages: How did you decide to run for office?
Tim Walz: I never intended to be in this position. My wife and I both took the philosophy that the public schools are a little microcosm of society, so you can get involved in everything there. We were doing football, basketball, speech, debate. We were the sponsors for the junior class, taking the trips with the kids, a little of everything.
My time in the military, same thing—heavy involvement. As the command sergeant major I was the top enlisted guy so I was taking a lot of time doing that. I was approached by a group of people in January of '05, although many of them, until the Kerry race, probably didn't know my political affiliation.
CP: You worked for Kerry then?
Walz: I did. The reason I got into it was I had just gotten back from my deployment with the National Guard and Bush was in Mankato in the summer of '04. I tried to go to an event out there with some kids. And I went to this thing and they wouldn't let the kids in. They were a threat to the president, according to the Secret Service.
I said, "Well, they're with me." And they said, "Well you're not going in either." And I said, "Yes I am going in." And they said, "Well you are going to be arrested then." And I said, "My wife isn't going to be real happy about that. This is ridiculous." And they said, "Do you support the president? You don't, do you?" I said, "None of your business. And I'm going in."
So they sent somebody in with me and put the kids back on the bus. I got done that day and went home and called somebody up and said, "What do I need to do?" We just totally ripped them in Blue Earth County and got a huge amount of veterans involved.
Suddenly I no longer had the luxury to sit on the sidelines. Somebody asked why I was doing this. Maybe if things were being done right, I wouldn't be. I know I can teach and I know I do it well. I know I served well in the military. Those are things I have done. I have come to realize the people who are supposed to be leading us are not. And if they are, it is the wrong direction.
CP: What do you regard as the signal issues of the campaign?
Walz: The lack of real leadership and the lack of addressing the issues in the first place. My opponent continues to say he won't talk about the war in Iraq—he openly says this—and instead wants to talk about immigration. Now, today, he said he wants to author a bill on gay marriage, which is totally cynical and a total charade.
I look at people in my district and I say, I don't have the luxury of doing that. I sit across the table from people and look in their eyes, people whose children are over there. Many of them, their children were in my classes, I coached them in football. They joined my Guard unit, and I trained them. They deployed with me, and now they are in Iraq. I don't have the luxury to ignore them.
The war in Iraq is an issue. We have the fourth-largest deployment in the nation coming from Minnesota, and the concentration of those is coming from southern Minnesota, and the congressman doesn't want to talk about it.