The Chosen One

Michele Bachmann's recipe for success: Christian piety and not-so-Christian opportunism

The most surprising omission from Bachmann's campaign, meanwhile, is any talk of the proposed gay marriage ban that made her a household name. Though one page on the Bachmann for Congress website does note that she was the "chief author of a constitutional amendment in the Minnesota Senate defining marriage as between one man and one woman," she has mostly stayed mum about religious themes and the pet social issues of evangelicals.

"She's not afraid to wear her social issues on her sleeve, and that's what most people in the district relate to," claims Bill Pulkrabek, a Washington County commissioner who was instrumental in Bachmann's 1999 school board run. He rationalizes her relative silence this way: "The media has branded her as a social conservative, so she doesn't need to go out there and be rah-rah on social causes."

Or maybe she and her strategists think that advertising the extent of her Christian political vision would prove divisive even in the conservative Sixth. "She is absolutely a cold, calculating person," says Gary Laidig, the Republican she unseated en route to the state Senate in 2000. "It's always the same with her on campaigns: Nobody really knows who she is, and she just comes across as this petite, attractive soccer mom. And that's it. But the fact is, she's part of a group that is absolutely determined to take over the Republican Party. It's that wing of the party that's very much in step with people like Norm Coleman and the Taxpayers League. And the fact is that they know how to run races. Good races, too. From getting delegates to hitting phone banks, they cover it, and Michele's part of that.

Robin Eley

"At the end of the day, her politics are like this: Everyone will have a gun, nobody will have an abortion, no one will pay taxes, everyone will go to church, and there won't be any more pinko liberal teachers in school."

ONE of Michael LaFave's first memories of Michele Bachmann is the two of them cruising around Anoka in his 1961 Chevy as she showed him teen hangouts and points of interest around town. It was 1973, and LaFave's father had just married Michele Amble's mother. He was a senior in high school then, soon to leave the newly blended household on Washington Street, and she was a year younger. "To say we were close would be overstating it," he says of the Ambles and LaFaves, who now counted nine children among them. "But we were a family unit."

By his own admission, LaFave, 51 years old and a union representative who lives in Forest Lake, did not get to know his new stepsister all that well. "I remember that she was book-smart, and did pretty well in school," he recalls. "And she was in a couple of beauty pageants.... She was not overtly political." She was not particularly religious, either, as far as he could see; LaFave calls her born-again identity "a later event in her life," dating to the years after she had gone away to college.

After graduating from Anoka High School in 1974, Michele Amble enrolled at what is now Winona State University. There she became interested in politics, she told the Star Tribune in a January 1, 2005 story, when she wandered into an American government class.

She also met Marcus Bachmann, who was majoring in social work. According to news and blog accounts, the two connected because they were both born-again Christians. Soon after she graduated with a degree in political science and English, the couple married, in 1978. As she has told the story more than once, the two were staunch Democrats who worked on Jimmy Carter's first presidential campaign. Eventually, she became disillusioned with the Democratic Party. The couple soon moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where Bachmann enrolled in the Coburn Law School, a Bible-based institution affiliated with Oral Roberts University. According to one version of her résumé, she earned a Juris Doctorate at Coburn in 1986, and post-doctorate degree from William and Mary Law School in Virginia in 1988.

According to Bachmann's CV, she landed a job with "the federal U.S. Tax Court" in St. Paul in 1988. One church bio lists her title there as a "federal litigation tax attorney"—the only job besides being state senator that Bachmann notes on the campaign trail. Some of her critics have called the designation misleading. Setting the record straight in early 2005, Bachmann admitted to City Pages that she in fact worked for the IRS going after tax cheats, a fact she never mentions when she is rallying anti-tax sentiments on the stump.

In 1992, Bachmann quit her job working for the Internal Revenue Service to become a stay-at-home mom. By that time, Marcus Bachmann had launched a career as a counselor/therapist. The couple eventually had five kids of their own (who now range in age from 11 to 23), and candidate Bachmann proudly notes that the couple has taken in 23 foster children over the years.

She didn't always stay at home, though. Increasingly, Bachmann was hitting the church and school circuit as a speaker, railing against what she deemed to be unreasonable federal and state mandates for education. She was a prized pupil in something called the Maple River Education Coalition, which later became EdWatch. (Former Governor Jesse Ventura once said of them, "The Maple River group, they think UFOs are landing next month. They think it's some big government federal conspiracy!") According to the mission statement on its website, EdWatch is concerned about the "undermining" of "constitutional freedoms" due in part to the country's "entire educational system." In the words of one editorial column reposted at the site, "Public education is not among the enumerated powers of the federal government."

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