September 19th, 2014
Yesterday, Minnesota House Majority Leader Erin Murphy (DFL-St. Paul) came to Fertile with several aides to visit the Fair Meadow assisted living. Here she is in the middle, with my campaign treasurer (the hardest job on the campaign) Gloria Kaste on the right, and Erin in the middle. We had a great visit, not only viewing the building, but visiting with residents.
The next stop was Crookston, so I asked the Majority Leader to ride with me so we could visit. I asked her about the politics of nursing homes in the legislature. If anything is evident from visiting with people in the past few days it is that the crisis of a nursing home labor shortage is getting worse by the day in northwestern Minnesota, and that several board members of homes, one mayor, one administrator, and others I have talked to say that unless something is done, they will not be open next year at this time. So, I asked the majority leader--is there hope? Does anybody care down there?
The answer was fascinating. The short answer is yes, there is hope. The long answer is...more complicated. The politics of nursing homes are much more intense with the battle lines more demarcated than I had understood.
Last night, a fund-raiser. For me. It was a deliberately small affair and not really a fund-raiser because nobody was required to give money to get in the door or to eat the delicious snacks (I can't spell "or derves"). The biggest honor for me was that Sen. Kent Eken, Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, and former long-time Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe all were in attendance and gave speeches on my behalf. I was very moved, and have been truly touched by their fatherly advice (plus the just as frequent grandfatherly advice of former Rep. Bernie Lieder) throughout this campaign, an effort which is truly an unfamiliar experience for me. They know the turf. To talk to them is to access some rare wisdom and over 100 years of legislative experience.
My sign mentor would immediately recognize something wrong with this picture: You are supposed to hammer in the rebar first, then attach the sign with zip ties. However, just like my grandfather used to move trees a little to the left just after he planted them, so I can often find a better place for a sign just after it has been pounded into the ground. So, I pulled this one up and hammered it in a few feet to the north.
It was a dizzying week of events, sign distribution, door-knocking, topped off by a fundraiser. I slept all day today and hope that rejuvenates me a bit. A campaign is both physically and emotionally taxing, I am finding. The big part for me is not knowing, after a day's work, whether that day's work did any good. I suspect that is a common feeling in the corporate world, and numerous other environs, but out here in the countryside, if you mow a strip, you can see that strip is mowed. The accomplishment cannot be denied. When you knock 70 doors and 12 people answer, but you left literature hanging from the other 58 doorknobs, how much did you help your cause? You'll never know, of course. You can only rely on research which indicates that door-knocking is the single most effective campaign tool. So, it is just to keep going until the clock runs out.
When daydreaming about politics in past years, I had always hoped to avoid the tradition of lawn signs if I ever were to run. In fact, Betsy Hodges recently won the Minneapolis mayoral race without putting out a single one!
But wasn't possible in this Minnesota House race. Lawn signs are apparently unavoidable, I was informed early on. People love to see them pop up and compare who got which spot and who has more here and who has more there--so I have spent a couple of days spreading lawn signs about, with a lot of help from volunteers. It is sort of an unwritten rule that signs wait until after Labor Day, but after that, Katie bar the door. Up they go, all over.
By the way, if you have a good spot for a lawn sign, don't hesitate to email. We'll get you one in a hurry. Gotta keep up with the Joneses in the lawn sign war!
Kae had everybody over for a BBQ tonight of pork, steak and fishballs. Eventually, out came the dried squid, at which time all non-Asians fled the scene.
What a beautiful night!
The BBQ was a great break after a very busy week of door-knocking and now, a new twist, putting out lawn signs. It also featured fresh watermelon, eggplant, strawberries and tomatoes from the garden. Wonderful.
Niece Champoo not only survived, but thoroughly enjoyed her first week in an American school. She has made plenty of friends and all appears to be well. We had no reason to worry.
After some dreary fall weather, yesterday was golden. Almost like September, which is appropriate since it is almost September. I went door knocking. People were proud of their yards.
Health care costs are starting to be a theme when I visit with people. So many people end up in financial trouble due to health issues. In particular, some older parents end up helping out adult children to the point of damaging their own finances beyond repair. Hearing the real stories can be heart-breaking.
After each visit, I pause a bit, then enjoy the scenery and the sunshine and the weather on the way to the next house.
Here is an example of how difficult it can be to legislate: I visited with Bernie Lieder, former representative and an expert on transportation issues. Transportation is going to be the big issue coming up, according to the experts, but how do we pay for the roads?
The gas tax seems the fairest at first glance.
"Well," Bernie said, "Did you know that the biggest fleet of trucks on the road in Minnesota pays no gas tax?"
Turns out Schwan, in a wise decision for many reasons, equipped its trucks for natural gas--which is not taxed.
Electric cars also escape the gas tax, yet use the roads.
Bernie also lamented the "bleeding" of the transportation budget to make expensive bicycle lanes, some of which are mandated, again spending money on a form of transportation which doesn't contribute to the construction of its own roads.
So, what would be fair?
What would be a fair way to pay for the obvious needs of nursing homes?
Not easy questions.
It was cold enough this morning that I drove out to the nursery at sunrise to get my jacket from the break room at the nursery, where it has hung forgotten since May. What a rare thing it is to see the gardens covered in dew at sunrise in late summer. This picture does little to capture the magic, but I thought I would try.
Here is a Flickr page of photos taken when a photographer from the House DFL caucus came to visit.
We posed at the Veterans Memorial with Battle of the Bulge veteran Bernie Lieder. We went to La La ice cream to see Jen. We went to the nursing home to meet with administrator Barry Robertson. Of course, we met with Aunt Olive. And then we went out to the nursery where niece Champoo was eager to pose.
One of the saddest trends I have found while knocking doors is to find people who are at home giving care to their spouse with dementia. Yesterday, I sat in the living room of one such man for a long time as he told his tale. I won't relate details here, but he's trying to figure out what to do. Is she bad enough to be placed in a unit? He still values her companionship, but the work is overwhelming him.
The Alzheimer's Association has excellent help for people in such situations and just as I was about to suggest he call them, he handed me the card with their number. "I am thinking of calling here," he said. He held the card as if it were the number of a treatment center and he was contemplating turning himself in. He had great resistance to getting help.
"There are no support groups," he said, sadly. There could be, I know, because I know others in the same town in the same situation. If there is anything that can help care givers for dementia patients, to say nothing of the patients themselves, it is meeting with others in the same situation.
Here are problems with solutions that don't necessarily require government intervention or money.
I decided to knock doors the past two days, drizzle and gray non-withstanding. It isn't quite as fun when it is bleary, and the people are a little groggy. Fewer come to the door, I believe!
Another week gone by. They slip by fast.
Today, I decided to catch up on some visits I have promised to businesses and agencies. I learned a lot. It was a beautiful morning. Then, it got hot and wasn't so beautiful. I caught up on some work.
Summer is melting away. Due to the surreal nature of running for office, the summer has gone much faster than ever before, and has been more intense. Usually, August is a time of ambling around the nursery eating fresh fruit and vegetables. This summer, I am knocking on doors, and I am living in town so there is no place to amble. A different life.
I find myself completely preoccupied by campaigning and accompanying activities. I am unable to enjoy the Twins, especially when they lose as regularly as they have been. Other things I once enjoyed now seem trivial. I am glad there is an end in sight.
At its best, while campaigning I meet new people and learn new things, as I did several times today. At its worst, I get kicked off the porch for being from the wrong party, as I also did today.