Saturday, October 30, 2010

Emmer Strong in Southeast

Driving through much of the southeastern part of the state in the last few days gives me the eerie feeling that Emmer may carry the day down there!
by Charlie Leck

I made two trips down to Rochester this week, taking different and very back-road routes both times. I didn't like what I saw in the farm fields and small towns of southeastern Minnesota.

I'm aware that the polling organizations have shown Dayton with a 6 to 8 point lead in the race, but those farm fields down there gave me some doubts. Everywhere I looked there were large, blue and white signs out in the fields with the name EMMER staring off them at me. I was trying to relax and shake politics from my brain, but the fields were caterwauling at me: "Emmer! Emmer! Emmer!"

The signs were like a nightmare from which I was to awaken, except this was real and I needed to understand it. I kept my eyes opened.

Just east of New Trier, as I approached a farm, I saw signs for a "pumpkin sale" that was a quarter mile ahead. I slowed as I approached the farm and saw a woman -- very much a farm woman -- standing in her yard near a big pile of bright orange pumpkins. I turned into a large driveway and coasted up by the pile of squash and pumpkins. In the grass, in front of the farmhouse off to the left, I saw the big sign promoting Tom Emmer for Governor.

I didn't need a pumpkin. Our own sheep pasture was littered with them. When the grass inevitably gave in to the compulsory winter, the sheep would devour the piles of pumpkins.

I climbed from my car and tried to smile in a most friendly way. I warned myself not to sound like a kvetch.

"Great lookin' pumkins!"

It wasn't a great opening line, but it drew a friendly response from her.

"You from the city?" she asked. I wondered what gave it away. Maybe it was the soft and odd looking Swedish shoes by Echo.

"Got a farm west of the cities," I countered. "Raise sheep and crops!"

She looked at me doubtfully, but smiled nicely and stroked her tangled, salt and pepper hair back on the sides. The wind was playing havoc with it.

"Needed to stretch my legs a bit," I said, attempting to coruscate [to exhibit a brilliant, sparkling technique or style] my way through a little interview.

"Thought I stop and buy a pumpkin for the front porch -- you know, to get ready for the big trick or treat night."

"That's what we count on, don't you know?"

I wandered around the orange pile and saw a pretty well formed pumpkin that might carve up nicely into a jack-o-lantern. I reached down and, with a jerk, lifted it away from its kin. I told her of my intentions and that this one ought to fit the bill.

"Yup," she said, with laconic disinterest. "That'll be five dollars!"

I tried to hold the large gourd in one arm and fish out my money-clip with the other. The woman chuckled at my clumsiness. I didn't look like a farmer to her. I could tell she was thinking that. Her skeptical eyes gave it away. She took the future jack-o-lantern from me and hugged it to her fulsome breasts.

I found the money and pulled a five-spot from among the bills. As I handed it toward her, I flicked my head over to the left, toward the big sign in front of her house. Before I could speak, she flashed a smile that seemed to say: "Now I understand why yuh really stopped!"

"Lots of support for Mr. Emmer down here in these parts," I said, trying to sound countrified. "Wonder what folks around here like about him so much!" As she took my money, she, sort-of, rolled the pumpkin into my arms.

She vigorously brushed the crumbs of soil off her breasts with both hands, causing that part of her body to compress and then spring back. She smiled somewhat coquettishly at me when she saw me watching them. I think I blushed -- embarrassed more because I didn't find anything attractive about her than that I did.

"We's Tea Party folks around here," she declared proudly. "Folks is tired of all the big spending and debt coming out of Washington and the State Capitol. We's people who pays his bills and we want government to do it, too."

"But," I countered, "most of this debt was created by George W. Bush and not the current folks in control."

"Makes no what-for to us who started it," she said. "We's fixin' to end it! We's out to get rid of 'em all and put folks in there who know what it means to pay his own bills and save a buck or two for a rainy day."

Suddenly, looking into her fiery, impassioned eyes, I knew what rainy-day meant and where the expression came from. I was startled by the sudden realization. Farmers had less to do on a day of steady rain. There was time to go to town -- maybe for breakfast at the town cafe or even to take a drive 'up to the cities' to wander about in the big mall.

The woman stared at me with a befuddled expression, as if she wondered if I'd gone off into some kind of trance.

"So, it isn't a Republican or a Democrat thing?" I stood there holding my pumpkin, probably looking stupid and asking dumb questions. She looked at me as if I'd asked something ineffable -- something too profane. Her mouth hung open for an instant.

"Ain't indeed," she said sternly. "We don't think in those terms no more. Henry -- that's my man, you know -- he used to call hisself a DFLer, you know! He don't no more. He says he belongs to the Tea Party and I'm right with him like I always is."

The Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, I thought to myself, going off into another trance right in front of the woman. Of course! The DFL, indeed! Most folks around here would have been part of the Hubert Humphrey movement. They would have backed the young radical who wanted to boot crime and corruption out of the cities and get more money to the people out in the country -- to give them more electrical power, better phones, higher quality roads, improved schools and rural police and fire protection. Old Hubert knew how to spend a buck. When he went to Washington he learned quickly how to get federal money pouring into his home state.

Now, too much money was being spread around in the cities again and the disappearing small farmers were being forgotten. Time for a new radical who seemed to be more farmer-friendly. Sarah Palin seemed to fit the bill. I could see it in the eyes of the woman as they gawked at me. I didn't need to ask her anything more.

"Thank you, ma'am," I said courteously.

"No," she responded, "thank you kindly. Enjoy your pumpkin."

I turned and carried my purchase toward my car. She called after me.

"I like your shoes. They look comfortable."

It was a way, I guess, of avoiding her pronouncement that they also looked uglier than sin -- something upon which she and my wife would agree.

I drove on into New Trier and saw the Church of Saint Mary upon a hillock to the north. The big brick building towered above the town. I swung the car up a small street that led to the church and the large cemetery on its east side. I parked by the gates to the ossuary and look out over the monuments.

Had I not been in such a good mood, the woman's words would have tormented me. I wondered if she understood what she was saying. To provide a better life for the rural people of Minnesota, Humphrey knew money had to be spent. How were people now to have better lives? How were they to get high-quality and yet affordable health care. How do we pay for outstanding schools, colleges and technical institutions? How was government to protect them from unscrupulous money manipulators? From where would we get money to protect us from terrorists and criminals? From fire and floods? Government needs funds to give us these things.

I looked out over the rows and rows of gravestones. It crossed my mind that this place would make a wonderful setting for an evening Halloween party.

Could Emmer really win? The question startled me. Before that moment I never believed it possible. A person of such awkward, nonmelodic timbre couldn't be elected! Now, as if ghosts were rising from the graves before me, I felt haunted by the possibility that the inmates might indeed take charge of the asylum.


I'd picked up some insight, I guess, by stopping at the farm. It didn't answer, however, why there were so many Emmer signs up and down the streets of each and every little town there in the southeast. Wabasha, the little town that sat along the mighty Mississippi, was loaded with them.

I drove up and down the streets and found there was no bashfulness about declaring support for this candidate endorsed by Sarah Palin. I looked about for a single sign for Mark Dayton or Tom Horner, Emmer's opponents, and saw nothing.

In front of the car wash stood a huge sign for Emmer. So, too, in front of a lawyer's office and a real estate broker. These were town folk, I reminded myself. They thought differently than farmers. Many of them are university graduates and many had advanced, professional degrees. They understood the purpose of government and they grasped the concept of spending for services and better lives. Ghosts kept pursuing me.

Finally, I saw a lone and lonely sign for Mark Dayton. It was propped up in front of the Eagle Nest Coffee House on 2nd Street West. I parked nearby and went in to order a latté. The owner was there, a dazzling and large ear ring hanging from his left ear and another small one pierced into his right earlobe. His hair was cut wildly, looking as if it had been colored, and his shirt was open half way down his chest.

Imagine! I'd found a liberal among a sea of Tea Partiers. I introduced myself and shook his hand, telling him I'd been driving around town, looking at all the signs for Emmer.

"What's happening down here?" I warned him that I might quote his answer. I told him I'd seen the sign for Mark Dayton in front of his business.

"Well, I suppose I do lean a bit left," he said with a broad smile.

"I'm shocked," I replied, nodding my head downward, looking at the bold necklace he wore.

We both laughed. Wherever there weren't signs, he told me, that's where there is some hope for Mr. Dayton.

"And there's more places than you'd think," he proclaimed. "Even out in the country, there are many, many fields without signs. Those are the quiet people. They're not going to rile their neighbors. It's the same with me. If some guy wants to put up an Emmer sign next to my Dayton sign, right in front of my shop, I'd let him. I'm open!"

Was it possible? Way back in February, Dayton, building his base, had held a "meet and greet" session at the Eagle's Nest and the turnout had been pretty good. He had some followers here and we'd only know late Tuesday night how well his base did in this little town.

With my hot latté in the cup holder beside me, I turned the car north and northeast, following the river toward home. I slowed in Red Wing to look at the beautiful Saint James Hotel. I swung down the street next to the historic building and drove by the magnificent train terminal. I looked straight out at the Mississippi beyond the tracks. The Amtrak trains stopped here, on their way to Chicago from Saint Paul. After I'm gone and turned to dust, there will be a high speed train running here, getting folks to downtown Chicago faster than they could get there by flying. It'll cost money to give us such a wonder, but that's what government does in great nations. If government does nothing, the nation will degenerate into something quite ordinary and we'll be common among the nation-states of the world instead of being a beacon on a hill.

It was not now, at this peculiar and particular time, a message that very many people wanted to hear. A visionary, like President Obama, had been elected at precisely the wrong time. As a people, we just didn't want dreamers right now. We are thinking all too much about ourselves and not about our children. Obama isn't calling us to spend! He's calling us to invest -- to invest for our children and for the future greatness and strength of the nation. The Tea Party doesn't see it that way. Those folks are too caught up in the moment and in themselves. The real question should be: What will make the nation greater 50 years from now -- or even a century or two from now?

That's not the way folks will be voting this year, however. Issues have to do with the here and now. Dreamers are being rejected and thrown out of office. Big thinkers aren't allowed in.


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