In “Core of Convictions,“ outspoken congresswoman and presidential candidate, Rep. Michele Bachmann writes of her humble beginnings in Minnesota politics and the beliefs and convictions that have driven her to serve in office. Here’s an excerpt.
Chapter One: A Middle-American Mom
It was April Fools’ Day 2000. I started out that morning thinking that I was headed for a joyful wedding. Then, instead, I found myself embroiled in a pitched political battle. So rather than witnessing a young couple start their new life together, I ended up finding a new political career. Yes, it was April Fools’ Day, but it was no joke.
April 1, 2000, was the date of the Republican convention for the 56th Minnesota state senate district. The gathering was held in the beautiful little town of Mahtomedi, just east of St. Paul. The Bachmanns—my husband Marcus, our children, and I—were residents of that district, living in the nearby town of Stillwater.
It was also the day the Bachmann family was planning to attend a wedding in Brainerd, a town in the northern part of the state, a two-or-three-hour drive away. My own wedding, back in 1978, has always been precious to me—a covenant that Marcus and I treasure for eternity. And I just love weddings. I love the ceremony, the music, the exchange of vows, the sense of a new joint destiny for the newlyweds, even the cake and the celebration afterward.
But on this one morning, I had second thoughts about going. I said to my husband, “Honey, do you mind if I don’t go with you this time?” I had woken up thinking I really ought to go instead to the Republican district convention. Someone, I thought, should send a message to those entrenched insiders, reminding them that we didn’t like what they were doing in the capital, St. Paul—that we didn’t like what they were doing to us and our children.
Marcus knew I was especially concerned about a new left-leaning, state-mandated education curriculum. That new initiative, short on academic excellence, was the so-called Profile of Learning—a federal government program that our state legislators, following orders from Washington, D.C., had begun imposing on children across the state.
Indeed, Marcus shared my concerns about these and other top-down liberal policies. In his Christian counseling practice, he was constantly seeing, up close, the damage done to young people by wrongheaded ideas—ideas that led to poor educational experiences and poor outcomes. Yet at the same time, Marcus had to concern himself with the practicalities of running our ongoing business and being a father. I was the political activist, not my husband.
Marcus was serious about his work and his mission, and yet he was always loving and understanding. “Okay,” he said. And so the Bachmann family changed its plans. He and our younger kids drove off to Brainerd for the wedding, and I made my way to the local GOP convention.
Poor Marcus; he had no idea what would happen next. And frankly, neither did I.
Because this was a last-minute decision and I was worried about being late, I simply flew out the door. Only when I was in the car did I realize what a mess I was. I had on jeans—and I never wear jeans if I can help it. I also wore some white moccasins worn to a dingy gray beige; my sweatshirt had a hole in it. I had no makeup on—and every woman knows what that means. And my hair was a fright.
But it was too late to turn back. I had to get to the convention before the registration table closed. Arriving in a flurry, I paid my twenty-dollar party registration fee, and I was in, along with some two hundred other Republicans. We were gathered in an auditorium at Mahtomedi High School, just west of Stillwater, and we were engaging in grassroots politics at its rootsiest.
It seemed likely that the convention would, without a hitch, endorse the incumbent senator yet again.
Or maybe there would be a hitch. Some of us began talking about why we were there. Why had we pulled ourselves away from other responsibilities on this Saturday morning? Was it just to sit and listen to political speeches? Was it simply to rubber-stamp our state senator?
Actually, we wanted to do more than that—we wanted to be heard. We all asked: Why are we Republicans nominating this guy once again, when we can’t trust him to represent us when he goes to St. Paul?
This senator had fought for his country as a Marine in Vietnam; I will always honor him for that service. And because so many others honored him too, he had been elected to the Minnesota State House of Representatives in 1972; he had moved up to the state senate in 1982. By the time of the district 56 convention, he had been in the state legislature for nearly three decades. Yet during that time, his voting record had changed. And we, the people, his constituents, wanted now to make our voices heard. His twenty-eight years in power seemed long enough.
The problem was that the senator had come to embrace a “go-along, get-along” mentality in the legislature, and he took the same attitude toward the growth of our state government. The Democrats were large and in charge in St. Paul, and the senator seemed a little too willing to accept his lesser status as part of the Republican minority. Not only that, but he had also become known as a safe vote for crucial legislation that the Democrats wanted to push; by gaining his token Republican vote, they could say that their bill was bipartisan. That veneer of bipartisanship put a “Minnesota nice” front on the hard-edged leftism emanating from the Twin Cities. And St. Paul and Minneapolis were then happy, of course, to take their orders from the even more distant bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.
Our senator supported the Profile of Learning curriculum, brushing aside repeated attempts by parents like me to speak to him about our concerns. We phoned; we wrote letters; we made personal visits. When he would agree to see us, we showed him example after example of the faulty curriculum, including the dumbed-down tests and the politically correct guideline documents produced in St. Paul. We told him that parents, teachers, and taxpayers in his district were concerned that our kids needed rigorous academics—not liberal and secular values, attitudes, and beliefs imposed by the state.
In addition, the senator had changed his voting record on important social issues. He had once taken a pro-life stance, but not anymore. He had even proposed a bill to install a bust of former Supreme Court justice Harry Blackmun in the state capitol; Blackmun was a famous Minnesotan, to be sure, but he was particularly beloved by liberals because he had authored the Supreme Court’s infamous 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, trampling state laws and legalizing abortion nationwide. And that was an unprecedented decree lacking constitutional substance. Blackmun absurdly declared that the basis for the Roe v. Wade decision could be found in the “penumbras,” or shadows, of the Constitution. In other words, Blackmun’s justification for legalizing abortion was made out of thin air. So why was the senator supporting a special honor for Blackmun? Why was he lionizing the champion of abortion on demand? Indeed, on all the big issues that my friends and I cared about, the senator was 100 percent wrong.
In the meantime, being the Democrats’ favorite Republican, the senator had a cushy deal in the state legislature. In fact, there was just one possible obstacle to this symbiotic relationship’s going on forever: He had to win reelection in his Republican district, and that meant he had to survive Republican nominating conventions, such as this one in Mahtomedi, every election year. So that had been his challenge: how to vote reliably “left” in St. Paul to keep his power-broker friends there happy, and then how to double-talk “right” back home to win the votes of local citizens.
As my friends and I caucused in the back of the auditorium, we thought: Well, let’s figure out a way to let the senator know we’re not happy with his voting record. We need to make him realize he has to pay more attention to the folks back home, and to their views, than to the wishes of his liberal Democratic overlords in St. Paul. We need to ask him some tough questions, get him on record, and make him commit to some conservative stances. We need to turn up the heat, as they say, and hope that he sees the light.
But then a friend pointed out that the only sure way to capture his attention — to convince him we weren’t just a small speed bump on his path to another term—was actually to run against him. We’d have to put up a candidate to challenge him on the floor of the district convention; we’d have to present an alternative candidate to the Republican conventioneers. After all, most of the folks in the auditorium were far more conservative than the senator.
But who would step up? Who would send that signal? Eyes turned to me. I had been vocal on issues, including the Profile of Learning, for years. “Michele, will you do it? Will you put your name out there?” Folks were insistent: Someone had to do it. And apparently, that someone should be me.
I was thinking to myself: Oh my, I look like a mess. I wasn’t prepared for this. I’ll look like a fool. And I thought too that if I had any political ambitions for the future—which, at the time, I didn’t—surely a sudden, last-minute move such as this would end them. Plus, I didn’t know many people in the room; why would I want to introduce myself to them and look foolish at the same time?
But then I told myself: Michele, sometimes you have to risk it. After all, others have taken far bigger risks for what they believed in. Now your turn has come. And one issue in particular—insisting on academic excellence rather than dumbing down the curriculum and imposing a liberal scholastic agenda—was simply too important to ignore. And other issues too needed to be addressed, including the right to life, high taxes, excess spending, and improving the overall business climate of Minnesota.
For all those reasons, I agreed to go for it. I would make the challenge. At least we would get the senator’s attention. Maybe he would even actually listen to us for a change.
The consensus among my friends was clear: The person to take on the senator was Michele. And when your friends ask you to do something— and you know it’s a good idea and the right thing to do—well, you have to pay heed. In Christianity, it’s called servant leadership. This was my moment to serve.
“So what do I do?” I asked. The answer came back: “You write your name on a sheet of paper, and you go up and tell them that you want to run for the Republican endorsement—easy!” Oh, okay, I thought to myself, that doesn’t sound too hard.
So being encouraged by my friends yet having no idea what to expect next, I walked up to the table at the front of the room. I approached the chairman and handed him that fateful slip of paper. He looked down at the writing, and his jaw dropped: “You’re challenging his endorsement?” Yes, I was. Technically, I was saying that this party convention should not endorse the incumbent senator for renomination.
I paused and asked: “So what do I do now?” That’s how naive I was about what I was getting into.
He stared me up and down. He obviously didn’t like what I was doing —that is, trying to block the senator’s bandwagon. Yet I had a right to do it. Indeed, anyone in the room could have done the same thing. But I was the one who stepped up. “Well,” he sighed, pointing to the podium, “you have to go up there and give a five-minute speech.”
“Okay.” Yikes. An actual campaign speech. And not just speaking about the issues but also taking on an entrenched incumbent.
Over the years, I’d done a lot of speaking—but never as a political challenger. I’d spoken to small groups, mostly concerning the obnoxious Profile of Learning. But in those instances I’d had plenty of time to prepare, to put myself together. Indeed, going back to my days of arguing tax cases, I’d known I always wanted to be the best-prepared person in the courtroom. But today, when I really needed some preparation, I didn’t have it. In my old jeans and torn sweatshirt, I looked as if I were dressed for a garage sale. The April Fools’ Day joke was on me.
Yet I knew what I wanted to say. I was nothing more than a concerned parent—one of many in the room—but I was fully aware of what was right and what was wrong. I wanted to speak from my heart, and yet my head was also ready.
So a calm and a confidence passing all understanding came over me. I thought of my sweet husband, Marcus, our five biological children, and the twenty-three foster children to whom we had also opened our home and our hearts. I was proud of the values we had been able to instill in them. It hadn’t always been easy. And the liberal meddlers in the state education bureaucracy hadn’t made it any easier. So we were fighting for our kids and our values, and we needed one fighter out front. That was my job. I had accepted the mission, and now I had to fulfill it. It was as simple as that.
I was just doing my duty as a citizen, speaking out. It was like that wonderful Norman Rockwell painting from the forties, Freedom of Speech, in which an earnest man speaks out at the town meeting, politely but firmly.
Finally, I thought of Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me,” and I said a prayer. Now I was ready.
I got up to the stage and delivered a speech that came straight from the heart. It was about freedom, and what freedom means in the hearts of Minnesotans and of all Americans. I declared that freedom is connected to the issues we should care about: life, taxes, education. That is, the issues on which the state senator had once stood with us but now stood against us.
And when I saw the faces of all those folks listening to me, following with warm attention, I felt confident enough to speak truthfully and forcefully. I was among people who shared the same vision, and they gave me strength and confidence. My neighbors and fellow Republicans were happy to hear someone speak clear words, words that expressed their own faith and beliefs. I had entered the room as just a name to most of those folks, but after a few minutes we had all become friends. They could look into my heart as I spoke, and even as I was speaking, I could look into their hearts. That’s a sacred feeling. So it was their support—and maybe their quiet prayers—that helped to sustain me in my partisan-politics debut.
My five minutes were up. I sat down, and the incumbent senator said gruffly: “You paid your twenty dollars, and now you just had your entertainment.”
Your “entertainment”? Did he really say that? The “entertainment,” in his reckoning, was me—as if I were a sideshow. Chilly silence hung in the room. Nobody could believe that the senator had just said something so demeaning. After all, even people who weren’t planning on voting for me had seen that I was sincere. At age forty-four, I had lived, worked, and raised a family in the area for a long time. Why was he so publicly condescending?
The folks in the room now began to see the senator with new eyes. Maybe, they thought, he had been in the legislature too long. Maybe he had a bad case of “incumbent-itis”—or “RINO-itis.” And if he was capable of throwing such cutting words at one of his constituents, what had he been thinking, really, about all of his constituents? In a single instant, his tongue had revealed what appeared to be in his heart. We had gotten a glimpse too of what he was like when he was making deals and clinking glasses with the Democrats in St. Paul. We Republican voters back in the boonies had finally gotten the message—right between the eyes. We were now saying to ourselves, That’s a pretty high horse you’re riding, Senator, looking down on us, and now we’re going to take you down.
Other than that gruff opening line, I don’t think anyone remembered anything he said. Having finished his talk, he sat down. But the chill remained. He had frozen—and snapped—his connection to his voters.
Meanwhile, outside the auditorium, a political crisis was heating up. I found out later that his political operatives in the room had realized immediately that their man had messed up, and so they had gone into instant damage-control mode. They had picked up their cell phones and called the leading state senate Republicans, telling the big bosses that one of their members was down—and wasn’t going to get up without a lot of political help. So GOP apparatchiks jumped in their cars and hightailed it to Mahtomedi, hoping somehow to save their man.
Inside the auditorium, it was time to vote: the incumbent versus Mrs. Bachmann. Each person handwrote his or her choice on a white slip of paper and handed it to his or her precinct leader. Then the convention chairman requested that representatives from the two campaigns come to a back room and witness the ballot counting. “Could someone from the Bachmann campaign come to the counting room?” he asked.
Sitting in the audience, I thought to myself, What Bachmann campaign? So far, at least, I was it—I was the whole campaign. So I turned to the woman seated to my right and asked, “Would you be willing to be my representative?” That was Barbara Harper, one brave lady.
Barbara immediately agreed to act as witness. And when she got to the back room, she found it swarming with political operatives, all eager to “help” with the counting. For well over an hour, Barbara was in there with them, and it’s a good thing she was. When one politico “discovered” an envelope full of “ballots,” Barbara challenged them on the spot—and won. A few operatives seemed to wish to try “creative balloting,” but the Republicans of district 56—even if they didn’t support me—wanted an honest count. This was Minnesota, not Chicago.
In the meantime, out in the auditorium, folks were growing impatient. They would walk up to the microphone and ask, “Mr. Chairman, why is it taking so long to count a few hundred ballots?” The Republican operatives, meanwhile, could be seen chatting on their cell phones—and yet it wasn’t us local Republicans they were talking to; they were talking instead about us to their wheeler-dealer pals in St. Paul. They were trying to figure out how to use the convention rules to invalidate the voting.
As for me, I sat in my seat. There was nothing I could do. I went to find a pay phone—I didn’t have a cell phone in those days—and I called my sweet, nonpolitical friend, Ann, the greatest walking partner I ever had. I explained to her what was happening and implored her, “I really want you to come over. I am sure to lose this thing, and I need you, please, to be with me.” Ann was doing the dishes with her husband, but, kind as always, she drove over to offer moral support. I felt better, and yet I still had no inkling that my life was about to change.
Finally, after an hour and twenty minutes, Barbara came bursting out of the back room, running toward me in my seat in the auditorium. She had written the results in blue ink on the palm of her hand. “You won!” she exclaimed, waving her hand in front of my face. “And you won with a supermajority.” That is, over 60 percent of the vote! So I had just become the officially endorsed Republican candidate; the longtime incumbent had lost the mandate of Republicans in his district. As I said, this was grassroots politics at its rootsiest—the people had spoken. Decisively.
The senator, a sheaf of papers in his hand, then tried to disqualify the balloting. But now there wasn’t just a chill in the auditorium; there were boos and shouts. We, the spontaneous insurgents, had done everything by the book, and now, at the end of a long count, we had won—and nobody wanted to hear gripes from the senator.
Eventually, the chairman had to announce the obvious. He climbed to the podium, moved toward the microphone with obvious reluctance, and then, speaking in a pained voice, said: “I guess we’ve got a result.” Pause. “And, uh, I guess it’s Michele Bachmann.”
The audience—most of it—cheered. Nobody in that auditorium was more surprised than me. Amid the tumult, someone said, “You have to go back up onstage and thank the delegates.” And so I did. Those delegates were now my supporters, and I needed to thank them.
In that moment, I felt honored, humbled, blessed, and challenged all at the same time. I thanked everyone, reiterated the critical issues, and then reminded the audience that the bigger electoral battle lay ahead. And as it turned out, I faced two elections. Not only would I have to confront a Democrat in November, but the incumbent senator had not conceded his defeat at the Mahtomedi convention; he eventually chose to run against me in the September Republican primary, as he had a perfectly legal right to do.
In that auditorium, I had become an accidental politician. I hadn’t planned on going to the convention, hadn’t planned on running for anything, hadn’t planned on speaking—and certainly hadn’t planned on winning. And yet there I was. My friends joked that our slogan for the upcoming campaign would be “We know nothing about campaigning, and we can prove it.”
Ann and I drove back home to Stillwater, and then, to catch our breath, we sat on a bench in a park overlooking the St. Croix River. We looked at the beautiful fl owing water, then at each other. I said, “Ann, we had better pray.” We prayed together, giving this remarkable turn of events over to the Lord. We both asked for guidance, and I asked one more thing: How would I tell Marcus?
It was April 1, and this poor man was in northern Minnesota, along with the girls, Elisa, Caroline, and Sophia. Attending a wedding, fulfilling obligations, looking out for his family, he had no idea what his wife had just done.
There was no way for me to contact him; neither of us had a cell phone then. How should I break the news that I had left the house in the morning as a full-time mom, a homemaker, and a retired tax lawyer—and was coming back in the afternoon as the Republican-endorsed candidate for the state senate? And that I was facing an uncertain future in the coming election, to say nothing of an uncertain future if I ended up sitting in the Minnesota legislature?
I got home, and the house was empty. I could see that the answering machine was filled up but didn’t have the heart to listen to the messages. Marcus and I had always worked as a team; it’s the only way we could get through graduate school, raise our twenty-eight biological and foster children, and work in business. I knew I had stepped outside our long-established norm. It was one thing to go to a political convention; it was quite another to launch a political career. My husband would have told me if he’d been thinking about starting up a new clinic, so why hadn’t I told him that I was starting up a new career? It was an accident, of course, albeit a happy, challenging accident. Still, I knew that the first thing I needed to do was make things right with Marcus and my family.
So I went upstairs and waited in the bedroom. Actually, the bathroom. And I thought about how I would tell him the news.
After a while, I heard the garage door open. The Bachmanns were back, even if Mom hadn’t made the trip. I was always elated to hear everyone come home; the familiar sounds were like music to me: the jingling of keys, the tramping of feet, the whoosh of coats being taken off and put away—or flung on the couch. All the happy sounds of a homecoming. But this time it was different. Marcus thought I was asleep, and so, always thoughtful, he didn’t come bounding up the stairs.
But I was awake, of course. I was just dreading the moment of truth.
More in books
Downstairs, I could hear Marcus clicking on the answering machine. “Congratulations, Michele!” the first message rang out. “Congratulations on your victory!” I thought to myself that Marcus must be assuming this was all some sort of elaborate April Fools’ joke—on me, on him, on all of us. Yet after the second or third congratulatory message, I could sense that he knew something real was up.
Marcus called up to the second floor: “Michele?”
“Yes?” I was trying to sound as innocent as possible.
“Is there something you’d like to tell me?” It was one of those moments we’ve all seen on TV—a Lucy and Ricky Ricardo moment from the old I Love Lucy show. All that was missing was Marcus-as-Ricky saying to his wide-eyed wife, “Lucy! You’ve got some ’splaining to do!”
“Well,” I answered, “I am the endorsed candidate for state senator. I made a speech at the convention . . . and . . . I won the balloting.”
“No!” Marcus said. He wasn’t being harsh—he is never harsh. He really thought this was some sort of April Fools’ joke.
“You did what?” My victory was not an overly happy piece of news for Marcus. After a lot of hard work, having gone through much sacrifice and deferred gratification, we had built a wonderful family and successful careers. And yet unilaterally I had just moved forward into a new endeavor that he had had nothing to say about. We had always planned everything together, but not this. His life, the kids’ lives, all would be affected, and he hadn’t received the courtesy of being consulted. Now I would have to be off campaigning—and then, if I won, legislating. Inevitably an extra burden would be on all of us, but mostly on him.
However, being the wonderful man that he is, he took three days to think these things through. He knew that issues such as improving education, protecting life, and lowering taxes were important. They were important to me, and they were important to him. He just needed a few moments to recalibrate his already strenuous schedule. Now it would be even more strenuous.
“You know,” he warned, “you can’t take this back.” And he was right. I was in. And when I am in, I am 100 percent in. All the way. But for my part, I made a commitment to Marcus and to my family: Every next step in politics, whatever it might be, would be made in full and prayerful consultation with the family. I would only proceed with their full agreement—and, of course, asking for the Lord’s blessing.
So how had I gotten this far? How had I been so fortunate as to have Marcus and all our kids? And to be at that podium in a little corner of eastern Minnesota? And then, later, to see a new future in politics—the state legislature, the U.S. Congress, and the national stage?
Well, that’s a long story.
The personal story begins in Iowa, but before I tell it, I should make this point as clear as the Stillwater night sky: At every step of my life’s journey, I believe that God has been with me. He has prepared me for the next challenge, lesson by lesson. God gently prepares all of us, if we want His help, for our small struggles—and our big battles. I learned back in Sunday school the story of David, how he was a shepherd boy and how, as he grew toward manhood, he learned to kill the lion and the bear. Only then was he ready for his epic confrontation with Goliath. One thing led to another, but only God planned the full story in advance.
So I didn’t have a plan when I went into that convention in Mahtomedi. But I did have experience and the strength of core principles. I had the strength, in fact, of a movement of liberty-loving people, all the concerned voters whom I had met across the state of Minnesota. They were all reasonable, fair-minded citizens, living carefully and conservatively. And they were folks who wanted for the next generation what every American has wanted—a better life and a brighter hope. Movements can create their own energy. And they can produce new candidates, one of whom was me.
So that was the first political lesson: With the right kind of popular energy, ordinary people can make a difference. You can fight city hall. That is, you can take on the establishment and win. The political waters back home in Stillwater have not been still since.
But a second lesson was even more important: Nothing can succeed without faith. Faith is being sure of what we hope for, even as it provides assurance of what we do not see. I took a leap of faith that Saturday, and yet I always knew that if I failed in my political bid, God would still catch me.
Third, I was reminded that I would be lost without my family. Even if I am in a faraway place, they will always be right there with me, heart and soul. Marcus, our children—they have all been so good to me. And while I have tried to do right by them, I am blessed to have their solid support in my career, and I never want to take them for granted. So someday, I promise, we’ll all take that long vacation!
And here’s a fourth lesson, gained from that political battle in a little corner of Minnesota eleven years ago: Principle is more important than partisanship. I am a proud Republican, fully committed to the pro-family, pro–free enterprise, pro-defense policies of my party, but if I see a GOP leader failing to fight for our party’s principles, I will not hesitate to speak out—and, if necessary, stand up.
As John F. Kennedy once said, sometimes political parties ask too much. The Minnesota Republican hierarchy didn’t want me to run against their incumbent in 2000; they didn’t know who I was. And once many party bigwigs did get to know me, they weren’t sure that I could win the seat. But I did. And I did it again two years later. Even then, many of them never warmed up to me, because I always spoke up for what I believed were our core principles. I didn’t get into politics to please men and women who had grasped for power—just the opposite, in fact.
I have always seen myself as a champion of the values I grew up with— the values that have grown even stronger in my heart in the decades since. So I felt called to serve on April 1, 2000, and I have sensed that call ever since.
Armed with values and faith, supported by family and fellow citizens, together we can do much. We can secure what people are yearning for—the chance to take our country back. Just watch.
Excerpted from Core of Conviction by Michele Bachmann by arrangement with Sentinel, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc., Copyright © 2011 by Michele Bachmann.
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