I am supporting Jefferson Fietek for the Minnesota House of Representatives in district 36A. The details are complicated, and I would like to explain.
First, let me say that I currently live in this district, but due to redistricting, the current elections pertain to a district I do not live in. The district line was behind my house (more or less) and now it being moved to the front of my house, so I’ll be in district 36B. District 36A was represented by Representative Denise Dittrich before the redistricting (well, it was called 47A at the time, but never mind that).
A few weeks ago we held the local Senate District Convention, at which two candidates ran for the local senate; John Hoffman, and Jefferson Fietek. Both had been involved in area schools. John was on the board of the famous Anoka-Hennepin School District. This is the largest school district in the state, and is a bit of an odd duck. Hennepin county includes the entire city of Minneapolis and several inner ring urban “suburbs,” bedroom suburbs, and extensive farmland. Anoka county is sod farms, horses, and scrubland, with outer ring suburbs and a couple of small quaint towns. Minneapolis, most of the inner ring urban suburbs, and the upper class bedroom community suburbs all have their own school districts, and everything that is not them is Anoka-Hennepin. So, imagine a cross section of America. Subtract all the liberal enclaves, both urban and rural; all the poorest urban areas, and all the richest urban and suburban areas (these are overlapping sets, of course) and leave behind suburban and rural working class, conservative, probably whiter than average with the non-white component being (I’m guessing here) more migrant/Mexican/non-African American than average.
Putting it in a slightly different, and admittedly starker, way: You get Michele Bachmann’s Congressional District. Anoka-Hennepin is not her district … it overlaps with it physically. But demographically it is roughly the same. The Anoka-Hennepin school district is the birthplace of the Tea Party.
With that in mind you might not be surprised to learn the following two facts, one being not unique to this area at all, the other sadly unique. Fact 1: About half of the homeless “youth” (15-25 years of age) in this area are gay (or otherwise non-straight). Fact 2: The Anoka-Hennepin School District had one of the highest rates of student suicide anywhere in the US, high enough that federal and state level investigations were launched or considered to look into this as a potential public health, human rights, or otherwise classifiable problem. (You’ve certainly heard about this.)
You need to know all that for several reasons. For starters, the State Senate District race between Hoffman and Fietek was a race between a guy who was on the school board of the Suicide District (Hoffman) and a guy who taught at an art magnet school within that district (Fietek). Both men were instrumental in their own way in addressing the problems of the district–this was not a case of two people with different points of view, or on different sides of the issues. We’re all Democrats after all. And not just Democrats, but DFLers. Hoffman won that race probably on the grounds that he had a better, more developed, more connected machine behind his campaign and was thus seen as more likely to win. I’m not sure of that, but it’s what I’ve heard. Fietek and Hoffman both gave great speeches at the convention, and they both gave great answers during the Q&A. I personally would have voted for Fietek on the grounds that he was a teacher coming out of nowhere and suddenly heading off to the State House, and because I regard him as a radical progressive where Hoffman is more of a mainstream progressive. But when Hoffman won (by a landslide on the first ballot) it was no work at all for me two commit to helping him with his senate race. And, indeed, he will be my Senator so I intend to have an impact on his race.
At the same convention (I told you this was going to get complicated) the sitting House member, the aforementioned Representative Denise Dittrich, unexpectedly told the body that she would not seek re-election. This left the house district formerly known as 47A, soon to be known as 37A, open. Plans were made for a special nominating convention and candidates sought.
And Jefferson Fietek has stepped up to the plate to run for that position.
Jefferson has many things going for him that recommend him for this position beyond being a teacher. He worked with the US Justice Department in the Herculean efforts to iron out (or, really, begin to iron out) the problems in the Anoka Hennepin School District. That is a battle still being fought and I’m afraid it will be an uphill one. Jefferson helped found key organizations working for social justice in the area, including Young Artists Initiative and Justin’s Gift. He raised a nice chunk of money to help these and other efforts. He’s worked on a face to face basis with thousands of area families having one sort of problem or another, and I get the impression that this was often a matter of helping families with difficulties caused ultimately by the Bachmann-esque nature of this area. I’m thinking that he’s saved a lot of lives. For every one of those kids in this district who committed suicide, there is a certain number who did not because of Jefferson and people like him.
I like Jefferson as a person, I like what he’s done, and I like what I think he can do in the State House. Even though I’m one house district over from his, I’ll show up on April 28th to hold a sign for him, and support him if he gets the endorsement.