Monday, February 26, 2001

More Than Just a Matriarch

I started working at the Legislature in January 1999 six months before my Mom died. The unrelenting knowledge of the terminal diagnosis weighed heavy on me as I tried my best to do well at my new job. I remember briskly walking through the tunnel between the Capitol and the State Office Building with mixed thoughts of the committee hearing I was about to cover and wanting to rush home to be by my Mom's side.

I remember several times going over to my parents' house and as we were sitting down for dinner Mom would look at me with a worried look on her face and ask me how my day had gone. She said I looked tired. I tried my best to describe to her the fusion between the hardest work of my life and the thrill of finally doing the type of work I always wanted to do. I'm not sure she understood but I know she somehow knew the importance of what I was doing.

To this day as I play an observer to the lawmaking political process I remember how my Mom encouraged my interest in journalism and writing. She was the one that really got me reading newspapers with a passion. And I know she was one of the few that understood my interest in the difference between how we perceive how something goes on with the actual end result itself. There are those responsible for participating and those equally important who make sure that what is being done is broken down in an accessible manner. It's the correlation between those who are inside looking out and others who are outside looking in.

There are those who might disagree but I consider myself fortunate to be down at the Capitol every day to witness what is going on. To me the process is organically fascinating. It starts with an individual needing to connect with his/her neighbors and garner enough support to get elected to represent the community. As we saw in Florida this initial step isn't something to be taken for granted. The election process is messy. I recently attended a dinner honoring Marge "Moogie" Christianson who the Star Tribune dubbed the "matriarch of Minnesota Elections." At this dinner I sat across the table from the head of Ramsey County elections who admitted had what went down in Florida gone on in any precinct in the country- with the media scrutiny and the heavy-attorney presence, things could be found wrong and questioned about our election process.

Elections are only as good as the people responsible for administering them. We all just assume once we cast our ballot our vote will be counted. We trust the democratic process. But if the systems in place haven't been long planned out, and each and every little step along the way have not been carefully looked at, the end result is hanging and dimpled chads and several thousand disenfranchised voters.

Unfortunately my brief time in the election business showed me that there are some people involved who aren't in it to ensure a fair and accurate process but rather like just about any other business are only it for their own personal advancement desires. The system if fraught with hypocrisy. Fortunately for all of us in the state, Marge, in charge of elections for the past 26 years in the biggest county in the state, was all about integrity. I'm not sure I've ever come across another person in all my years that I trusted more. When I entered election chaos in 1996 Marge was one I called and called often to get much needed information. She never let me down. Through the years I've been lucky enough to get to call her a friend and I'm all the much better for it.

At the retirement get together for a great great person the turnout at the Maplewood Outback restaurant was tremendous. Several people of differing divisions of life turned out to honor one who through the years through her devotion to absolute integrity in our election process has earned absolute admiration. I was glad I was able to share in the moment. Those that follow have mighty big shoes to fill. Virtue isn't something blowing in the wind. Rather it's something we all could learn a lesson from. Thank you Marge.

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