In my ongoing consultations with politicians regarding their campaign messaging, I had the opportunity to interview Don Slaten who is running for the House of Representatives in the Minnesota legislature for his District 54B. I caught up with him at Wildcats Bar and Grill in Eagan, MN. He had just returned from watching his seven-year-old grandson play baseball.
Don is a gentle bear of a man who claims he has worn a beard since he returned from his Vietnam era tour of duty in the Navy where his submarine trolled the war zone to pick up downed fliers, among other tasks. One caveat of my interview was not to disclose Don’s political party. I wanted to allow this lifelong community servant and collaborator to express his views without readers holding a preconception of Don as friend or foe. The Gallup Poll reports the job approval rating of congress to have fallen well below the 33% historic level. In January 2014, it was 13%. I want those running for political office to win because they understand the value to their constituents of finding common ground. This will go a long way toward reducing the current state of cynicism toward politicians.
The following are excerpts from my interview with Don on June 17th, 2014:
What characteristics or qualities are most important to you?
Being actively involved and taking part in all things that interest me – that being politics, VFW, civic groups and family.
Why is involvement the key?
I’ve always been a rather social animal. And I do well in a group think area. I’ve always called myself a ‘centralist’, which would be trying to pull the right and the left into the middle on every issue. Doesn’t always work but most of the time I am able to accomplish that.
What divides us?
Us being everybody? Corporations, companies, GOPers, DFLers?
However you want to answer it. You can nail that down to a small group, a big group?
We are divided over ideology, religion, and oil – those who are fervent believers and those who are fallen believers and those who are agnostics.
So religion and ideologies divide us, and if you had the most powerful magic wand how would you bridge those divides?
People have been trying to do that for 3000 years. And it hasn’t happened yet. All the killing in the Middle East that goes on is over religion and ideology and nothing else. All we have done by fighting, by going to Iran and Iraq and Afghanistan is make more people hate us around the world. Nothing has been gained despite all the American troops over there and the American deaths, not a darn thing has been gained. It’s almost still as big a quagmire today as it was 12 years ago.
Ah, wave a magic wand and everybody would love their sister and their brother like their own sister and brother. We’ve come a long way since the 1960’s through the peace movement, through the women’s liberation movement, through the Vietnam War protestor movement – part of the problem with today’s 12 year war is that the protests that moved from Vietnam did not revitalize itself in the younger generation.
The protests, yes. The marches on Washington, the marches on state capitols, the marches on the college campuses.
What is your read on that? Why do you think it didn’t duplicate itself in the next generation?
My generation raised our children so that they had everything they could have wished for. We had good paying jobs, good paying union jobs, good paying non-union jobs, we could provide for our children. They had no want, they had no need.
It’s the Great Middle Class.
The Great Middle Class. And the middle class has disappeared with all the jobs that went with NAFTA.
Do you think there is a generation coming that is going to rise up and protest?
Oh it’s gonna happen and when it happens, it’s going to happen big time. When you look at this new Trans-Pacific Partnership that has been worked on by the corporations alone without any overlook by Congress, if that were to fast-track and be passed, that great sucking sound south of the border that Ross Perot talked about in the 1988 elections is going to look like a runaway train in comparison to NAFTA.
You are a bridge builder and a collaborator – where do you fall on the comprehensive immigration laws and ideas, – people have been here for 20 years or have raised their children here and they can’t get status?
Those people who have come here both legally and illegally should be made able to become American citizens. Their children had no choice in the matter that they were brought here as little babies or that they were born here. If they were born here, they are automatically American citizens, – their parents who are not – we are still deporting those parents while their children are still here. Those people being deported are many times going back to countries whose government has changed, they have very little of that language and culture left in them and they have held low wage jobs in our country that most Americans otherwise would not do. They deserve a shot at citizenship.
What bothers you about the world or society?
The lack of the far right able to meet the far left in the center. The (government) shutdown in the state of MN did not have to happen.
Would you say government shutdowns in general bother you?
Darn right they have, even at the federal issue.
Regardless of which party orchestrates them?
Either way. They are needless. A union going out on strike is needless but they have to get their point across when management refuses to meet in the middle ground for pay raises and job issues.
So basically, shutdowns are the result of people not meeting in the middle?
When you see a shutdown or a strike or basically what we are talking about is…
A lack of communication
…something that happens that causes zero productivity because ideologies are at war?
That is a good way to put it.
What do you wish would change about those situations in general, the shutdowns, the strikes, what do you wish for?
I wish for more collaboration, and for a working wage for every American. Minimum wage doesn’t raise anyone’s boat out of the water, to paraphrase a quote by Paul Wellstone. We all deserve to have enough to feed and clothe and house our families. Those at the top certainly should have enough money being the so-called job creators but how many houses do you need and how many cars do you need and how many millions and billions do you need in the bank until you’re satisfied?
If you were going to tell people from the other party why they should vote for you or what or how you would represent them, what would you say to them?
They should vote for me because I have a proven history of drawing people together to accomplish good for everybody, not just one side or the other.
That is an amazing mission statement.
Yeah, it is isn’t it? When you think about it.