This is my first post for the Star Tribune and it isn’t about analyzing the upcoming elections. This post is personal. It’s not about politics and policy, it's not about being a Republican or Democrat. It's about life. It's about getting back up on the horse after you've been thrown off.
As I walked into Tom Emmer's campaign office last week, Emmer was sitting at his desk, working through a long list of people to which he was sending handwritten notes of appreciation. I wanted to interview Emmer because I see more than just another candidate running for office. Emmer’s been kicked off a few horses – very publicly. But each time, Emmer has picked himself back up and tried again.
Take a step back and forget for a few moments that Emmer is a candidate for public office. I believe you’ll see he’s already overcome a major hurdle, one that unfortunately traps others who have stumbled: It’s ok to believe in yourself again, after you’ve fallen.
In 2010, Emmer was the endorsed Republican candidate for governor and I was the deputy chair of the Republican Party of Minnesota. We traveled all across Minnesota and I heard him speak more times than I can remember and observed him give countless interviews. After a bruising campaign, Emmer lost a close election to Mark Dayton.
Four years later, both Dayton and Emmer will appear on a ballot again, but for different offices. Governor Mark Dayton is running for re-election and Emmer's current trajectory has him on the path to becoming the next congressman from the 6th Congressional District. The election is months away and Emmer isn't taking anything for granted. He won the endorsement of the Republican Party at the 6th Congressional District convention. Emmer was showing up at the office very early before he was endorsed and there's no sign he's slowing down now.
Emmer is confident, yet humble. He commented that when he ran for governor in 2010, it took awhile for him to think of himself becoming the chief executive of the state. "I'm the guy who lives next door and comes over when you have the barbeque going and we tell Sven and Ole jokes," said Emmer.
He added that while he knows who he is as a person, he isn’t infallible or done learning. "I’m not going to change who I am. I’m open to being corrected and learning things that I don't know, and evolving, but I know who I am,” said Emmer.
Emmer and I discussed his 2010 campaign for governor, but the questioning wasn’t about why the mistakes happened or who was to blame, but what he learned. Emmer complimented his campaign advisors from 2010, but said, "the day after the endorsement, we struggled, we stumbled...it was my failure."
But Emmer learned from 2010, and he calls his 2014 post-endorsement campaign transition to the general election "seamless." Aside from being laser-focused on winning in November, Emmer said he wants his campaign operation "to be a part of the team" that will "add value" to Republicans running across Minnesota. Emmer said he wants to help bring "Jim Ramstad and Michele Bachmann on the same stage" because he wants Republicans, "all pulling in the same direction."
Throughout the interview, the evolution of Emmer from 2010 to 2014 was shown. Emmer said, "I’d rather win people over, than run people over" and I asked him if he would have made that statement four years ago. Emmer responded, "I don’t think I recognized it four years ago."
Emmer was clear that his campaign for Congress is a team effort, which includes Emmer’s family. Emmer and his wife, Jacquie, are parents to seven children (six boys and one girl). One of Emmer’s sons was working in the next room during our interview and his daughter Katie has been very involved with the campaign.
But Emmer saved his strongest praise for Jacquie, who he called "the best" and that she “loves the people and loves the events." Emmer was the most animated in our interview when he described how Jacquie and Katie spent days baking close to 800 Minnesota shaped cookies for the 6th Congressional District Republican convention. The perfectly shaped cookies, which included the Northwest Angle, were carefully frosted, wrapped with plastic and tied with blue and gold ribbon - the campaign colors for Emmer.
Emmer said that Jacquie and Katie were very helpful in making delegate calls, as Emmer said he doesn’t "like down-time, as you’re got to continue to contact your people and offer and invite." The strategy worked, as Emmer won the Republican Party’s endorsement at the 6th Congressional District convention on the first ballot with 76 percent of the vote.
We ended the interview by talking about second chances and opportunities. Emmer said, "I don’t look at this as my second chance, I can’t tell you how many chances I’ve been given in life." He added, "humility is a great thing, if you’re willing to experience and learn from it."
The Tom Emmer from 2010, has clearly evolved and his experiences over the last few years have prepared him for his run for Congress.
Emmer concluded by saying, "it's not what we’ve done in our life, it’s what we’ve learned from what we've done in our life and how we’ve attempted to use it to help other people, so they don't make the same mistakes we’ve made. I think that’s what it’s all about."