With a teacher's help, Andover first-graders set out to make the black bear the 'state mammal.' They got some lip service before their efforts were dismissed.
One day, they discovered that Minnesota does not have a "state mammal." Having fallen in love with the bears, the kids said: Why don't we make the black bear the state mammal?
Coleman, seeing it as a teachable moment, researched the situation and launched an effort to get a bill introduced. She got her students' state senator and representative to sponsor it. She started a Facebook page and an online petition and collected more than 4,000 signatures.
The kids and their parents walked through the neighborhoods of Andover and got more signatures on paper petitions. Coleman thought getting the bill passed would not be that difficult. After all, it was for the kids.
We parents, however, were not as optimistic. There were a lot of issues facing the Legislature this year, and given all the fighting and the government shutdown last summer, it was clear that our Legislature does not run smoothly.
Also, with this being an election year, we knew legislators would be concerned about passing a "fluff" bill right before elections and likely did not care about making the black bear the state mammal, no matter how hard the kids had worked.
Then, miracle of miracles, we got a Senate committee to hear the bill and were promised a House committee hearing as well. We were ecstatic, but also surprised.
Were we too cynical about our state government? Could we actually tell our kids that legislators do listen to their citizens, even the kids, and that our political system does work?
Could we honestly tell them that our legislators represent the average citizen and not just special-interest groups and the interests of their largest donors? It gave me some hope that maybe there is some good in our state legislators after all.
I no longer have that hope. The promised House committee hearing never happened. We were told that it was because of an administrative problem, or that the hearing had been held up by the House leaders.
After talking with people at the Capitol, I know in my heart that the real reason the bill wasn't allowed to go forward was because it was a fluff bill that the legislators didn't want to have passed during an election year, and that legislators just didn't care because there was nothing in it for them.
I was even more disillusioned when I learned that a bill to make Lester soil our "state soil" worked its way through the process, was passed as part of a larger bill and now awaits the governor's signature.
The only difference between our bill and theirs was that the people supporting the Lester soil bill had hired a lobbyist. So I guess the real lesson that the kids learned from this whole experience is that when it comes to politics, it really is all about connections, money and self-interest.
What a great lesson for 6-year-olds to learn!
Vicki Froslee is a parent in Andover.
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