My mother grew up in St. Paul, and my father was born in Washington, DC. I was born at Andrews Air Force Base, my father having recently returned from war in Vietnam. When I was very young, my family moved across the country to California so that my father could pursue his dream of working with computers. When I was in middle school, he followed his dream even further and created his own company in our garage, but it didn’t work out. When he tried to re-enter the tech workforce he couldn’t find a job, so he worked as a volunteer who taught computer literacy to underprivileged children. Meanwhile, my mother worked as a hotel maid and retail clerk to pay the bills.
When I finished high school, I went to San Francisco State University. I wanted to run track and develop career skills, but I also wanted to grow, find my purpose. I waited tables to pay for college and continued to do so for a few years after graduation. It was a good life, but I felt driven to do something else, to learn more. I also wanted to see more of our country, so I moved to Maine. While I was there I completed a Master’s degree. In the late 1990s I moved to Minneapolis to earn a Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota, and then was hired as a professor of communication at Saint John’s University and the College of St. Benedict, where I’ve taught and researched for 20 years.
I met my wife Laurie while in Maine, and we’ve been together over 20 years. Laurie served as assistant principal at South Junior High, principal at Kennedy in St. Joseph, and she is now the Superintendent for District 742 Schools. We have two beautiful and silly children, Eliza (18) who will begin college this fall at St. Olaf, and Phineas (16) who attends St. Cloud Tech High School.
I’ve volunteered at their schools and coached their soccer teams, but I volunteer in the community and serve on the boards of five nonprofits too. I also do workshops about critical thinking, citizenship, and community for teachers in public schools throughout Minnesota and in the criminal justice system. In my down time I like to play basketball and soccer, camp and travel with my family, play video games with my kids, and re-watch Star Wars movies. But not the prequels.
I became a teacher because I had been blessed with so many great teachers in my life; I wanted to return the favor. Not all of our children get inspired. Too many get forgotten. Too many of our problems get forgotten, too much of our potential gets wasted, too many opportunities denied. I learned from my father and my teachers that you don’t sit back when things can be better. That’s why I chose to enter politics. I chose central Minnesota. I realized that after moving around so much, I’d finally found a home. Sometimes we just end up where we are, but I chose this life and this community, and I am driven to help it pursue our potential. In teaching and giving back to Central Minnesota, I have found my purpose.
In the Senate
In the last two years, I have had the honor of serving our community in the Minnesota Senate. During that time, I have held more town halls and listening sessions than all of the legislators in central Minnesota combined. Instead of relying on staff as most do, I’ve answered all my own correspondence. I’ve knocked the doors of people who’ve sent me angry emails. I hold open office hours almost every Friday. I have been, and will continue to be, deeply committed to representation and our community. Listening takes work. I’ve done that work.
I’ve done this work focused on our community, not party. No one cares if a Democrat or a Republican creates a job opportunity, helps them buy a home or educates their kids. I don’t either. Instead of being comfortable with partisan excuses, I’ve worked to create solutions.
I’ve authored legislation that would provide healthcare for childcare workers to inspire more people to do this work and help the rest of us get back to work. I’ve authored five bills that would help recruit and retain law enforcement officers, and been a vocal advocate for building relationships between law enforcement and the community. I’ve advocated for mental health supports in our public schools and passed the Hunger Free Campus Act into law so that people who are trying to improve their lives don’t have to choose between eating and paying tuition. I have been a very effective legislator. But we still have work to do. And we are the people who will do it.