State Capitol Perspective: Bachmann leaves no bones

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol Reporter

Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann gained a statewide profile while carrying the proposed same-sex marriage ban constitutional amendment while serving in the Minnesota Senate. (Photo by T.W. Budig)
Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann gained a statewide profile while carrying the proposed same-sex marriage ban constitutional amendment while serving in the Minnesota Senate. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

Michele Bachmann didn’t care two cents for the barking dogs.

One windy, cold autumn afternoon in 2002, a reporter accompanied then state Sen. Bachmann while she door knocked on doors in a part of Lino Lakes. Redistricting pitted Bachmann against an incumbent Democratic state senator, and the race was one to watch.

Bachmann had no intention of losing.

She walked so quickly between the front doors that it was hard to take a picture of her. A Bachmann campaign worker a day or two earlier had had the lining of her jacket removed by one of the north metro’s finest. She showed dazzling indifference to the wildly barking suburban dogs, running loose or straining their collars. Bachmann’s Democratic opponent carried dog biscuits to appease these constituents.

Not Bachmann.

It’s all your attitude, she said, striding by another pin-wheeling dog. She never explained exactly what the attitude was.

Anyway, when voters answered the door, Bachmann was good. Really good, with comments like, “What? You had baby just two weeks ago? Oh, you look so good!” to one beaming, young mother.

Bachmann was nothing like the finished product she became. Glimmers were there.

When she first came to the Senate, Bachmann was something of bomb thrower on the Senate floor. Once a Democratic state senator walked by a knot of reporters twirling his index finger in the air while Bachmann spoke.

“Black helicopter!” he whispered.

But Bachmann quickly acquired the fixed pleasantness of a pol.

She really began her political climb as Senate author of the proposed same-sex marriage ban constitutional amendment. It now seems almost quaint. Activists stood long hours outside the Senate chamber, banners spilling over the steps, waiting for Senate floor votes that didn’t come.

One image remains indelible.

It was a late session, late at night, or more precisely, early in the morning. A group of weary, crestfallen amendment supporters stood on the steps outside the Senate chamber. Bachmann stood a step or so above, consoling them, A lone television camera man came up from below, his camera light illuminating Bachmann against the flat greys of marble.

With hands upraised, Bachmann might have floated to into the sky. Instead, she went to Congress.

A Politico political autopsy diagnosed the departing congresswoman as having little actual interest in legislation. That was true when she served in the state Senate.

Once, after witnessing a DFL-controlled Senate committee reject one of her signature bills, a reporter asked Bachmann whether she was disappointed.

No, Bachmann said. She didn’t expect the bill to pass.


In Congress, Bachmann reportedly gave House Republican leaders fits. She was unpredictable, something politicians hate. Minnesota Republican State Capitol leaders, too, had a hard time trusting Bachmann.

A Politico writer pinpoints Bachmann’s entrance onto the national stage as Oct. 17, 2008, when she went on MSNBC’s “Hardball” and talked about “anti-American views” and other things that caused jaws to slacken.

A more telling moment perhaps was in January 2007 when newly elected Bachmann made national news by grabbing then President George Bush after his State of the Union Address and not releasing the most powerful leader on earth for about 30 seconds.

Critics panned Bachmann for showing teenage-style exuberance unworthy of a member of Congress.

But was it actually a beautifully planned, attention-grabbing maneuver?

Or was it sheer luck, sheer opportunity, sheer audacity?

Take your pick. But it was Bachmann.

A small digression: It has always been puzzling how an intelligent, observant person like Bachmann became known for gaffs, misstatements and the brutalization of simple facts.

All politicians live in bubbles, more or less. But Bachmann’s bubble could be particularly small. Perhaps, if an inhabitant would wipe away the condensation, you’d see the congresswoman, husband Marcus, and a few others.

In such a world, probably not a lot of probing questions are asked. Certainly, not a lot seeps out.

One House Republican, who knows Bachmann well and considers her a mentor, chatted with her at the Stillwater bridge ground breaking ceremony just hours before Bachmann posted her farewell video. The fact that she was about to bow out of Congress never came up.

Without a doubt, Bachmann is one of the best known Minnesota politicians in a generation. She may be one the best known ever.

But the new generation of Republican leaders at the State Capitol seem more inclined to look ahead than back.

A long time ago, a quick-moving Republican state senator strode pass the barking dogs and on that day wasn’t so much as nipped.

It’s all a question of attitude, she said.

That Michele Bachmann has.


Tim Budig can be reached at [email protected].

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