Sen. Mary Olson, Bemidji’s freshman Democrat state senator, picked up an opponent for her 2010 re-election bid — and it’s another Democrat.
Greg Paquin, a Bemidji pipe fitter and American Indian, chose the blogosphere last week to announce that he wants the Senate 4 post now held by Olson and that he will seek it as a Democrat. He says he has nothing personal against Olson, but that an American Indian should have the Senate 4 seat, as well as both House seats and the two House seats and Senate seat in the Senate 2 district. And he says so in a letter he wrote to Brian Melendez, Minnesota DFL Party chairman and posted on the E-Democracy forum Web site that serves the Bemidji area.
"Native (Anishinabe)Americans are the largest single minority population in the State of Minnesota and we have no representation in the State Legislature; anyone can see that this is unfair. I intend to try to change this with or without the support of the Minnesota Democratic Farmer-Labor Party; I would like to do this with support from the DFL if at all possible, if not, I will use other means. As a long-time union member of the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the United States and Canada (UA), I have always been a loyal supporter of the Minnesota Democratic Farmer-Labor Party." he writes Melendez.
"Minnesota Native(Anishinabe) Americans, including myself, have repeatedly sought assistance from the local DFL elected public officials who we helped in every way to elect. We now need their help on a variety of issues of importance to us from jobs to education, housing and health care and environmental concerns, we find ourselves shut out of the political and decision-making process by these same politicians who could not have been elected without the votes of Anishinabe people who are now ignoring our problems and concerns when it comes to doing things by way of finding solutions. Solutions which are often as simple as doing what is right to make sure Anishinabe people get jobs. Often we don’t even hear about jobs until the work is completed. How do others hear about jobs, even in our own communities, before we do? This is not right," he adds.
In talking with Paquin on Thursday, he said he did not receive a response from Melendez but instead from Pam McCrory, the Senate 4 DFL chairwoman, who told him he would have to go through the process, which is the precinct caucuses next winter, the county DFL convention and then having enough delegates to secure the DFL endorsement next spring. “He said just have him go through the process like anybody else does,” Paquin said. “This is the problem — going through the process like anybody else doesn’t take into account the social political factors that have prevented us from getting into the position of getting there in the first place.”
Olson, for her part, has actively engaged the American Indian community and carried legislation for the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, including funding for a traditional values substance abuse treatment centerfor reservation youth. This past session, she secured funding for Ojibwe and Dakota language preservation. And she also collaborates with the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council. And newly elected Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, works for the Leech Lake band as an environmental consultant.
Still, Paquin doesn’t think either have done enough to ensure that affirmative action policies are followed to employ more American Indians. He’d like to see affirmation action in place at the Bemidji Regional Event Center construction site, as well as allowing Indians to organize in unions on the Red Lake Reservation. In fact, Paquin started his own union, Native American Labor Union No. 121, which neither the Red Lake Tribal Council nor the AFL-CIO will officially recognize.
Paquin is also critical of tribal governments locally, saying they are selling out to the wealthier Twin Cities-area tribes which are heavily invested in new casino operations at Leech Lake and in casino construction at Red Lake.
Paquin says he’s been sober for 13 years and wants jobs for young American Indians, to show them there are ways out of poverty and substance abuse. "I went through pure hell in my years of alcohol abuse," he says, "an d I don’t want to see other people turn to that, and make that political correct to live that kind of a life,because there’s nothing more horrible than the waste of a person’s spirit than to be stuck in those places. There are a lot of native stuck in that place, and it’s sad to say, there’s a lot of white people stuck in that place as well."
He says he has "no ill will toward that woman (Olson) or anybody else, it’s just that I refuse to stand by and let affirmative action rules … got totally unmentioned."
Paquin, a virtual unknown politically, will find a tough time getting DFL endorsement over a popular incumbent in Olson. He hosted the "We Shall Remain" conferences in January at Bemidji State’s American Indian Resource Center. They were designed to gain input from Indian folks on their issues and concerns and generate discussion. No elected official attended, Paquin lamented.
He says he will challenge Olson in the DFL primary regardless of the endorsement process, giving Olson potentially a divisive race that she must reunite after the primary to face an as yet unknown Republican. Bemidji insurance agency owner John Carlson had already geared up his would-be 2010 campaign against Olson when he switched gears to face Persell in 2008 for the House 4A seat. He may turn his attention to the Senate race,if convinced by local GOP supporters. Olson defeated Carrie Ruud of Breezy Point, and many don’t count her out either. She lost her bid for Minnesota State GOP Party chairwoman, so she may put her sights on a return match with Olson. She has little standing in the north half of the district, but has formidable support in the south half that includes part of Crow Wing County and the Gull Lake,Pequot Lakes, Breezy Point area that tilts the district to the GOP side. She has been an adjunct professor of political science at Bemidji State, so she may be making more inroads in the more tradionally Democrat part of the district.
At any rate, speculation abounds for a race that shouldn’t be heating up for a full year yet. There is no doubt, however, that whoever eventually wins, it won’t be a cakewalk to get there.