Earlier this year when MN State Senator Kevin Dahle made an appointment with the Political Awareness Committee (PAC) to speak at St. Olaf, he thought he “would come as a Senator expecting another term.” Instead, Dahle is now in his final days of office after losing a close election to Republican challenger Rich Draheim.
Dahle’s talk, titled “Trump’s election and the future of campaign politics,” took place on Nov. 29 in Buntrock Commons’ Heritage Room. Dahle began with a brief account of his political career. He has taught Advanced Placement (AP) Civics and Government for almost 33 years, and for more than 20 years he has resided and taught in Northfield. Over the span of his career, Dahle has won two elections and lost two, and he shared his insights on the role of voter turnout and independent candidates.
“We know what the turnout is going to be, we know what percentage we would like to have,” Dahle said about the dynamics of winning a campaign. “It is a matter of getting that extra number of supporters to vote for you.”
On independent candidates, Dahle shared his experience from the 2010 election. Dahle and the Republican candidate were separated by less than two percentage points at 42 and 44 percent, respectively, while the third-party candidate took 14 percent of the votes.
The spoiler effect the independent voter would have in the election was clear in the campaign’s early stages.
“I knew I was in trouble when he was in the debates [saying], ‘You know, I agree with Senator Dahle,’ or, ‘You know, I could not have said that better than Senator Dahle,’” he related. Dahle wanted to ask, “Then why are you running?”
Dahle answered several questions from students later on in the discussion. One student asked whether Minnesota could turn from a reliably blue state and Democrat stronghold to a swing state within the next decade. While conceding that the last election was “a surprise to many people,” Dahle expressed doubt that Minnesota would undergo such a reversal.
“You cannot assume the state is going red because I cannot believe that Trump is going to be able to fulfill the promises he made,” Dahle said. “He made a lot of promises. And he cannot turn around the economic [forces] that have been so hard on so many people.”
On the other hand, Dahle expressed a degree of uncertainty for the future, since “people want change.” The next presidential election, according to him, is going to be “huge” in many ways, and he wondered if Trump would run again, and if so, how successful he would be.
Many questions from students concerned education, specifically how the landscape of public school might change following Trump’s election. Dahle first clarified that the question applied at both the state and federal level and that he personally did not worry about education at the federal level, given that the overwhelming majority of education policies are enacted at the state level. For example, states hold power for multiple aspects of education such as licensing teachers, funding schools and setting the academic standards for graduation.
Nevertheless, Dahle cautioned that there will be changes at the state level now that many state legislators are Republicans who may have different goals and ideas on how to allocate the budget. All of these proposals are then subject to public judgment and could even be argued before the State Supreme Court. Because of all this, according to Dahle, there could be relatively few changes to education at the state level in the short term, but in the long-term “we might see some changes.”
Another question concerned civic education and whether it should be required in schools. According to Dahle, Minnesota currently offers AP courses in politics, economics and global studies. Despite teaching AP civics and government for a large portion of his life, Dahle took an oppositional stance on this matter. Civic education, he believes, is more than factual knowledge and deals with “how to be a responsible citizen.”
That being said, Dahle supported public school civic education in “a better model,” without elaborating what exactly such a model would entail. As a start, however, he suggested integrating civic education into extracurricular activities or civic organizations.
At the end of the talk, Dahle expressed his concern for the current situation. Referring to his colleague on the current trend of nationalism and anti-immigrant sentiment, he said “we need to do something.” Yet, he is still optimistic about the future, stating that though we might be in a wrong direction at the moment, we can be taken back in the future by another leader.
Meanwhile, Dahle appreciated St. Olaf students’ participation in the event and advocated for more involvement of younger generations in politics.
“I hope that this election to you means something,” Dahle said. “Whether it is good or bad, it makes you want to stay involved.”