Walz prepares for life in D.C.
By Edward Felker
MANKATO — Fresh off his upset victory in the 1st District, Democratic Rep.-elect Tim Walz on Wednesday began the transition from high school teacher to incumbent politician.
He immediately felt the change following Tuesday evening’s concession call from Rep. Gil Gutknecht, a Republican from Rochester.
"It was Nancy Pelosi, Rahm Emanuel, all these people started calling and saying, ‘You did it, you did it,’" Walz told high school volunteers Wednesday at Mankato West High School, where he teaches.
It also was apparent, he said in an interview, when he emerged from his private suite at the downtown Mankato Holiday Inn to a thunderous ovation at the DFL party in a nearby ballroom.
"I noticed right after we came downstairs. People were treating me differently," he said.
Dressed in torn blue jeans, a gray University of Minnesota T-shirt and a brown farmer’s overcoat, Walz told the students that he hopes to remain a neighbor and teacher. He plans to apply for a five-year leave from his position at the high school, and his family plans to remain in Mankato for the time being.
His wife, Gwen, also works in Mankato’s public schools, and they have two children, including a newborn. Many members of Congress commute home on weekends, and Walz said he is prepared to fly regularly to and from Washington.
It will clearly be a busy two years for Walz, 42, starting almost immediately. After making the rounds in the district’s biggest cities today, he was to travel to Washington for a week-long orientation starting Sunday.
There, he is to participate in Democratic caucus elections, expected Nov. 16, and lobby for his committee assignments.
Walz was touted immediately as one of the keys to the new House majority by Emanuel, a Democrat from Chicago who heads the House campaign committee and is likely to seek the post of majority whip. He pointed to Walz at a news conference Wednesday as one of four military veterans among the 34 new Democrats elected Tuesday. Emanuel earlier this year included Walz among Democratic hopefuls to watch.
Others who helped his campaign are looking to Walz now that he’s to join the House.
Walz was the only active teacher elected to office on Tuesday, and teachers unions, which endorsed Walz and encouraged their members to vote for him, will hope for his help when the House takes up reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind education law next year, said Education Minnesota President Judy Schaubach.
The group counts 70,000 state teachers in its membership and is affiliated with the AFL-CIO, American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association.
"A lot of people dealing with these laws have no idea about implementing them," she said.
The unions want Walz and others to push back against what Schaubach called federal intrusion and micromanagement into the classroom. "It’s going to be essential to have people in there who understand the realities of public education."
Humor on the air
Walz joked on Al Franken’s Air America Radio show Wednesday about the impact of his election on national politics. He pointed to the quick resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld early Wednesday, which he had urged.
"I said in an interview one of the first things I would do is ask Donald Rumsfeld to get out, and that’s already happened. I’m already effective," Walz said, laughing.