Saturday, October 18, 2008

Michelle Bachmann's Calculating Dominion 

"She is absolutely a cold, calculating person," says Gary Laidig, the Republican she unseated en route to the state Senate in 2000. "It's always the same with her on campaigns: Nobody really knows who she is, and she just comes across as this petite, attractive soccer mom. And that's it. But the fact is, she's part of a group that is absolutely determined to take over the Republican Party.

"She's kind of a spooky person. She's one of those people who feels that God is speaking directly to her, and that justifies her actions."

¹ Michelle Bachmann on Hardball, Oct 17, 2008. Via TPM

Excerpts from City Pages (Minneapolis / St. Paul):
The Chosen One
Michele Bachmann's recipe for success: Christian piety and not-so-Christian opportunism
G.R. Anderson Jr.
Published on October 04, 2006

Technically, Bachmann's political odyssey began in 1999, when she was part of a controversial slate of GOP-endorsed candidates for the traditionally nonpartisan Stillwater School Board. She and her compatriots lost that battle, collectively finishing at the bottom of the heap on Election Day. To date, it's the only election Bachmann has lost. She came back the very next year, mounting a stealthy and deadly-effective campaign to unseat incumbent GOP State Senator Gary Laidig, a Vietnam veteran and old-school Republican moderate who had represented the area in a state House or Senate seat since 1972.

But in a broader sense Bachmann had been honing her political chops and pursuing the role of uber-Christian public activist for years by that time. Back in 1993, she helped to start a Stillwater charter school that ran afoul of many parents and the local school board when it became apparent that the school—which received public money and therefore was bound to observe the legal separation of church and state—was injecting Christain elements into the curriculum. After Bachmann and company were driven out of that venture, she became a prolific speaker and writer on the evils of public education in the years leading up to her failed school board run.

By all accounts, she made herself into a formidable presence. "She's articulate, attractive, and speaks passionately," says Mary Cecconi, who spent eight years on the Stillwater School Board. "Actually, she is ferocious."

On the stump in 2006, Bachmann still calls education reform one of her "number one priority" issues, along with tax reform and homeland security. Her critics, in turn—who include a number of non-evangelical Republicans—point a wary finger at her ties to a religious conservative think tank called EdWatch, and contend that none of her five children has attended public school.


"She is absolutely a cold, calculating person," says Gary Laidig, the Republican she unseated en route to the state Senate in 2000. "It's always the same with her on campaigns: Nobody really knows who she is, and she just comes across as this petite, attractive soccer mom. And that's it. But the fact is, she's part of a group that is absolutely determined to take over the Republican Party. [...]

"At the end of the day, her politics are like this: Everyone will have a gun, nobody will have an abortion, no one will pay taxes, everyone will go to church, and there won't be any more pinko liberal teachers in school."


The couple soon moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where Bachmann enrolled in the Coburn Law School, a Bible-based institution affiliated with Oral Roberts University. According to one version of her résumé, she earned a Juris Doctorate at Coburn in 1986, and post-doctorate degree from William and Mary Law School in Virginia in 1988.

According to Bachmann's CV, she landed a job with "the federal U.S. Tax Court" in St. Paul in 1988. One church bio lists her title there as a "federal litigation tax attorney"—the only job besides being state senator that Bachmann notes on the campaign trail. Some of her critics have called the designation misleading. Setting the record straight in early 2005, Bachmann admitted to City Pages that she in fact worked for the IRS going after tax cheats, a fact she never mentions when she is rallying anti-tax sentiments on the stump.


She didn't always stay at home, though. Increasingly, Bachmann was hitting the church and school circuit as a speaker, railing against what she deemed to be unreasonable federal and state mandates for education. She was a prized pupil in something called the Maple River Education Coalition, which later became EdWatch. (Former Governor Jesse Ventura once said of them, "The Maple River group, they think UFOs are landing next month. They think it's some big government federal conspiracy!") According to the mission statement on its website, EdWatch is concerned about the "undermining" of "constitutional freedoms" due in part to the country's "entire educational system." In the words of one editorial column reposted at the site, "Public education is not among the enumerated powers of the federal government."

Note: EdWatch board of directors includes far right executive director of Gun Owners of America Larry Pratt. - See: www.edwatch.org/mredco_staff.html#Pratt
From Southern Poverty Law Center:
Eight Lanes Out
Larry Pratt, 58

Larry Pratt, a gun rights absolutist whose Gun Owners of America (GOA) has been described as "eight lanes to the right" of the National Rifle Association, may well be the person who brought the concept of citizen militias to the radical right.

In 1990, Pratt wrote a book, Armed People Victorious, based on his study of "citizen defense patrols" used in Guatemala and the Philippines against Communist rebels — patrols that came to be known as death squads for their murderous brutality.

Picturing these groups in rosy terms, Pratt advocated similar militias in the United States — an idea that finally caught on when he was invited for a meeting of 160 extremists, including many famous white supremacists, in 1992.

It was at that meeting, hosted in Colorado by white supremacist minister Pete Peters, that the contours of the militia movement were laid out.

Pratt, whose GOA has grown since its 1975 founding to some 150,000 members today, hit the headlines in a big way when his associations with Peters and other professional racists were revealed, convincing arch-conservative Pat Buchanan to eject him as a national co-chair of Buchanan's 1996 presidential campaign.

The same year, it emerged that Pratt was a contributing editor to a periodical of the anti-Semitic United Sovereigns of America, and that his GOA had donated money to a white supremacist attorney's group.

Pratt is today close to the extremist Constitution Party and its radical theology.

Anytime there was a school issue in the east metro, Bachmann was there. "In 1993 or '94, Michele was stumping anti-standards rhetoric," longtime Stillwater School Board member Mary Cecconi recalls. "I went to a church in Lake Elmo, because I wanted to hear her. Everything she said was met with catcalls and 'hallelujah' and 'amen sister.'"

Robin Eley By this time, Bachmann had become one of the founders of the New Heights Charter School, one of the first charter schools in the country. By law, charter schools have to be overseen by a public school district because they are funded, at least in part, by public money as tax-exempt nonprofits. In the fall of 1993, Denise Stephens had one daughter teaching at the school, and one daughter enrolled in the ninth grade. It was the first year that school at New Heights was in session as part of the Stillwater school district.

According to Stephens, it became clear that the charter school's board of directors was populated with right-wing Christians, all of them seeming acolytes of Bachmann. "I started raising questions about whether we were using public money to fund a religious school," Stephens recalls. Among the proposals coming from Bachmann and company was to expand the curriculum to teach creationism. The directors of the charter school, she recalls, were also advocating that "something called '12 Christian principles' be taught, very much like the 10 Commandments." One of the final straws for Stephens, who notes that she's been "a Republican since 1978," was that school officials would not allow the Disney movie Aladdin to be shown because it involved magic and supposedly taught paganism.

Stephens and other parents soon had confrontational meetings with Bachmann and the rest of the charter school group. "One member of Michele's entourage talked about how he had visions, and that God spoke to him directly," Stephens says. "He told us that as Christians we had to lay our lives down for it. I remember getting in the car with my husband afterward and telling him, 'This is a cult.'"

(This closely echoes something former state Senator Laidig says about Bachmann: "She's kind of a spooky person. She's one of those people who feels that God is speaking directly to her, and that justifies her actions.")

Eventually, the Bachmann and Stephens forces met in front of the Stillwater School Board. When confronted, according to Stephens, Bachmann grew angry: Are you going to question my integrity? she demanded. According to Stephens and others, Bachmann and four others resigned on the spot that night, offering what could be described as religious trash-talk on the way out. Bachmann still cites the charter school as a major accomplishment, but makes no mention of her leaving.


On the campaign trail, Michele Bachmann has said her husband grew up on a family dairy farm in western Wisconsin. According to a brief biography that ran in the Forest Lake Times when Bachmann and Associates opened an office there in March 2005, he earned a master's degree in counseling from Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia, a school then affiliated with Christian Broadcasting Network pitchman Pat Robertson. Bachmann later was awarded a doctorate in clinical psychology from an institution listed as Union Graduate School on his clinic's website, an apparent reference to Union Institute in Cincinnati, though nothing on either of the Bachmanns' public résumés suggests they ever lived in Ohio.


But Michele Bachmann's Christian testimony has not endeared her to everyone in her family. When Bachmann held a hearing on the gay marriage ban at the Capitol last April, she got a rude surprise: Sitting just a few feet away was her stepsister, Helen LaFave, who chose the occasion to come out publicly for the first time, with her partner of 20 years in attendance. "This issue has been very hurtful to me personally, and divisive for our family," LaFave told the Star Tribune at the time. Bachmann said at the time that she had taken a family vote on the gay marriage ban, and that family members favored it by a 6-3 margin. But both Michael and Helen LaFave insist she never spoke to them about it. Helen LaFave added that Bachmann ignored letters LaFave had sent her about the matter.

(Helen LaFave, 46, declined to be interviewed for this story, saying, "My dad is in his 80s now, and it's too much to have all of this out there for him.")

"I've got to be clear that I've always been kind of proud of Michele," Michael LaFave says cautiously. That all went sour, though, as Bachmann increasingly became the face of the efforts to ban gay marriage at the Capitol. LaFave had no choice but to take things personally: "I wrote her an e-mail, and asked very nicely why she had to carry the water on this, knowing that my father has a gay daughter. How could she discriminate against Helen?

"She's out there courting a family values agenda, but she's saying things about her own family that's not true," he claims. "She could have been talking to the voters the whole time about having a gay sister," he says. "That at least would have been honest. [...]

"What I'd say to Michele is that you've got a situation here that you didn't have to create. You didn't have to go about it this way," he says, and pauses before announcing he'll likely vote for Patty Wetterling. "I'd say, 'Michele, for all of this, you've lost your family. You've lost my vote.'"


[...] Bachmann was on a congressional candidate panel at Farm Fest 2006, in Redwood Falls, far out of her district. There were displays of farm equipment everywhere, and about 300 people had gathered under a white tent to hear the candidates field questions. Bachmann immediately made a point of saying she "married a dairy farmer" and spoke of the days when she and Marcus would milk the cows on his father's farm.

"That's something that certainly doesn't fit with my image of Michele," chuckles Michael LaFave when told of this. Bachmann is petite to the point of looking frail. She often is surrounded by people—supporters, staffers, fellow politicians, Marcus—who seem intent on sheltering her from any outside forces. From a distance, she looks youthful and composed. Up close, she appears at once older and less self-assured. In short, she's made for television. At Farm Fest, she looked completely out of her element.

There were complicated questions about farm policy—What's your stance on crop insurance? Should the current farm bill be extended?—that, in fairness, made sense to only four or five of the nine candidates on the panel. But while some candidates simply admitted as much, Bachmann repeatedly referred to "marrying into a farm family" in weaving answers that never quite got around to the questions.

In response to a complex question about setting up a permanent disaster fund for farmers and ranchers who raise beef cattle, Wetterling balked and admitted she didn't really understand the question or have an answer. Bachmann, by contrast, dove right in. "I appreciate the question, because on our dairy farm, we raise beef cattle as well," she began. "One thing we can never, ever, ever get away from is that we are not two separate entities: Commodities. Livestock. If there's anything that can interact, it's commodities and livestock. Without commodities, you don't have livestock. It's just that simple."

She concluded by noting that, as a mother of the sum of 28 children, she has learned that when families don't get fed, "they get cranky."

This drew a small chuckle from the crowd, but it was an uncomfortable one. One farmer turned to the one sitting next to him, shaking his head. "What the fuck is she talking about?" he wanted to know.


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