This is the second in the series; click here for the first conversation.
Although the majority of my high school classmates have moved to other parts of the state or the country, a not insignificant number have remained in or returned to Rochester since graduation. It doesn’t hurt that the economy has been consistently strong, the cost of living low, and the education of children generally commendable. Then, of course, the family factor. Although it isn’t the absolute factor, the desire for proximity to parents and grandparents has been a major reason for my classmates currently living in the area. This desire is certainly reflected in the conversation recorded for this post.
Last month, I was back in Rochester for 24 hours and had a chance to catch up with three classmates, including two currently residing in town. (The third lives 45 miles away but commutes to work at the Mayo Clinic.) One is Rich Wright, and upon seeing him I realized something I hadn’t realized before. When I thought about most of my classmates, I thought of them individually. When I thought about Rich, however, I thought of him both as an individual – he was one of the most well-rounded people I knew in high school (even though he claimed he was a “bad student” because he didn’t study that much) – and also as a brother to his siblings.
Of course, there were many siblings attending Lourdes at the same time. But Rich stood out for me because of his multi-racial family: his parents adopted two sisters from South Korea in addition to their three biological children. In fact, besides over a dozen of Vietnamese students, almost all of the Asian students at my time were adopted by white parents, including Allison Bennett, who came originally from South Korea and started with my class but moved to Colorado after sophomore year. (A non-adoptee and non-Vietnamese is Yvette Low, who came from Australia with an ethnic Chinese father and a white mother.) Race, obviously, created a mental association for me in this case.
Another thing that I remember distinctly about Rich is that he was in the same public speaking class with me in our junior year, which I mentioned at the start of the recorded conversation. But there are two things that didn’t occur to me until I transcribed the conversation below. Due to the nature of the class, in which each student gave four different speeches, that class was the only setting where my white classmates heard my voice for more than a couple of sentences. (Thanh Nguyen, another Vietnamese student, was also in that class. But he came to the U.S. a few years earlier, his English was a lot better than mine, and he conversed with the white students far more than I did.) It was, in other words, a big deal for me even though at the time I didn’t realize what a big deal it was. In addition, memories of that class reminded me of a specific memory about Rich himself. I forgot to tell him about it during our conversation, so let me include it here.
I remember working very hard at those speeches, and the content and delivery of the first two speeches were passable: the “persuasive” speech was about anticommunism; the “descriptive” or “informative” speech on the steps in the process of priestly formation for the Catholic Church. Dry stuff. But the third, the “entertaining” speech, was hilarious. Called “Why I Do Not Date,” it included a tongue-in-cheeks delivery, a lot of self-deprecating humor, and a solid structure from top to bottom. The cherry on top of the icing was an impromptu and perfectly timed reference to another student in class, a very sweet girl that would be voted homecoming queen the following year.
Thinking back to the laughter and applause at the end, I think it was probably the happiest time that I felt in a classroom during all of high school. In any event, I later ran into Rich in the hallway between classes. He was clearly still entertained by the speech and said with a smile, “Tuan, that was pretty funny.” Not only I remember it this day, but I even remember exactly the place where he said it: just outside the door of the classroom that Barbara Olson, the social science teacher, used to have her class. In fact, I remember it so well that I cannot remember what my last speech, the “demonstrative” one, was about.
Now, out of countless things said to me during high school, why do I distinctly remember a few words that Rich said thirty years ago? Memories are funny sometimes, aren’t they? I’ve given some thought to this question, and I believe I know why.
I think that I still remember what Rich said and where he said it because he, without knowing it, gave me the sort of validation that I, then a quietly ambitious teenager wanting to catch up and immerse in the mainstream of America, was subconsciously looking for. Of course, validation already came from the laughter generated in class during the speech – and laughter of approval is a strong kind of validation. Rich’s compliment was not primary but secondary validation. Nonetheless it reinforced the laughter in class. The validation was minor but not insignificant at all.
So interesting was this little episode, indeed, that were I empowered with the ability to impart one advice or suggestion to all overachieving and/or popular high school students in America today, I’d urge them to be a touch expressive in appreciating their underachieving peers, especially the shy or quiet ones. I don’t mean that they should go for the sort of “everyone gets a medal for trying” niceness. I don’t mean either that underachievers should depend on or look for recognition from popular or high-achieving students. Of course not. But I also think that popular students and high achievers, in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world, hold a good deal of influence, real or potential, over many of their peers. Their words of recognition to their peers, spoken or texted, could be just as important as the words of teachers and parents. And since I mention parents, I’d urge parents of popular and high-achieving junior high and high school students to do the same: to alert their children to this potential influence and encourage them to use it to contribute to the good of their high school communities.
But let’s go back to Rich Wright, who is one of (at least) two attorneys-at-law that my high school class has produced. The thing is, for the second time in his professional life, he is not practicing law these days. The reason is that he is running for public office for the third time, this time for the Minnesota State Senate. The first two times (2002 and 2014) were not successful; perhaps the third time will be the charm? To increase the odds, Rich has quit his day job to campaign full-time.
Indeed, I met up with him after he spent a four or five-hour stretch of knocking on hundreds of doors. We chatted over coffee at the Caribou’s across from the Hyvee Barlow Plaza, and the conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity. As the case with other conversations, my classmates asked a lot about me but I left out most of my responses so not to be repetitive – and to keep the focus on them. The notation [Laugh] means the speaker was laughing, and [laughs] indicates that both of us were laughing.
Tuan Hoang: Very glad to see you because I barely spoke with you at Lourdes.
Rich Wright: Well, you were very quiet.
Tuan: Yes, I guess I couldn’t say much, especially the first three years. Senior year, I think, I spoke a little more. But I remember having you in the same speech class taught by Denny Nigon [during junior year], and aside from learning about public speaking, it gave me the confidence to say more generally. It’s really incredible, years later, to see the richness of the lives that people in our class have led. It was great talking with Theresa Thein and Tim Bromelkamp last month, and it’s great seeing you today.
Let me start with your current campaign. Have you done this before?
CAMPAIGNING FOR POLITICAL OFFICE
Rich: I did, actually. Two years ago I ran for a house seat. The southern district is divided in halves. I ran for one of them.
Tuan: Which encompasses half of Rochester?
Rich: Yeah, pretty everything from Civic Center Dr. South to the county line, and then Broadway East to the county line. So it’s a big swath, including downtown Rochester.
Tuan: So it was a different race two years ago.
Rich: Yes, I ran for the rural part. It’s one area [drawing on table with fingers] and you have the downtown part here, which is 26A. Whereas 26B is Stewartville, Eyota… I ran for the southern part, which is very conservative. So we knew it was a tough, tough race. But it was a good set-up for the [current] senate race because it gave me name recognition. So now, when we knocked on doors in Stewartville, my little girl was like [voice imitating daughter], “Daddy, they remember you.” [Laughs] I was like, “Good, that’s the point.”
Tuan: Statistically, I think it’s difficult to run for statewide offices – I mean, state offices – and win the first time.
Rich: It’s tough, and it’s why I’m doing it full-time.
Tuan: Did you do that two years ago?
Rich: No, no.
Tuan: Is it like “lesson learned”?
Rich: You can’t have your job, fulfill your family obligations, and run for office at the same time. They are all full-time jobs, right? Something has to give, and I can’t give up the family. [Laughs.]
Tuan: And you have three kids? I saw the photos from your campaign website.
Rich: Yes. I have twins who are 16. And the youngest at 13.
Tuan: Awesome. Now for the current race, would you call it competitive?
Rich: Yes. I’m a Democrat, and when we started this race [for the Minnesota State Senate], it was a fifty-fifty race. It’s fifty Democrat, fifty Republican. That was two years ago, so I believe it’s actually little bit more Democrat now. So the technology is fascinating now. When I go knocking on doors, I don’t knock on hard-core Republican doors.
Tuan: How could you figure it out?
Rich: Because of technology. And I don’t knock on people who are always voting Democrat.
Tuan: Because you knew that they’re going to vote for you…
Rich: Then there is a group that needs persuasion, and that’s what I’m targeting.
Tuan: I probably belong to that group.
Rich: Many people do. Of the people in this group, a very high percentage said that they will support me. I just need to keep doing that. We’ll be fine. It will be tight, but I think that we’re going to pull it off. The general election will bring out more people than the midterm elections two years ago. And because of Trump, I like the chances.
Tuan: One of the things we hear a lot in the news is that many of Trump supporters come from working class whites, especially men, but others too. Is it true of the situation here?
Rich: I’ve knocked on thousands of doors and talked to thousands of people. Out of the thousands that I’ve talked to, I’ve had three people saying that they will vote for Trump.
Tuan: Wow, that’s very small.
Rich: Yes. And they were all sixty-year old white men, all three. Not one woman has said that she will vote for Trump. Most of the men in the forties and thirties and twenties, they have said they don’t plan to vote for him. Most of the men in the sixties and seventies have said the same. Minnesota didn’t vote for Trump [during the primaries].
Tuan: True, Cruz won Minnesota, and Bernie Sanders. Do the primary results play to your advantage?
Rich: I hope so. There is usually a trickle-down effect. This is a very weird election for this area because we have the presidential election, but the governor is not running. Neither of the senators is up for reelection. So there isn’t a statewide race as in most years. The biggest one for this area is the Congressional race. Then after that it is my race.
Tuan: When you ran two years ago, was there a primary?
Rich: No. The unique thing about two years ago, and the reason we lost, is that Democrats don’t go out to vote as much unless there is a presidential election. So we lost thirty-two percent of our votes [i.e., registered Democrats]. If one-third of your team is on the bench, you can’t win. That is what happened two years ago. This year, we should do well. The senate district here is more Democrat. We’ll do OK, I believe.
HIGH SCHOOL TO LAW SCHOOL
Tuan: I think you were involved in student government, right? Weren’t you class president?
Rich: Yes, council president, class president. I was class president in junior year.
Tuan: Which year that you were class president? Junior year? I looked quickly at one of the yearbooks at Tim Bromelkamp’s. I think Nora Breckle and Matt Mahoney were class officers in the freshman year.
Rich: I was involved all four years [in some capacity] and I was student council vice-president in the senior year. This is selfish of me. But the reason I didn’t run for class president the last year was… Well, I purposely ran for the vice president of the student council, not the class president or council president, because I knew that I won’t be responsible for class reunions. [Laughs.] So it is very selfish of me. I just knew I wouldn’t be able to do it.
Tuan: Did you continue being involved with student government at St. Olaf?
Rich: Not. At. All. [Laughs.] I did do it in law school. It was at Marquette and I was class president. Then I decided not to run anymore.
Tuan: How come?
Rich: I was living in Madison then, and I was commuting to Milwaukee. [Some friends] asked me why not. I just smiled at them and said, “Well, I think I should give the opportunity to the rest of you.” They said, “That’s a good point.” [Laugh] Well, different people did it each year.
Tuan: After law school, did you come back to Rochester right away?
Rich: No. You know, when I went up to St. Olaf, I swore I’d never marry a girl from St. Olaf because 80% of the people who went to St. Olaf found their spouses there. This is back in the 80s. So what did I do? I fell in love with a girl from St. Olaf.
Tuan: Of course. [Laugh]
SEATTLE YEARS AFTER LAW SCHOOL
Rich: So Lotte was a medical student.
Tuan: Lotte: so classically Minnesotan. [Laugh]
Rich: Yeah, it’s Danish. She’s from a Danish background. She ended up going to medical school at University of Wisconsin in Madison. And then she got her residency in Seattle.
Tuan: Oh wow. I was living in Seattle then.
Rich: Yes, [you and I] were there at the same time. We went out there in 1996 and lived until 2001.
Tuan: Is that right? Where were you in Seattle? I lived all ten years in Capitol Hill.
Rich: I spent a lot of time in Capitol Hill and will get to it. The first couple of years, we lived in Queen Anne Hill, uphill from the Space Needle. After Queen Anne, we bought a little house in Magnolia, near the fisherman’s terminal. When we got the twins, we walked the pier every night.
Tuan: Nice area. One of my favorite restaurants is right there, Chinook’s [at Salmon Bay].
Rich: Lotte’s pregnancy was very, very difficult. She was on bed rest for 87 days! The babies didn’t want to come out. So she was at Swedish [Hospital] during that time, and I stayed in the hospital. [Note: Swedish Hospital is in First Hill, which borders Capitol HIll.] And I ran. I ran in Capitol Hill every day. Every day! There was a nice view of the Kingdom. We watched it as it blew up. [Laugh]
Tuan: I remember that, I remember that. It was dramatic. When I went to Kingdom I thought of the Metrodome. Funny, but the only time I went there, it was watching the basketball team. The Sonics actually played there for one or two seasons as they were building the Key Arena.
Were all your kids born in Seattle?
Rich: No, just the twins. After one year we moved back here.
Tuan: I take it that you practiced law in Seattle?
Rich: Yes, I practiced law. When I graduated from Marquette, I was automatically admitted to the bar in Wisconsin. When I got to Seattle, I had to take the bar. Later when I moved back to Minnesota, I got to take the bar again.
Tuan: So you got exams in three states…
Rich: Just two because I didn’t have to take the bar exam in Wisconsin.
Tuan: So unusual. I’ve never heard of that before.
Rich: Well, it should be that way. You graduate from a school in the same state. The professors there should be to say, yeah, he or she is qualified to practice law in the state. [Note: This practice in Wisconsin is called “diploma privilege,” and graduates from Marquette Law School and UW Law School can apply for admission to the state bar without having to take an exam.]
Rich: When Lotte applied for residency, she interviewed at Seattle, San Francisco, and then Stanford. One of the reasons she decided on Seattle first is, actually, whether I could be able to get a job. In hindsight, we should have gone for Stanford because it’d be easier to get a job at one of the dot com companies.
Tuan: What is your specialization?
Rich: Now I do everything. But in Seattle, my job was general counsel for a dot com company. What were you doing in Seattle?
Tuan: Ok, it makes sense. Silicon Valley would be the best fit for working with dot com… But the late 1990s and early 2000s, it was a boom time. And you left just as the dot com bubble occurred.
Me, basically I went to St. Mary’s for the seminary, then I decided the priesthood wasn’t for me. I thought of a couple of things, like academics. But I wasn’t sure yet. In fact, it’d have been terrible if I went into academics then. It would come later. So I decided to do volunteer work. I joined the L’Arche community and worked with people with disabilities. There were three of us without disabilities living with four or five people with disabilities.
Tuan: It’s definitely not something I’d thought of when we graduated from high school. I left volunteer work after eight years. You must remember Northgate Mall? I then worked at Northwest Hospital, not far from there. In the kitchen, doing food and catering while studying for the GRE. I thought of literature, but realized (a) it wasn’t meant for me, and (b) I likely wouldn’t get into a strong program in grad school. History was in a way the default field. But it was also the right field. It was almost like a second career, you know, since I was well in my thirties going to grad school.
But Seattle, yeah, I loved it. For several reasons. I did get sick of the rain and the clouds, maybe because I had to wait for the bus all the time. But I really loved it. Have you been back there since you left?
Rich: My sister Erin lives there now. [Note: Erin is the younger of Rich’s adopted sisters.] And my sister Mary [Rich’s blood sister] now lives in Portland.
Tuan: Oh yes. Both were in the same class with my sister. I remember going to my sister’s graduation – it was the summer before my senior year in college – and Erin was the valedictorian and gave the valedictorian’s speech.
Rich: I don’t think I went to their graduation…
Tuan: No? It was at Lourdes. When we graduated, it was at the Mayo Civic Center. After we graduated, they build the new wing and graduation took place there each year.
Rich: Hmm, I guess I didn’t go. I must have been a horrible brother. [Laughs]
Tuan: Maybe you were traveling for something, northern Minnesota or somewhere in Europe…
Rich: It probably wasn’t that important. [Laughs]
FAMILY TRAVELS & KID NAVIGATION
Rich: Lotte travels a lot. I’m blessed because she travels a lot, and when she goes to Europe I usually went along.
Tuan: Is she a researcher?
Rich: She does internal medicine. But she does a lot of research on physicians’ well-being. It’s a top topic right now. She and some colleagues are pretty much worldwide experts, so she gives talks.
Tuan: Do your kids travel with you guys? There is a colleague of mine from another university. She’s an academic, and her husband is an academic. Whenever they go to a conference, they tag along their three or four kids.
Rich: Sometimes we’d take the kids with us. For example, Lotte had a conference in Orlando and we took the kids. I was in the military then. [Note: Rich was an Army Reserve for ten years.] And the military had a hotel on this property in Orlando, and it was cheap. It was very cheap, and so we all went.
Tuan: A nice deal.
Rich: [Chuckle] It was a very good deal. And when Lotte went to Chicago, we took the kids to Chicago. They loved Chicago. Lotte had a conference in New York, and she took one of the girls to that. She used to go every year to DC for a while. When she did that, she and I would take one child with us. We’d alternate [the kids] for five years. That was fun because the kids could see the Capitol and all that.
I did it to teach them how to navigate a city. So they’d be around eleven years old when they go. We’d be in a hotel and I say, “Where are we going?” They say, “Let’s go to the Air Space Museum.” So I say, “Great, how are we getting there?” They say, “By the train.” I ask, “Great, where is that at?” I would purposely make them figure it out. When we get to the train station, I’d ask, “How do we pay for our tickets?” “By the toll machine.” So I gave them my credit card and tell them, “Figure it out.”
Tuan: Nice! You’d give some guidance.
Rich: No, actually they have to figure it out all by themselves.
Tuan: Right. I shouldn’t said guiding them, maybe more like the Socratic Method… Asking questions so they could figure out for themselves.
Rich: Yeah, I was only a guardian. One time, one of them got on the wrong train. They said, “Oh no we got on the wrong train; what are we going to do?” I said, “Well, what are you going to do?” “We should turn around?” “Probably.” [Laughs] So we got off and went to the other platform.
That was then. Now they’re older and sometimes Lotte and I would go off for a week, and my mom and dad would take care of the kids.
Tuan: They’re still living in Rochester?
Rich: Yes, and Lotte’s parents live in Kasson and they come down to take care of the kids. I’d say to every couple, you should take off a week from your kids – and your kids take a week off from you.
Tuan: Even without having kids, I think it’s a very smart idea.
Rich: I’m very blessed because I get along with my parents very well, and my parents are very beautiful people. And my wife is blessed because she gets along with her parents very well. So when we moved to Seattle, I knew right away that we’d have to make a decision. Because we loved it out there. But we had no any family there. For us, geographically it was a nice place to visit, and for vacation. But we moved back home… We love Rochester, and we have our families too. Otherwise you’d spend all your vacation coming home, right? You’d want your kids to have a relationship with your parents.
At the time, Lotte was what I call a “doc in a box.” She had a general practice position in a box. She also wanted to get back to academics. So when Mayo offered her a job, it worked out really well.
Tuan: And that was 2001.
Rich: Yes, 2001. We moved back here, Lotte has her dream job, and it wasn’t really a hard decision. Of course it’s not the same for everyone. I had a professor who didn’t get along with his dad, to the point that if his dad got his phone number, he [the professor] would change the number.
Tuan: That’s extreme.
Rich: It was a bad relationship. I’ve had friends who shouldn’t be communicating with their parents, and their parents shouldn’t be communicating with them. Because the situation was very combustible. You may have to severe ties and move on, or to come to terms with that. So that is why I said that Lotte and I are very lucky. We had friends that moved to Seattle because it was better for them to live in Seattle without their parents there.
Tuan: Funny you said that because I once knew a guy from Seattle. He’s actually a native Seattleite, and he said the Northwest was the last area that [white] people settled in the U.S., and it drew the more unconventional types. Not necessarily the loner type, and more like the libertarian type, not necessarily in the political sense but in the cultural sense of “leave me alone.” People who wanted to start out fresh, not minding cutting ties from where they grew up. Anyway it was interesting hearing him say that then, and what you say now reminded me of it.
Rich: Yeah. For us to come back here, it ended up being a no-brainer. We had the twins, and Lotte got a great job. Of course, for me I was a general counsel at the time.
Tuan: I was going to ask you about that… In Seattle, you were the house counsel so you must have done a lot of stuff.
Rich: Yes, it was a dream job for me because there were two lawyers as house counsel. We had so much work that we could do the stuff that we love, and the stuff that we hated, we could farm up to other lawyers.
Tuan: [Laugh] Right! I was back to Seattle two years ago, and it is so expensive now with Amazon in Lake Union and so on!
RETURN TO ROCHESTER
Tuan: After you guys got back to Rochester, did you work for Restovich and Associates right away?
Rich: No, I took two years off to raise the girls.
Tuan: You were an at-home dad? How great! I imagine that Lotte was up to her ears with her new job.
Rich: Yes. Well, I did some litigation in Seattle, and I didn’t know if I wanted to go back to litigation or if I wanted to do transaction. Then after a couple of years back, when I decided to go back to work, I became a prosecutor.
Tuan: For the county?
Rich: For the city. That was a lot of work. I was in court every day. There were trials all the time.
Tuan: It sounds like there was always something exciting everyday.
Rich: Everyday. After I did that, I joined Restovich and Associates.
Tuan: Now, I remember Mrs. Restovich used to be a sub teacher at Lourdes in our time.
Rich: She was, then she went full-time. I think she taught human sexuality.
Tuan: Yeah, we didn’t have really a class on human sexuality then, did we?
Rich: Any sexuality. [Laughs] She’s a great teacher. She’s retired, I believe, two or three years ago. She taught for a long time. George [her husband] got really sick back then and passed away [in 2008]. It was a good for her to keep teaching after that.
Tuan: That’s a pretty long time she taught. I remember during open mods [i.e., studies hall], she was very helpful answering all my questions. I can’t remember what I asked her, but she was really sweet.
Rich: She’s a great, great lady.
Tuan: So you quit your prosecutor’s job and joined their firm… I’m guessing here, but was it during your time as prosecutor that you got interested in politics and public office?
Rich: Hmm, well I’ve always viewed that we are responsible for our own community, we are responsible for making the community that we want. So after we came back and even when taking care of the girls, I was actively involved in community service.
I figure that with my legal degree, I should be on particular kinds of service, and I’ve been very active in the community. I was part of the [Olmsted] County’s Planning and Advisory Committee, which helps with zoning and what to built, where it should be built, etc. I think we’ve done some pretty good work because in Rochester we have a Decorah Edge. It is a natural water filteration system that purifies all of our drinking water. Naturally. It’s like a free purification system that saves us millions of dollars. Every year. Because cities pay millions of dollars to clean up water.
Note: Decorah Edge is a geological term meaning “the area in which the Decorah, Platteville, or Glenwood formation is the first encountered bedrock.”
Tuan: When you served on the County committee, you were among the people pushing for that?
Rich: Yes, we created ordinances to protect the Decorah Edge, to protect, basically, and keep it naturally clean and purified. And that’s a big deal. So you could things like that for service, for the community.
I am on the Montessori School Board, which is just outside of town. I’ve been on it for eight years because I believe in education. For me, I’ve been very engaged… I see it as a natural extension of my community service. I do think that our community can do better than the way we’ve been represented.
Tuan: I’ve looked at your website, and saw stuff about the environment, for example. I know that there are always buzzwords in politics. But from what you’ve described it now, it sounds like it comes from years of experience, and not something you just came up recently to win elections.
Rich: Yeah, action speakers louder than words. Talk is cheap. For me, the environmental issues are a big deal for me. For example, I am a big believer in geothermal energy, and Lotte and I have installed a geothermal system in our house. I believe we need to begin doing it because we should use more more renewable sources of energy. But people don’t do it because it costs so much money upfront. But if you make it cost less or the same, maybe 98% or 100% people will choose to use it because it may save $600 a year on their energy bill.
Tuan: Let me ask you about the political make-up of the area. I’m independent and non-partisan, and I seek to understand rather than to advocate. But my sense is that this area used to be much more Republican than Democratic. Yet when I first came to the U.S. in the early 1980s, the Congressman was Tim Penny, a Democrat. He’s been an independent for many years now, but back then he was a Democrat. A conservative Democrat, to be sure, but a Democrat nonetheless. Still, the region was heavily Republican. Do you find it to have changed, or the same, or something else?
Rich: When I was growing up, Rochester was very Republican.
Tuan: Even when we were in high school?
Rich: Yes, if you were Democrat you were out. Every governor was Republican. Every single senator was Republican. The only non-Republican was Tim Penny, but when he didn’t run for reelection, his seat was taken by Gil Gutknecht, a very conservative Republican. So it was a very conservative overall.
But in 2000, a Democrat by the name of Mark Frederickson ran against Dave Bishop for the Minnesota House seat, right here in Rochester. Dave Bishop was a very conservative incumbent. Mark was a green environmental Democrat. He ran a campaign on the environment, and he lost by a few hundred votes. [Note: the final count was 6,777 for Frederickson and 7,290 for Bishop.] When that happened, it was a switch. In 2002, Tina Liebling ran for the same seat. She lost, but then ran again and won in 2004. She has held the seat ever since. So, this downtown part that used to be very Republican, it has turned Democrat now, 60-40, maybe 65-35.
The rural part is more conservative, but I think it is changing, especially this year because of the presidential race.
Tuan: Your case is interesting to me because I’ve noticed that politicos often began offices at the school district or city council level. Then they worked their way up to state offices. You seem to take a different path, though, by running for the state house and now the state senate How come?
Rich: Hmm, I don’t know… That’s a good question.
Tuan: Maybe it’s a small district and it’s easier to run?
Rich: Oh, I don’t know if it’s small. My legs are tired from all the walking. [Laughs]
Tuan: How many doors have you knocked on during the last few months? Thousands and thousands…
Rich: Yeah, a lot.
Tuan: Sometimes twice?
Rich: We’re finishing with the first pass, either this week or next week, and then we’ll start the second pass. Then we’ll hit them again. We think we may hit the third pass in mid-October. You know, I’m not the only one knocking on doors. We have a whole bunch of people that knock on doors. Every day, the volunteers and I [take turn] to be out there.
Tuan: When did you stop working? A few months ago.
Rich: No no, last Christmas. I thought of running for the senate seat, and I talked with my team and we decided that yeah, we could do it. Then I announced and started campaigning full-time.
Tuan: Cool, very cool. Now, neither of your parents was involved in politics, right?
Rich: No. In fact they were Republicans. They are Democrats now, but they voted Republican. They didn’t really talk politics, they didn’t really care. When I was in college I read the party platforms, and realized that the Catholics values are reflected on the Democratic platform, except for the [pro-] life issues.
When I talked to my parents, I asked, “Why are you Republicans?” They looked at me, “What do you mean?” “Have you looked at the platform?” My mom said, “No,” and I said, “Maybe you should, because what you’ve taught me, our values, social services, helping the poor, helping the ill, etc. are reflected in that platform.” Eventually they became Democrats.
CATHOLICISM & CLASSMATES & SIBLINGS
Tuan: Before Lourdes, did you go to St. Pius?
Rich: No, I went to St. Francis. I was a Raven!
Tuan: Ok, we must have been in different classrooms. I had Sr. Annette. Do your kids go to Catholic schools now?
Rich: No. Lotte and I thought that it’s better for them to go elsewhere. There are issues we have with the Catholic Church and Catholic education.
Tuan: Yes, I think the Church has disappointed many. The roles of women. Pope Francis has opened up the question of female deacons, which should have been opened up long before. I’m a practicing Catholic, and I am disappointed in many things. The sex abuse scandals, right? There was so much damage.
Tuan: The sex crisis is still a big deal.
Tuan: Yes, especially for the Diocese of Winona, and of course the Archdiocese [of Minneapolis-St. Paul] now. When I was in the seminary, I remember the bishop briefing the Winona seminarians about the lawsuits. The Restovich law firm must have handled a lot of that stuff, right? [Rich is quiet.] Ok, you can’t say anything! [Laughs] But this was the early 1990s, leave alone the 2010s.
Rich: It drove a lot of people away from the Church. But quite frankly, it was known for a long time, and [the bishops and priests] should have looked on the mirror a little bit more. When you’re Catholic and you read it in the papers, it is very difficult to accept the teachings of morality and ethos. I knew some wonderful priests, great people, and yet they didn’t think that they did anything wrong.
Tuan: Do you think there is a climate of denial back then?
Rich: I think there still is. There was priest from India, and he was charged of sexually assaulting a fourteen-year-old girl out west. He was charged and convicted and was in jail. Later he got shipped back to India, and he was put back to work with kids. That is in the last three years. It’s repugnant. It is a problem.
Tuan: Let me just say that it was sad – horrible – reading about [the late Fr.] Jack Krough and the sexual molestation.
Rich: I know. And he was one of my favorite priests.
Tuan: Me too. I enjoyed him a lot. I took Introduction to Theology [our senior year]. Were you in that class?
Rich: Yes. Even my wife loved Jack. She said, “This guy actually makes sense.”
Tuan: Interesting. I think he was harder on female students.
Rich: Well, my sister thought that he discriminated against female students.
Tuan: Which one thought so?
Rich: All three of them. They thought that Lourdes favored boys. I think it’s changed. But my wife wouldn’t consider Catholic education because it’s still too male-dominant.
Tuan: I’m glad to hear your thoughts. I’m grateful for Lourdes, quite grateful. But I know there’s a dark side too. The decision-making process was pretty male. Still is.
Have you been in touch with some friends?
Rich: Not really. The issue that I face is that I am a dad. To fulfill my responsibilities as a father, I got to spend time with them, right? I love spending time with them, but those responsibilities take over a large part of your life. As a result, Lotte and I used to say, “What’s happened to all our friends who don’t have kids?” Because all the time and energy we spend on raising kids. The last sixteen years have been a circle of wagons.
Tuan: And now you feel…
Rich: My sixteen-year-old now can drive. I don’t know who is happier, her or me? [Laughs]
You remember Gerald Burt? He just emailed me today, and he said I’m coming down Saturday night; do you have time? I said, Yeah, I’ll be around because the girls will be away, leaving me behind. But it used to be hard to find time. Nathan Block, you know…
Tuan: Yes, Nathan and Jeannie.
Rich: They’re in St. Cloud, they run into the same issues. They have kids. They’re busy. Francisco [Pugo], he’s in Texas. He got kids, he’s busy. Juan Cabanela, same thing. The kids thing is… We forgot that if you take raising kids seriously, sorry, you’re out for a couple of decades. [Laughs]
Tuan: I think it’s great that you were a stay-home dad – Mr. Mom – for a couple of years. I don’t think it was possible for our parent generation even if [fathers] wanted to raise kids.
Rich: For me, because I stayed home for those two years, it gives me a big advantage. So whenever Lotte goes on a trip, it’s not a big deal [for me to take care of the girls]. It just never was a big deal. Not all families could do that: my gosh, mom’s gone, how can we manage the kids?
Tuan: Are you playing this in your campaign? Dad’s experience?
Rich: No. [Laughs] No. Voters don’t care about that.
Tuan: They should. I mean, aren’t there a lot of young families among the doors you’ve knocked on?
Rich: Yes, but they don’t care. [Laugh] The truth is most people work one or two jobs. They don’t have time to keep on politics: therefore knocking on doors.
Tuan: What is your day like these days?
Rich: I spend part of the morning with the girls. Then I have a targeted number of [doors to knock on]. I do that and then I have fundraising phone calls to make.
Tuan: So there’s no break.
Rich: The break comes in November 9. [Laugh]
Tuan: What’s about kids?
Rich: Now it’s easy because it’s summer. And the girls are pretty self-sufficient. I spend some of the morning with them before hitting the [door-knocking] trail.
Tuan: Do they help their dad with knocking on doors?
Rich: No, but I leave it up to them. I go out and meet people at parades, at festivals and the county fair. The kids did the parades with me.
Tuan: Yeah, I saw a photo of that. Well Rich, good luck with the campaign. I’ll keep checking on your FB to see updates you’ll post up.
Rich: Oh, I don’t really do any of that. Erin takes care of it, my sister.
Tuan: Is that right? Where is she now? I remember at graduation, Mr. Nigon announced before her valedictorian’s speech that she was going to Yale. I think she was the only Lourdes grad in those days to go to Harvard or Yale.
Rich: She’s actually in Seattle. She went to Yale, she got her master’s in business at Michigan. Then she worked in San Francisco, and now she lives with her husband in Seattle. They do a lot of designing their own web pages and websites and sell them. They create a new business model and sell it. They’ve done it a few times. And Erin now freelances.
Tuan: Where are your other sisters?
Rich: Melissa now is in public TV in the Twin Cities.
Tuan: Are Melissa and Erin blood sisters?
Rich: They are. They actually have a brother in Korea, and they finally found him.
Tuan: That’s amazing. I remember that there were a few Korean students at Lourdes. And your sister Mary?
Rich: Mary is in Portland and she is a nurse. She did a lot of data analysis. Then she took a break and came back for nursing.
Tuan: Great city, Portland. I love Portland!
Rich: Then I have a brother. He’s a couple of years younger, and he went into music. Got a master’s in music. He played in Las Vegas, and now he is selling art in Vegas.
Tuan: Out of the five of you, three now live in the West.
Rich: They moved there after I moved back from Seattle. Some people have moved back. Paul Sadler…
Tuan: He used to live in Seattle, right?
Rich: Yes, he did.
Tuan: I remember seeing an announcement in the Seattle paper back then, I think it was his wedding announcement.
Rich: Yes, he’s in town. John Devlin is in town. Andy Black at his auto shop. I always bring my car there for repairs. I went to kindergarten with Andy.
You live in LA area… There’s one guy in our class, Andy, oh what’s his last name? He’s a photographer and I think he lived in L.A. for a while. He used to take photos with his camera at Lourdes all the time. I can see his face…
Tuan: Yes, me too. Tall, dark blonde hair. I can see his face too but can’t remember his name either… It will come back.
Rich: Ask Pat Steward tomorrow. Pat remembers everything.
Tuan: Ok. Tim told me that Steve Weinschenk is in town.
Rich: Yes, I ran into him at the parade. He was like [looking surprised], RIIIICH! [Laughs]
Tuan: Back in those days, I thought you were a pretty well-rounded sort of students.
Rich: Oh man, I was a bad student.
Tuan: A bad student? Really?
Rich: I didn’t study much.
Tuan: Really? You were very active. I remember you were in Glee Club besides student government…
Rich: Center Street Singers.
Tuan: Center Street Singers, that’s right.
Rich: I only did for a year or two. Maybe two.
Tuan: Is that right? You must have left an impression. [Laugh] You did track a lot?
Rich: I did track. I started with football [in freshman year]. Then I did track all three years. I did basketball the first two years, then after two years I switched to cross-country. I was mostly in band. I did a lot of music.
Tuan: What did you play? The saxophone?
Rich: Trombone. My brother, the professional trumpet player, he said, what’s wrong with being a trombone player?
Rich: Can’t find a gig. [Laughs]
Tuan: Gotta go into law instead.
Rich: Man! At St. Olaf I started out as a music major. Then I realized it won’t work. So I did sociology. A perfectly useless degree [in the job market].
Tuan: [Laugh] Well, it’s helpful for thinking. But you can’t really get a job with it. You gotta go to law school or another professional school. But why St. Olaf? Because of music?
Rich: At the time, I thought of medicine. I interviewed at St. John, St. Thomas, and they said if you want medicine you should go to St. Olaf because it had the best medicine program.
Tuan: But then you met your wife, a future physician.
Rich: Yes, it works out that way.
It was over a hundred minutes by this point, and both of us had to run shortly after: me, to another scheduled conversation; Rich, home to get ready for a political dinner event. Appreciation to Rich once again, and of course best wishes to his campaign as it winds down to the final six or seven weeks!