Guest column: Get things done through hard work, together

Published 8:43 pm Friday, October 14, 2022

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Guest column by Mary Hinnenkamp

I was born and raised on a dairy farm in central Minnesota, near the small town of Freeport. I clearly remember hauling bales and picking rocks with my eight older brothers. I remember gathering eggs, cooking meals and canning with my mom and two sisters. The work was hard but we worked as a team, and that made everything easier and more rewarding.

Mary Hinnenkamp

After graduating from St. Cloud State College, I joined VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) with my husband, Ted. We helped the low-income community of Ballard County, Kentucky, replace a woefully inadequate food commodity program with the food stamp program. It was a successful effort, improving the lives of the people and the economy.  

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We next worked as group home counselors in New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C., helping struggling youth return to their families or find alternate care. When I gave birth to twin sons, Tad and Josh, we settled in Albert Lea. Ted began a 42-year career at Legal Services. I ran a work-program for struggling youth helping them to find their first job. Then I began teaching English at the Albert Lea Area Learning Center, a program for kids who were struggling to earn their diplomas.  

Ultimately, I became the director of the Albert Lea Area Learning Center (ALC), helping students make and carry out a plan to graduate. During this time, we adopted our daughter, Tess. I spent the last five years of my teaching career at Fountain Centers, a chemical dependency program for teens, keeping kids on track with school work for their return to their home district.   

Always, I worked with a team of people to identify and solve problems, to improve the lives of people and to get things done. I think these are skills that are necessary to get things done at the Legislature. 

My opponent, Rep. Peggy Bennett, and I may seem to be a lot alike. We both are retired teachers. We both live in Albert Lea. And we both had the honor of being chosen Teacher of the Year in Albert Lea. But that is where the similarities end. Some years ago, during a debate, Ms. Bennett said that she was not sure that schools should provide free breakfasts to students, that it would weaken the family. At the time, I was the director of the ALC, and we provided free peanut butter and jelly toast every day before, during class breaks and after school for students who were hungry. Why? Because we felt no kid should go hungry. And, of course, we understood that hungry kids don’t learn when their stomachs are growling. It was our direct and simple way to help solve the problem of hungry kids.  

Ms. Bennett recently described the state’s $9 billion dollar projected surplus as money burning a hole in a kid’s pocket. I see it as an opportunity to help the folks in this district: Help kids catch up because of COVID interruptions with more support staff, mental health counselors and smaller class sizes. Provide cities with the money to invest in badly needed upgrades to their wastewater treatment plants so our cities can thrive and grow. Provide the folks in our towns with libraries, senior centers and other core services. Help families still recovering from the pandemic with day care and other supports.   

Make no mistake, if we give away the surplus as big tax breaks to the wealthy as my opponent prefers, we will be faced with tough local choices: let our schools and cities and counties begin to deteriorate, or raise property taxes to support them. Both are unacceptable.

Rep Bennett has supported restricting women’s access to reproductive care. I am a woman who has given birth to twins, had a miscarriage and adopted a child. I think we need to trust women to make decisions about their own bodies, and families, and support them in those choices. 

I have knocked on over 14,000 doors in all 24 towns in District 23A and I have listened. People all over this district are volunteering at churches, libraries and schools. They provide day care for their grandkids and great-grandkids. People check on their neighbors and give them rides. They join organizations and give generously of their time and talents.

Everywhere I went, I saw the kind of spirit and commitment to others that makes southern Minnesota a great place to live. I want to make sure that the citizens of our district get our fair share from the state surplus, so that citizens of all ages and circumstances get what they need. 

I am ready to roll up my sleeves and work together with community members and legislators to make sure southern Minnesota remains a great place to live.

DFLer Mary Hinnenkamp of Albert Lea is running for the District 23A seat.