Trumpet-Playing Legislators

What Next?

I live in Minnesota’s Senate District 51. Here in Minnesota each senate district is divided into two separate legislative districts, and I live in District 51B. This means Tom Tillberry is my elected representative in the Minnesota House of Representatives. Tom is a good legislator, mainly focused on education and fighting the shift of taxation from the state to the local cities and counties. I spent a great deal of time door-knocking with him and for him in 2008, and when he sent me an invitation to his fundraiser for Saturday night, I didn’t want to miss it.

This was a joint fundraiser for Tom’s campaign and the campaign of Carolyn Laine, the representative in District 50A. The main reason I wanted to go was to hear Tom play trumpet with his favorite band, KadiWompus.  Tom sings, too, but the main contribution is his trumpet playing.

I found the place and pulled into the parking lot at the same time Sen. Don Betzold arrived. We chatted and walked in and I paid my admission and looked around for people I knew. I had only the briefest time to say “Hello” to Tom before he got up on stage with the band. Now, what you should probably appreciate is that bar bands in the suburbs are by and large cover bands. This band doesn’t really have a repertoire of their own compositions, but they do classic rock, folk rock and alternative rock. Tom joined them for their version of “Margaritaville.” Very good, but I don’t think Tom plans to resign from the legislature to head to Hollywood for a record contract.

I was standing there listening to them and chatting with Colleen Hogan, his campaign manager. A man wandered over from the bar and started asking me about Tom Tillberry. He wanted to know who Tom was, what he stands for and why we were all there. I was explaining about education funding and all that political stuff, and we came to some agreements about the overall importance of education. “Yeah,” he said, “I don’t want the guy that’s trying to diagnose my car problems to be a dumbass.” I think he was ahead of me in the number of glasses of beer he had drunk.

But then the conversation took an unexpected turn. “I can’t believe he’s up there playing trumpet. This is really cool!” He went on about it too long, but I could relate to what he was getting at. I asked him his name and told him mine. “Lance,” he told me. Lance had never really closely encountered a state rep or a politician, so I don’t think he had ever really thought about the fact that they are real people. Here he had gone into the bar on a Saturday night just to have a few beers and maybe get laid. I don’t know, and I didn’t ask, but I can guess on it. He told me he is 52 years old, and he has a pair of grandkids, but then he got back to his amazement that his state representative would play trumpet in a rock band.

I haven’t been involved in politics for too long. It was only in 2004 that I went to my first caucus for the DFL. I shortly followed that with being a delegate to the senate district and then the congressional district conventions. At each level I met people I had only heard of or seen their campaign signs, but I didn’t really know who they were. Sure, I saw them in parades and all, but they seemed so remote and distant from me and my life. I had not thought of them as being approachable.

In 2004 I met people like Mark Dayton, David Dinkins, Betty McCollum and people whose names had been in the news for winning elections. I was starstruck for most of that year, and it inspired me to actually work for their candidacies (and of course for John Kerry). I had never actually thought of people who run for office as being “real people.” They were “others.” They were people I thought of has having been born to politicians and not as people who started out as community organizers and volunteers, or as teachers who were unhappy with their school boards or otherwise motivated to run for office.

In 2004 I got the chance to sit down and talk to some of the people who make the decisions on the way that our government is run. I found out that for the most part they actually have lives outside of politics, and of all the astonishing revelations that I have found the one that got to me the most was that they had lives before they started running for office. Tim Mahoney, who has turned into a close personal friend, was just a pipefitter in 1997 when someone suggested that he run for state legislature. So, he mulled the idea, and decided, “Sure.” Now, he represents the East Side of St. Paul (District 67A) and is a power broker of sorts. He hadn’t considered running before that race.

They all start somewhere and are actually ordinary people. One of the important things that we need to remember about living in a democratic republic, one in which our constitution forbids the granting of titles of nobility, is that people have the opportunity to put our hats in the ring if we so choose. Of course, it isn’t easy. Campaigning takes a lot of face-to-face talking, and it takes a great deal of personal chutzpah to be able to walk from door to door and ask your neighbors to vote for you in your first political campaign.

Lance had never considered the idea that his legislator would have ever done anything outside of running for office and sit in the state capitol raising his taxes. It astonished him that Tom played music as a hobby and was actually good at it. He had never been close to the humanity of a politician.

Our political leaders have faults, and I will be the first to admit that many of them try to over-reach their power, and their egos drop in to give them a greater sense of their selves than they otherwise would have had. But they do have lives outside of their office.

When I talked to Lance, I realized that what has become second nature for me is still a distant reality for many people. I wonder if he will be at work today talking about meeting and listening to his trumpet-playing legislator.

I hope that it will motivate him to vote for Tom next year.

Lance, will I see you at caucus time this year? I don’t think Tom will have his trumpet this time, but you can talk about education and what we can do to avoid dumbass mechanics in our future.

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9 Responses to “Trumpet-Playing Legislators”

  1. October 26th, 2009 at 3:41 pm

    HP says:

    As a trumpet-playing technical writer, I wonder whether your bar patron acquaintance would have expressed the same amazement at a guitar-playing legislator. Trumpet, after all, is not an instrument regular people play, it’s an instrument you quit playing after high school.

  2. October 26th, 2009 at 4:15 pm

    Mike Haubrich says:

    Good point! Although my brother has kept up with it and is a trumpet-playing lawyer.

  3. October 26th, 2009 at 8:13 pm

    HP says:

    If I ever get up to Minnesota, maybe I can jam with your brother.

    When I got my first “real” job after music school, in publishing, one of the first people I met was an oboist I’d gone to conservatory with. I told her, “The world turns by the grace of ex-musicians,” and I still believe it.

  4. October 26th, 2009 at 8:24 pm

    HP says:

    Holy crap! Now I’m looking at my comment #1, written while I was at work today — my work as a technical writer — and I just realized there’s supposed to be a semicolon after the word play! Oh, dear, sweet baby Jesus — comma splice! comma splice! I shall never live this down for the rest of my days.

  5. October 26th, 2009 at 8:57 pm

    a daughter's mother says:

    HP – let’s not get too obsessive here. But if you must, aren’t you glad we all just know you by 2 initials?
    Oh yeah, I quit trumpet after high school too. I finally heard a GOOD player, and stopped torturing anybody with ears.
    Mike, as a mostly “real person” who dabbled in politics for twelve years before going back to being a real person again, I appreciate that you got it, and helped Lance do so as well. Actually, I’m not sure I ever quit being a real person – others can judge better than I – but for a few years I had a second, really interesting job.

  6. October 26th, 2009 at 9:50 pm

    Mike Haubrich says:

    HP – my brother is in Oklahoma, but it sounds like a fun idea.

    ADM – I thought as I was writing this that you might like it.

  7. October 26th, 2009 at 10:03 pm

    HP says:

    @ a daughter’s mother (# 4) aren’t you glad we all just know you by 2 initials?
    Yeah, but since I started to go by my first and last initials long before the rise of Hewlett-Packard and Harry Potter, the Internet has become a much unfriendlier place.

    So, Mike, did your brother go to NTU? I wen’t to IU. Itl’s possible we could talk mouthpieces.(I like ’em big — Wick 4B, or, depending on the leadpipe, a Marcinkiowicz 4C or 1.25 C.)

  8. October 26th, 2009 at 11:16 pm

    Crudely Wrott says:

    Nice point, Mike. And made within a familiar context. Well said.


  9. October 28th, 2009 at 9:46 am

    Steve says:

    I think all legislators should be required to play an instrument.

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