What I have learned from the campaign for House seat 22B

This is what I have learned from my campaign for State Legislator in District 22B.

I am not a politician.  I am a citizen who believes that you can’t stay on the sidelines forever.  I believe in paying it forward and repaying the good fortune I have experienced.  I’m untrained in the arts of avoiding questions and pivoting to better talking points. What I do know is how to analyze a problem and work with people to get the best result.  I am problem oriented and I care deeply about the people–ALL of the people—who live and work in 22B.  I know how to listen, not just “hear” and I know how to compromise and negotiate.  I have met many of you, I have learned from you, I have been effected by you, and I will be responsive and responsible to you not to special interest groups.

I would not trade the last 5 months for any other experience.  The people I spoke to were honest about their feelings and beliefs, their hurts and hopes, and what they wanted to have happen in the Legislature.  I never really knew what political belief someone had when I went to their door, but I knew that I would listen to them with courtesy and acknowledge that we were either similar or different but that we were both entitled to our beliefs.

I ran the campaign my way, not the “established” way.  If I win it will be because the voters believed in my message.  If I lose then I know that I tried my best, but that the voters preferred that things stay the same because that is what the incumbent offers.  More of the same—more cuts, more constitutional amendments, more favors for special interests.

If you want to know about a candidate, look at where their money came from and went.  (It’s in the Campaign Finance Board report)  My contributions came from many donors who gave $5, $10, $25 or $50 (and a few special people who gave more) and a few groups whose philosophy I have embraced my entire adult life (women, education, and labor).  They came from an anonymous person who contributed $2.00 because she wanted to give me something in addition to her vote, from my grandson who contributed his earnings from 4 hours of work at a minimum wage summer job, and from family and friends who believed in me and contributed what they could.  I spent my money locally.  I did not buy tires for my car or an iPad, I did not pay my phone bill, or contribute to charity from those donations.  I used them for two mailings, a ‘leave behind’ door knock piece, lawn signs, postage, and supplies.

I wore out a pair of shoes walking in parades and door knocking.  I was in towns where people asked why I was there.  When I told them I was running for office, they could not believe that a candidate would come to their door let alone their community event (and without an entourage).  They did not know who their current legislator was, they had never seen him.  Heck, I was in all the parades (except Windom’s) and I only saw him twice—once in Mt Lake and once in Worthington.  I have been in Lamberton, Revere, Walnut Grove, Westbrook, Storden, Jeffers, Mt Lake, Windom, Bingham Lake, Dundee, Wilder, Heron Lake, Okabena, Brewster, Lismore, Adrian, Rushmore, Lakefield, Round Lake, Bigelow, Ellsworth, and Worthington either at parades, community events or celebrations, door knocking or meetings.

I was honored to speak in a high school about running a campaign and about the issues.  It was so inspiring to see young people engaged in the process of becoming informed voters.  I have eaten lunch with Senior Citizens to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Senior Nutrition program, and to just visit with them.  I have patronized community businesses when I could.

If you want to know about an incumbent look at his voting record and legislation record, not the propaganda he puts out.  I made an attempt to participate in every debate and forum available.  I am sorry that my opponent could not make either of the 2 opportunities offered to him by Pioneer Public Television on October 25 (there was a medical appointment that could not be changed) or November 1 (he did not even acknowledge that he could not attend that one).  During the exchanges in which my opponent did participate, he did not offer a defense of his record.  He did not tell the citizens that he voted to cut funds for Welfare to Work programs, early childhood education, health insurance and health care for poor children and adults.  He voted for cuts of 15% to MnSCU and the U of M which would have kept tuition from escalating, for the school funding shift of 40% with no repayment date and against closing the tax loopholes on little cigars. He voted to cut LGA funds which raised our property taxes.  He voted for the 2 divisive amendments to our constitution.  He followed the party line voting with the Republicans even though he says he is bipartisan.

The incumbent has a record of awards as noted in the Daily Globe’s endorsement.  I have a record of working with people.  I have a record of working hard and I am not afraid of taking on those who are opposed to the best interests of the individuals I represent.  As one of my conservative friends put it, “you are the smartest woman and the hardest working person I know.”  I have and will continue to put my ‘smarts’ and my hard work out there and do the best that I can for the citizens of 22B.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve.

Cheryl Avenel-Navara

District 22B candidate

Campaign Highlights–Meeting the Vice President

On Thursday August 16th I was at the Cottonwood County Fair talking to voters. My cell phone rang and the voice on the other end told me that she had a great opportunity for me the following week and that she could not give me details. Then she asked if I would like to meet someone “high up” in the Obama administration. Of course, I said yes. I was asked for some pertinent identification details for a security check, sworn to secrecy and told I would be given more information later.

I fretted about what I would wear, what I might say, and who I would tell when I could.

On Monday, I was given clearance to meet Vice President Joe Biden in Rochester and was told that I could tell —my husband, and my daughter in Rochester. Later that day I received a set of instructions on how to proceed on Tuesday, and then again on Tuesday morning there were more details on what I needed to do and when.

Tuesday morning I was anxious—I mean it is not every day you get to meet the Vice President of the United States!  I don’t have that many clothes to choose from so I found a dress that I thought would be appropriate, sensible shoes, and understated jewelry. I took off for Rochester (earlier than necessary so as not to be late, after all I had to be “through security and in the building by 3 PM”) and had an easy and familiar drive along I-90.

I arrived in time to have a quick lunch, find the appropriate place to line up before the gates to the parking lot opened, and cleaned out my purse. You don’t want to lose a nail file to security! Then the real waiting began.

I entered the gated area, found the VIP (I have never been a VIP before) parking area, parked and walked to the Will Call table for my wrist band admission. Happy to have my name on the list correctly spelled and alpha ordered, I proceeded through the check point to the waiting area. People kept streaming in both to the handicapped area and the line for the general admission standing area. We stood outside (thankfully it was not raining and was not steamy hot) milling around, talking to people, looking for anyone else we might know. I was excited to see others from the Worthington area. Finally we were able to go through security and off to another “holding area” inside a building out of the sun and with a pleasant breeze and bottles of water.

A while later, we were told that the Vice President was “wheels up” in Minneapolis and that it would not be long now. We were placed in an alphabetically ordered line to meet the VP and were asked to stay in that configuration till we were presented to Mr. Biden. Congressman Tim Walz and Senator Al Franken arrived and made their way along our line greeting and conversing with us. Soon we heard the thump of the limo bringing Vice President Biden into the building and a short time later, amid applause, he came into our area. He is a striking, good-looking man, much more handsome than he appears on television. He made some comments and then his handlers got to the business of presenting each of us to the Vice President for a “photo op”. Each person was greeted individually and the Vice President made each of us feel special. He had an individual comment for each of us (I will treasure mine), shook our hands and the photo was taken and we were off to the next location. It was only a few seconds; but, it was special.

From there we were ushered to the Floral Building where the crowd was waiting. Once ushered to our places on the balcony, we were greeted by the Mayor of Rochester, followed by Congressman Walz, and Senator Franken. Then we were treated to remarks by Bill Keitel as he introduced Vice President Biden. What an honor for Bill, his wife Lori and god-daughter Sigin. Those of us from Worthington were so proud that one of our own was chosen for this honor. Bill did a great job! The Vice President came on stage and spoke to us for over a half hour. It was a great event, followed by thunderous applause. I can’t wait to see my photo and savor those few seconds of being a VIP.

How I spent my summer–campaigning–part 1

Well, here it is almost the end of August. Where did the summer go? Some schools have already begun and others will open their doors soon, the State Fair will have its run and Labor Day will be here before we know it.

I spent my summer visiting a lot of the towns in District 22B. It is known as “parade season” in campaign parlance. I love going to parades and have been to quite a few in the 35 years I have lived here, but this year, I did not just watch. I got to walk, wave, and talk to people along the route.

We had just gotten our campaign organized when we learned about the first parade in Ellsworth and discovered we would barely have time to get a banner and car signs made. With help from Steve and Lona Lende, we were ready for the first parade of the season on June 16th. Before you walk in a parade, you need sustenance. We found ours at the Parkview Manor pie and ice cream social fund raiser. It was great pie!

About five hours later, we were at the Fulda parade. There we found great crowds, people we knew, a great reception! The brats were good as well! I learned that two parades in one day would not be the exception, nor would five parades in seven days! We were in Mountain Lake on June 18th, Lakefield and Westbrook on the 23rd, Okabena on the 4th of July, Rushmore on July 14th, Brewster and Adrian on the 21st. There are no more parades for me till Turkey Day in September!

These nine parades were a great way to meet people and learn what they were thinking. In addition, a lot of energy is generated for the candidate when people shout out your name, wave, or want to shake your hand. One of the neatest experiences was in Mt Lake where I was at the end of the parade line up. As I made my way to where the announcer was introducing the units to the crowd on Main Street, I heard my name and then the words “was a long time counselor at MWCTC” followed by something like “I remember being in her office in the 1980’s and she helped me get my transfer credit together so I could graduate in a year.” This young man gave me an unsolicited endorsement. What a rush! I of course had to track him down after the parade to catch up.

It is experiences like these that make the 90 degree temps, the waiting in line, and the drive all worth-while.

The other neat thing about parades is that there is almost always a community celebration before or after the parade. And, there is always good food!

I’ve had great pie in Ellsworth and Rushmore, great ribs in Adrian, good burgers in Mt Lake (with fried onions of course), brats in Fulda, taco’s in Brewster, ice cream in Westbook, and bar-b-que in Lakefield. I know that I have not made all the events due to schedule conflicts but I have tried to get to every community for something.

I am finding that it is good to be in the community before you door-knock and that has been my goal.

While the Turkey Day parade set for September 15th in Worthington, will be the last of the campaign, it will also be the longest and possibly the most heavily attended. I do love walking down the parade route and having the freedom to go from side to side of the street greeting people.

In addition to community celebrations, I have also been at County Fairs in Redwood, Jackson, Nobles and Cottonwood County. I have made it my mission to try the malts at each fair and determine which is the best. Right now the chocolate at the Nobles County Fair has the lead! But the chocolate mint at Redwood is close behind. Raspberry at Cottonwood also gets a mention.  I learned that you can mix flavors making the choices much harder!  The county fairs have given me an opportunity to walk around the grounds and meet people outside the DFL booth. There have been some interesting events to watch. So, whether it was watching the dock dog competition, the lumber jack competition, the animal shows, or the exhibits, it was exciting for me to see the pride exhibitors took in showcasing their projects and talents. I even enjoyed the SPAM cook off. I will admit, it was the first time I had ever tasted SPAM. I enjoyed eating at the 4-H booths as well.

With all I have eaten at the community celebrations and county fairs it is probably a good thing that I walked in all those parades!



Why I am running for MN House in 22B

I have been asked several times why I decided to run for office.  Here is my answer:

When I first moved to Worthington, got to know my students and the communities that they came from, I thought that maybe ‘someday’ I would run for school board, city council or county commissioner.  I never thought that ‘someday’ I would run for state office.  But here I am running to represent the citizens of District 22B in the MN State House of Representatives.

It took a lot of talking over a number of years to convince me that I could run for State Representative in District 22B.  When I was approached I would say “it is not the right time”.  But a seed had been planted and the idea was in the back of my mind.

When I spoke to people whose opinion I trusted,  they encouraged me to “go for it”.  They would tell me that I could not sit on the sidelines and gripe if I was not willing to be part of the solution.  I knew they were right, but I was not sure that I wanted to take the chance.  I asked myself several times:  “Could I go out of my comfort zone?”

Then last year the Legislature got tied up in knots.  No one would compromise!  No one would negotiate (by negotiate I mean each side gives a little)!  No one would do what was best for Minnesota.

That is what prompted me to start thinking about taking the giant step.  With the state shutdown last July and the terrible gridlock in the Legislature I wondered “when will it be the right time?  Why not now?”  So when I was approached to run this time, I said YES.

I think I have qualities that will help us move ahead and get over the gridlock. I know how to listen!  I know how to compromise!  I know how to negotiate!  And I know how to reach out for help and to ask for help.  I know how to get people to work together.

I know that many people think that running for state office with no previous elected office experience is a detriment.  I think it is a positive.  I have no baggage.  I owe no favors.  I have no bias.  I have lots of energy.  I do have ideas.  I have many people willing to help me.

I hope that as I start knocking on doors people will see me as a CAN do person who will keep the best interests of the people who live and work in 22B in mind each and every day.  I want to earn your trust and then prove, with each piece of legislation that comes up and with each vote I cast, that I represent all the people of District 22B.

More than you wanted to know!

You may be wondering a bit more about me.  So here is some additional information.

After moving to Worthington in 1977, I met and married Pete Navara, who was born and raised in here.  We enjoy spending time with my daughter, Julie and her family in Rochester, Minnesota.  We have a wonderful son-in-law, Paul, and three terrific grandchildren, Thomas, Caroline, and Matthew.  It is fun to have them living close enough that we can attend athletic, school and musical events.  Pete and I spend a lot of time driving back and forth on I-90.

The rest of my extended family is scattered across the US.  Some live in New York State, with others living in Florida, Ohio, Maryland, and Virginia.  I even have some family as far west as California and Alaska.  Wherever we live, we have a family tradition of giving service and caring for others.  My grandfather served in France and Germany in WWI.  My father served in England, France and Germany during WWII.  My cousins were in the service during the Korean War and the Viet Nam Conflict.  Another of my cousins was a missionary in Pakistan for almost 50 years.  I grew up knowing it was important to serve the larger community and listening to stories of life in other parts of the world.

Both of my parents came from truly extended families and I have fond memories of family gatherings and holidays.  My paternal grandparents always had a house full of relatives.  At one time my great grandmother, cousin, aunt, father, and my grandparents all lived in the same 4 bedroom house.  At another time my grandmother took in her brother and his children when he was widowed, her nephew and niece when they were orphaned, and me when my mother burned her legs and was in the hospital.

My maternal grandmother was widowed when my mom (the youngest of 6) was 13.  This was during the Great Depression when life was simply difficult.  She and my mother were put out of their home because they could not pay the rent.  My mother told me what it was like to come home from school and find their things on the street.  Her married older sisters and brother took in my mom and grandmother and gave them a home.  The family took care of each other.  In the extended family home, my mom helped to raise her nieces and nephews.  By doing so, it made it easy for her older siblings to work knowing that she was babysitting.  The family pulled together in spite of adversity.

I treasure my grandmother’s dining room furniture, my great aunt’s cedar chest, and the china and dishes that I’ve inherited from other relatives.  I have my mom’s wedding china and enjoy using it on special occassions.  These heirlooms give me a sense of connection to the family I grew up with even though I am miles away, living in Minnesota.  All these family treasures help me remember my family and their values.

I think I became a counselor because I was encouraged to care for others.  I know I am running for office because I want to serve the larger community, Minnesota, my adopted state.

International Festival

I have done many different things as a volunteer since I moved to Worthington.  Over the years, I have helped with King Turkey Day, the Salute to Women, the Turkey Day 10K, the Community Thanksgiving dinner, and many others.  I was a member of the American Association of University Women, Business and Professional Women, the parent’s advisory group at Worthington Junior High (as it was called then), and the swim team parents at the Y.   I am currently involved with the Friends of Nobles County Library, Nobles County SHY (formerly Nobles-Rock County SHY), SW CHIP (formerly Nobles-Rock CHIP), Compassionate Care Hospice, Community Christmas Baskets, a book club, and the International Festival.

I have tried to give back to Worthington some of what I have gained from it.  And in some ways, I am also “paying it forward”.

The International Festival concluded its’ nineteenth year this past weekend.  For sixteen of those years, I have been on the planning committee.  Once again it was a success, with hundreds of people attending.  They enjoyed great weather, wonderful entertainment, good food and some ethnic educational displays.

I began my involvement with the Festival, as a member of the logistics committee.  That meant I helped with the set up and tear down and garbage pick-up at the Junior High where the Festival was first held.  One year, when the chairperson became ill, I even helped with the soccer tournament!  I knew very little about running a tournament; but, the officials, players and other organizers helped me out a lot.

From logistics I moved to entertainment where I learned how to find, cajole, and book a variety of entertainers.  I learned how to negotiate contracts, and how to schedule the acts.  I even learned how to announce them from the stage!

After several years on the entertainment committee, there was a need for help in fundraising.  I followed two fantastic chairs.  They had written grants and encouraged businesses to sponsor the Festival at various levels.  They had established the displaying of the banners at the Courthouse (now Government Center) and having a professionally produced program.  I started writing grants.  This has been a successful endeavor for the past three years, and the International Festival has received a total of $16,983 over those three years in grant monies.  Because of our local supporters combined with the grant monies, we have been able to move the Festival forward incrementally each year.

The planning committee has grown the Festival each year and this year was no exception.  On Friday night we had a great kickoff.  We had high energy music from Salsa Del Soul and some great performances by area youth in the newly added Talent Showcase which was well received. But, the highlight for me was the Opening Ceremony.  Four area young people sang the National Anthem (thank you for a great performance), and then I was privileged to announce the parade of flags.  Area residents volunteered to carry the flags of 40 countries preceded by the American Flag.  These flags represented the countries of residents of our community.  It was an extremely moving way to start a celebration of the cultures that live side by side in Worthington and Nobles County.

On Saturday we had another great day of children’s activities, ethnic displays, ethnic food and great entertainment.  The day began with Zumba, a high energy performance of dance that involved audience members.  We were then treated to vocal music and dance from the Celtic/Irish, Native American, Chinese, Polish, Caribbean/African, Hispanic and Arabic cultures.  It was a great weekend!

This will be my last year as a committee member, but it will not be my last year as an audience member.  I know that in August 2012 the planning committee will begin its work on the July 2013 Festival.  I am looking forward to seeing what they come up with and I will be there enjoying the food, the entertainment and the people.

Introducing Cheryl Avenel-Navara

Writing a blog is a new experience for me, one of many since my retirement from Minnesota West CTC (Worthington Community College) in 2007.  Many of you know me as a Counselor in Student Services at MN West where I worked for 30 years.  Because of the number of students that I worked with over the years, I think that I know the communities of Southwest Minnesota very well.  My familiarity with the region and my interest in all who live here has motivated me to run for the Minnesota State Legislature as the State Representative of District 22B.

For those who have not met or heard of me, my daughter and I moved to Worthington in January 1977 when I accepted the Counselor position at Worthington Community College.  This was a move that took me from southern New York State to southwestern Minnesota.

I was born in Buffalo, New York.  When I was four, my parents were able to buy a home in the Town of Cheektowaga, which is just outside of Buffalo.  That is where I grew up.  My mom still lives in our family home, and my sister and her husband live nearby.  I graduated from high school and attended colleges in rural areas in NY.  My first job was in retail; my second was working on the line at Eastman Kodak making cameras; I also waitressed and was a substitute teacher.  My first professional job after graduate school was at SUNY Binghamton.  While there, I worked in minority programs counseling students who were first generation college students, just like I had been.  From Binghamton I moved to Worthington.

I had many great role models while I was growing up.  One of them was my grandmother who lived with us from the time my parents married till the day she died in 1977. She worked as a cleaning woman until she was almost 70 years old.  I learned from her that there was no job too small to do right.  I learned that long hours and hard work were not to be avoided.  And I learned that getting an education was something to strive for and value.  She told me over and over “No one can ever take an education away from you.  Go to school and learn.”

It was through my grandmother and her work that I met Ms. Talsma, a teacher who became one of the first female school administrators in Buffalo.  From Ms. Talsma I learned how to treat people well no matter what their job was.  She treated my grandmother with respect and deference.  Ms. Talsma took an interest in me and encouraged me to never stop learning.  Because of the influence of both my grandmother and Ms. Talsma, I have always valued people from all walks of life and have loved learning from them.

I have lived here in Southwest MN for over 35 years. The area, the people, and the college have all given me experiences and a richness to my life.  I have watched Worthington grow and change, just as I have grown and changed.  I truly love my home, my community, my state and I couldn’t be prouder of where we live.