Skogen talks politics with Mills freshmen

Kevin Cederstrom New York Mills freshmen know a little bit more now what goes on at the state legislature. Each year as part of his 9th grade social studies class, teacher Jay Sorensen, teaches the lawmaking process. After completi...

Kevin Cederstrom

New York Mills freshmen know a little bit more now what goes on at the state legislature.

Each year as part of his 9th grade social studies class, teacher Jay Sorensen, teaches the lawmaking process. After completing a unit out of the book, Sorensen sets up a mock lawmaking body right in class where the students become actual lawmakers.

The kids started the whole process by researching their idea for a bill. After that, they wrote their bill up and are currently watching them go through the normal process that's used in both St. Paul and Washington D.C. (committee hearings, floor debates, sending it to the other house, etc...). They also elected a Speaker, floor leaders, and party whips.


"During the process the kids are learning about how to stand up for their bill, the art of negotiation and compromise, parliamentary procedure and how to conduct an effective meeting," Sorensen said. "While a lot of my students may never make it to St. Paul or Washington D.C. as lawmakers, they certainly will be involved in the lawmaking process as concerned citizens, whether it's by encouraging a neighbor to run for office, voting, following legislation that impacts them, or maybe by writing letters to lawmakers to express their opinions. Many of them will also sit on church councils, various civic and work related committees, or possibly a local office of some kind, where their lawmaking experience will come in handy."

Last week, Sorensen's class had a chance to discuss legislative issues with another freshman. Sen. Dan Skogen, serving his first term in the state Senate, met with the Mills students in the high school media center.

The kids came prepared with a list of questions for the freshman senator.

Question: Why did you choose to be a Democrat?

"I didn't think I could win the election as an Independent. I went to both parties when I decided to run and looked at the philosophical ideals of both parties. I lined up closer to the Democrats."

Skogen faced long-time state legislator Cal Larson of Fergus Falls in Senate District 10. The Democratic Party didn't exactly jump on board to support Skogen. In fact, Skogen says, when he asked the state DFL for more financial support during the campaign he was denied. Skogen told the students he wasn't given much of a chance to beat Larson by the state DFL, but he was in the campaign to win it.

Skogen and his wife, Dee, knocked on 15,000 doors in the district and walked in 41 parades in his 2-year campaign. The couple hit Fergus Falls hard for 15 days and touched every door in the city limits.

All those doors, something strange is bound to happen. Dan said he learned his wife can out-run a dog, there's a lady in Pelican Rapids who answers the door without a top on, and a guy in Vining who comes to the door without pants.


Skogen told the students last week the campaign was a lot of work but it was all worth it when he won the election in November.

Skogen said he became interested in politics in high school and found out what the legislative process was all about. That interest remained throughout his life but Skogen said he knew he didn't want to get involved until his kids were grown and out of the house. The time was right last year to make the political move, and it paid off. Then the work really began.

"I went from feeling pretty confident and knowing what's going on in Minnesota to a level of anxiety."

Question: Is it hard to keep open-minded during the debates?

"I try to remain open-minded. Both sides come very prepared, and both have an agenda. I try to listen to what they have to say, then make my decision and vote for what I believe is right."

Question: Would you like to run for office higher than state senator?

"No. This campaign was hard on me financially, emotionally and physically. It's a lot of work."

Question: Why do you think you got elected?


"I think I got elected in part because I spent 24 years on the radio. If people are comfortable with you they will vote for you. A lot of it has to do with name recognition."

Question: Have you met the Governor?

"I have not met the Governor."

Skogen told the students he is enjoying his time serving as state senator. It's a lot of work and takes a lot of time, and he is learning interesting things about the legislative process. For example, Skogen said he introduced a bill that would cut in half the price senior citizens would pay for fishing licenses. A constituent brought the idea to him and Skogen thought it would be good to give the senior citizens a break. After all it would only be an $8.50 discount.

The bill was quickly shot down after various groups testified against the bill. But at the same time a bill calling for $450 million in property tax relief goes through without debate.

"Having Sen. Skogen come into my class allowed my freshman to see the process through a freshman legislator's eyes."

Sorensen added, Sen. Skogen provided a great look at the entire process of being a lawmaker, from the inside story of his initial decision to run, through the election, and then into his first session as a state senator.

"I think it really validates what we're trying to do in class when someone from the outside world can come in and share their common experiences with the students," he said. "High school students are often a lot more political than adults think they are. I hope that an experience like this past month of class serves to nurture my students' motivation to pay attention to the political process and hopefully to contribute to our democracy."

What To Read Next
Get Local