Michele Bachmann’s DRIVE for the White House

November 10, 2011

Currents Magazine

Could Michele Bachmann ’78 become the country’s first female – and Winona State’s first alumna – to win the White House?

The congresswoman from Minnesota’s 6th District announced her candidacy for the presidency on June 27, 2011. A month later, she emerged as leader of the Republican field when she topped the Iowa straw poll. Colleagues in the House have referred to her “impeccable political instincts” and fundraising ability. During her 2010 re-election campaign, Bachmann raised $13.5 million, more than any of her fellow incumbents.

Her chances have seemed to ebb over the fall, as Texas Governor Rick Perry entered the race and other conservative hopefuls seized the stage in a series of GOP debates. The New York Times, however, continues to call her a credible candidate for the Republican nomination, citing her charismatic and hard-charging style that motivates voters on the right. In April, Time magazine calls her as one of the world’s hundred most influential people.

Bachmann, who has described herself as having a “titanium spine,” picked up steam during a September speech at Liberty University. Addressing her student audience, she repeated a single phrase over and over:  “Don’t settle.”

She used those words to refer to decisions about her family, career, and religious faith, as well as her vision for the nation’s future. Implied was that voters should not settle for a presidential nominee less conservative than she.

That same theme of not settling for the easy choice reappears throughout Bachmann’s life and career, including her time at Winona State University. Then known by her maiden name, Michele Amble, she has often spoken of choosing to marry her husband, Marcus Bachmann ’78, while at WSU. On the campaign trail, she has described watching a series of evangelical films in 1977 that profoundly influenced her worldview, including a switch to Reagan Republicanism after arriving on campus as a Carter Democrat.

It could be said that Bachmann first chose the political life when she ran for WSU Student Senate vice president before her senior year. She conducted a successful campaign, but demonstrated her no-compromise principles when she resigned a few months short of fulfilling her term.

In an April 18, 1979 story in the Winonan, Bachmann (who had graduated and was working as an assistant to a circuit court judge in Wisconsin) reflected on her Senate experience, and expressed frustration with the group’s direction. She also opposed what she termed a preoccupation with the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group, a student organization founded by Ralph Nader that is viewed by some as taking a liberal stance on political and social issues.

Bachmann told the Winonan that her fellow senators offered a deal to stay on as vice president:  “If you change, we’ll change, too.” But Bachmann felt the two sides had reached a stalemate. She resigned in the winter of 1978.

After graduating from Winona State, Bachmann earned her law degree at Oral Roberts University, where she was research assistant to for a fundamentalist professor. In 1988, she received an LLM degree in tax law at the William & Mary School of Law and worked as a tax litigation attorney for the Internal Revenue Service. She left that position after two years when she had her first child.

Bachmann got her start in public activism when she co-founded a Stillwater, Minnesota, charter school in 1993. She gained media attention for her campaign against the Profile of Learning, a controversial set of state education standards. In 1999 she lost a run for the Stillwater school board, but the next year won a seat in the Minnesota Senate by defeating an 18-year incumbent.

While her public statements have revealed little about her academic experience at Winona State, Bachmann’s reformist approach to education has been unequivocal. In the U.S. House, Bachmann has consistently questioned the federal government’s role in public education and has said that one of her first acts as president would be to dismantle the U.S. Department of Education.

At press time in late October, poll numbers indicated that that the country was unlikely to elect its first female commander-in-chief, and the first Winona State alumna. If anything, Bachmann will likely stiffen her titanium spine and settle on fighting to the end.

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About Winona State University

Founded in 1858, Winona State University is a comprehensive public university with more than 8,500 students. The oldest member of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System, Winona State offers 80 undergraduate, pre-professional, licensure, graduate, and doctorate programs on its three campuses: the original Main Campus in Winona, the West Campus in Winona, and Winona State University-Rochester.

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