Pam Wolf Steps from Classroom to Capitol
The new state senator taught school on Monday and was sworn in on Tuesday.
Pam Wolf didn't have a day off this week.
Instead, the new state senator from District 51 was in her classroom at Pines School in Lino Lakes on Monday for one last day of teaching this school year.
The next day, she was among 21 new Republicans sworn in as senators in St. Paul, helping her party take the majority in both houses of the state Legislature.
A substitute will take over her classroom until Wolf returns after the legislative session. But among her first orders of business was arranging a Capitol tour for her students next week—this time with a stop at the senate office of their regular teacher.
Finding herself elected to the Senate on her second attempt and in the majority came as a pleasant surprise to Wolf, but "that's what we call Minnesota politics," she said with a laugh Wednesday. "Who knows!"
She credited her win over five-term DFL incumbent Don Betzold to a lower-key contest than their matchup in 2006, better recognition of her name, and "winds of change" leading voters "looking for more conservatism."
David FitzSimmons, chair of the Republican Party in Minnesota's Sixth Congressional District, praised her in comment sent by email: "Pam Wolf ran a great campaign that succeeded in bringing many people together that led to her victory. SD51 is a [bellwether] district and her win showed Republicans were on the upswing. With 51 every Senate seat in CD6 is held by a Republican. We are all very proud of Pam and the work she and her supporters put in."
Wolf drew similar accolades from Carleton Crawford, chair of the Republican Party in the Fifth Congressional District, which includes Minneapolis and the Fridley part of Wolf's Senate district. (Wolf is the only Republican that voters in the Fifth Congressional District sent to the state Legislature.)
"She is talented, she knows her district and she puts a good crew together," Crawford said. He predicted the Senate seat would remain "winnable" for Republicans in two years with Wolf on the ticket, even after the redistricting process re-draws political boundaries.
Wolf said she a good feeling about her chances from the responses she got from voters while campaigning. "The number one thing people were saying," she recalled, "was stop the spending and don't raise our taxes."
But she said she didn't listen to polls because "four years ago they said I was ahead"—and were wrong. Likewise, on Election Night she refused to hear any chatter ahead of the final result. "I told my crew, 'Don't talk to me,'" she recalled.
In the end, she led by 1,701 votes for a winning margin of about 5 percentage points, with greater support than she said she had expected in the DFL-leaning western side of the district, which includes east Fridley.
It's a district that covers a "huge range," Wolf said, including four cities, two counties, two congressional districts and parts of six school districts—four of which she has taught in.
She said she sometimes met former students while door-knocking during the campaign, and now joins a former student, state Rep. Kate Knuth, at the Capitol. (Knuth is a DFLer representing neighboring House District 50B.)
Wolf landed a natural committee assignment for a teacher: the Education Committee. She'll also serve on Senate committees for transportation, and local government and elections.
Her assigned mentor is six-term Republican Michelle Fischbach of Paynesville. But Fischbach may not have much spare time for showing a newbie the ropes, Wolf said, now that she has been elected president of the Senate. (The contest for that top leadership post briefly—and mistakenly—included Betzold, Wolf's DFL rival.)
Notwithstanding advice from Fischbach, Wolf said she plans to take an approach to her new role that's "more low-key." Now that she's in office after two long campaigns, she said, "I'm not looking to make my name known anywhere."