Published Online: August 11, 2004
Published in Print: August 11, 2004, as Reporter's Notebook

Minnesota Delegation Finds Convention Days Are All Above Average

You never know what luminary you might run into at a national political convention.

Emily Wenzel, a teacher from Rochester, Minn., who was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, had a little talk with author Garrison Keillor and met comedian and radio-talk-show host Al Franken.

She chatted with former Vice President Walter F. Mondale, and had her picture taken on the convention floor with actor Richard Schiff from NBC’s "The West Wing." (Only later did she realize that the passerby she asked to snap the photo was Gov. Edward G. Rendell of Pennsylvania.)

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"I’m having the best time of my life," the 25-year-old delegate said at the gathering here late last month.

Ms. Wenzel and the other 85 delegates and 12 alternates from Minnesota didn’t have to go far to encounter big names from politics and entertainment.

The delegation’s daily breakfast meetings at the Radisson Hotel in Cambridge, Mass., were a great place to start, with the likes of Mr. Franken (who grew up in Minnesota) and Mr. Keillor (who was born and raised there), as well as movie director Rob Reiner, who is an activist for child welfare and other political causes, as speakers.

"It helps to have Vice President Walter Mondale on our team," said Asad Zaman, a Minnesota delegate and a charter school principal in suburban St. Paul. The unsuccessful 1984 Democratic presidential nominee was the chairman of the state’s delegation.

Mr. Reiner talked to the delegates mostly about foreign policy, but threw in a few lines about his school days, recalling the "duck and cover" drills of the tension-filled post-World War II era.

"You know, … you got under a desk that was gonna save you from an atom bomb," he said. "It’s scientifically proven that a school desk is the only thing that can save you from the nuclear bomb."

In an interview, Mr. Reiner said children’s issues are critical in the presidential campaign.

"Our education system has been wildly underfunded in exchange for giving rich people a tax cut," he said. But if the Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, is elected, Mr. Reiner said, "we’ll get some much-needed funds for education and also for children’s health care."

Mr. Franken, who didn’t discuss education in his breakfast speech, criticized the No Child Left Behind Act in a later interview.

"It’s an unfunded mandate," he said. "It’s been onerous. I mean, every teacher and every principal that I talk to hates it."

That seemed true enough for Ms. Wenzel, the Minnesota teacher. She said she likes the goals, but thinks the law as written will ruin education.

Mr. Zaman said: "One of the reasons I’m here is we either need to get rid of the No Child Left Behind Act or we need to fund it properly."

Vol. 23, Issue 44, Page 36

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