Legislator’s wife defends her husband

Colleen Dettmer responds to letter critical of Rep. Bob Dettmer

Colleen Dettmer
Guest Columnist

As the wife of Bob Dettmer, State Representative for Senate District 52A, I have seen many interesting things written (pro and con) about my husband in the papers over the years. It is something I have learned to accept as coming with the territory when you’re in politics.

After having read  Michael Lafave’s “Special Guest” column in the February 9th Forest Lake Times, however, I felt it was time I put some ‘misconceptions’ to rest from my perspective.  Being married to Bob for almost 40 years, I think I know how he spends his time pretty well and where his heart is.

Many in the Forest Lake and surrounding areas know my husband as being a former teacher, wrestling coach and also military reservist. Mr. Lafave was correct in saying that my husband taught here and coached wrestling for 34 years.

My husband also just retired from the Army Reserve last March as a Chief Warrant 4 after 25 years of service.  During his period of service, he was called to active duty two months after 9/11. His supposedly one year deployment ended up being almost two years. That was definitely a challenging time for our family as anyone who goes through a deployment knows.

There are several different things that Mr. Lafave talked about in his column, but the one I would like to address is the ‘time’ Bob spends working as a Legislator for his district.

Apparently, Mr. Lafave thinks that Bob only works for approximately 64 days just during session. I think most people realize that isn’t true, but it looks like there are some that misunderstand what his duties are.  Although the work in session is the ‘focal point’ of the year, anyone who is a public servant and represents the people knows their job goes far beyond that.

Because of the tremendous growth in the last 10 years in Senate District 52A, Bob represents the largest district in the state. That will change once re-districting is done as the districts will be more evenly divided again. Currently he represents over 50,000 people.

It is true that Bob is ‘in session’ for a specific part of the year, but that time is only part of what he does. Because he represents the people of District 52A he attends many functions.  Session time doesn’t include the multiple hours he spends in  meetings throughout the year, the dozens of speaking engagements he accepts in and out of his district (and no, he doesn’t get paid for them), the hours helping people resolve conflicts, the countless emails he answers and the many many phone calls he makes responding to constituents.

There are times I am in our home office while he’s making calls to these constituents and they almost always express surprise that he would bother to call them. He especially likes to talk to those who don’t necessarily agree with his position or maybe the way he voted on a bill. I have never heard those particular phone calls end up with either Bob or the person he’s talking to being upset about the conversation.

Sometime last summer, Bob talked briefly to Mr. Lafave wishing to have a meeting with him in person. Mr. Lafave has not gotten back to him on a date for that meeting.

Bob also gets a lot of calls from ‘non-constituents’ in the state asking him for help on something. Many times, he can’t necessarily help them, but it’s refreshing to hear him give them the names and phone numbers of the people who they should contact for help. In typical military fashion, he gives these names and numbers to them according to the ‘chain of command’ they should follow.

When Bob was first elected to office, we were uncertain what the future would hold with this new position. Since it was totally different from the careers he was used to, there was nervousness (probably more on my part) attached to this change.

Little did I realize at that time that those previous careers had actually prepared him for this new direction in his life. In my heart, however, I knew my husband was an extremely hard worker with impeccable character and an amazing gift of working with people. We have found those are three good qualities to have in the public sphere.

When he won his first election, we were humbled that the people who elected him apparently placed enough confidence in him to think he would represent them well.

I would personally like to thank the people of Senate District 52A for allowing my husband to serve them as their state representative for the last three terms. It has carried challenges and rewards for both of us. I know Bob tries hard to do the right thing for his constituents.

As we gear up for another election season, the electorate will decide if Bob deserves another term. That is the amazing thing about our form of government.  The people have the right to choose.

My challenge to Mike Lafave would be to take my husband up on his offer to have a personal meeting with you. You have his number. Who knows, you both might come away from the meeting with a new perspective and respect for each other. — The writer lives in Forest Lake

  • Paul Cabral

    I applaud Mrs. Dettmer for standing by her husband’s side, but wonder why she didn’t address a single issue written point by point by Mr. LaFave?

    I have to wonder how lowering wages for construction workers would bring any additional revenue into our district, in fact, it would allow out of state employers from places like Texas and Mississippi to come here for our taxpayer dollars while marching those funds straight back to where they came from.

    In regards to Right to Work legislation, which she again avoided, the vast majority of Minnesotans are opposed to this horrendous legislation. In fact, the legislation only seeks to further a partisan agenda rather than solve any economic problems. Anybody who thinks Right to Work would bring jobs to Minnesota need only look to South Carolina, Mississippi and North carolina which all lead the nation in job loss. That’s not a condition the people of Minnesota deserve and would only serve to exacerbate the pain voters are feeling.

    I ask Mrs. Dettmer that she and her husband focus on the issues affecting the voters of the district rather than their hurt feelings derived from constructive criticism issued by a constituent.

    Rather than just address one constituent through an offering of a backroom meeting focusing on his hurt feelings, her husband should think about responding to the rest of us – many of whom share Mr. LaFave’s concerns.

  • https://twitter.com/#!/Shea_Carr Shea Carr

    I can provide some testament for Mrs. Dettmer’s sentiments. As someone who has sent Mr. Dettmer (my former teacher at FLHS) multiple letters imploring him to support passing legislation on a new Vikings stadium, I have never met a politician so engaging and receptive toward his/her constituents. He almost always responds and often via telephone.

    While I often disagree with his views and believe his perspective can be dated, I would never quesiton the time he puts into his work and his office. He strikes me as someone who does more than just campaigning outside of the time the legislature is in session.

  • Tim Wallace

    I do understand and respect Mrs. Dettmer defending her husband. However, its sad when your mate puts your relationship in a position where you feel like you must come out in defence.

    Obviously the issues Mr LaFave addressed is the heart and soul of the American worker. Polititions often forget these so-called “workers” are the tax paying citizens of our community, neighbors, we go to church with, neighbors we shop with, neighbors we share schools with and so on.

    Then to have polititians to fight against them, when they stand against an honest days pay for an honest days work, by standing against Prevailing Wage, attacking the constitutional rights of public workers to bargin over working conditions and wages, and the rights of all workers to be represented by Unions to enhanse a better way of life, by attacking “Right to Work”.

    Please Mrs Dettmer, it’s ok to stand by your man. However, when you do, please don’t dodge the issues that gave rise to the article Mr LaFave felt compelled to write. Address them one by one. Then please, tell your neighbors why Rep. Dettmer is fighting so against them.

  • Ranger I

    Mr. Dettmer please make this state a “right to work state.” It will bring jobs and the private sector will once again go great guns. Thanks for all the many hours you have worked and listening to all of us. I know many evenings you have been out and away from your home.You have done a great job and have given so much for all of us. We are grateful for you. Eugene Huerstel

  • John Hamilton

    Mrs.Dettmer, I find it great that you want to stand by your man and support him as you do. I also like the fact that how well you know him.

    I find it odd that your retort is not substansive at all and avoids all questions asked of Bob.

    I would request that Bob or yourself publicly declare his position on on “right to work”. Is he in favor of right to work, or against it?

    I do not want to see Minnesota turned into another southern state up north where a great life and future can be attained by our children where they can make livable wages under out current laws.



  • Mike LaFave

    Proponents of the right to work constitutional amendment have been promoting right to work laws as job creating. If that’s true, why do 19 of the 23 right to work states in the U.S. have unemployment rates higher than Minnesota?
    Bureau of Labor Statistic; December 2011

  • Ranger I

    Could it be in the states that do not have right to work, those States are broke and in such debt it will never get out? The new States that have right to work are now doing so much better. It really works. Eugene Huerstel

  • Mike LaFave

    The last state to put right to work into law (before Indiana last month) was Oklahoma in 2001; the pace of companies relocating to OK has decreased since right to work was enacted. Since NAFTA passed the right to work states of North Carolina and Mississippi have lost the most manufacturing jobs, even more than Michigan. As a matter of fact, since NAFTA passed, 9 of the 15 states with the most manufacturing job loss are right to work states. EPI briefing paper 326

    Currently OK’s unemployment rate is 6.1%;
    Currently MN’s unemployment rate is 5.7%

    A brief explanation about what right to work is; in right to work states employees in union shops are not required to pay anything for union representation, but still receive all the wages, health & retirement benefits and full representation rights that the dues paying union members receive from the union. To be clear, Unions are required by “right to work” laws to represent employees who pay absolutely nothing to the union, even when they are disciplined or terminated, often these grievances are resolved through the costly arbitration process.

    In non-right to work states (as Minnesota is) workers are not required to join the union if they choose not to. However, these workers are required to pay a representational fee to cover the cost for the services the union provides such as contract negotiations, grievance and arbitration procedures and other union expenses related to general representational activities. They can also opt out of having dues go towards political activities.

    Imagine the outcry from organizations like the American Legion if legislators passed laws that allowed all Veterans to walk in off the street and take advantage of all activities, services and social events this great organization provides without paying any membership fees. How about if American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) had to provide all the benefits, services, discounts etc to everyone 50 or older and no membership fees were required? Just think of the lobbyist that would flood state capitol buildings if legislators proposed laws that would require the Chamber of Commerce to represent all businesses in their community, even if those businesses did not pay any membership fees or dues. As far as I know unions are the only organizations that have to abide by these types of unfair rules.

  • Ranger I

    It nice to know you can opt out of paying dues to political activities. Never heard of that before in Minnesota? How do you go about doing it?
    Is it NAFTA or right to work states the problem?
    Is Oklahoma broke or not? The new States that have “right to work” are doing much better and are improving. Is Indiana doing much better now?
    Could it be Minnesota will even have less unemployment when it becomes a “right to work state” Eugene Huerstel

  • Mike LaFave

    I’m not sure what you mean by “new States”. OK was the last state in 2001; Indiana just passed it in January. Before that it has been quite some time before a state went right to work.

    There are very few states in general that are doing much better than Minnie as far as unemployment. The Dakotas are but that is because of the energy boom in those states.
    Nevada (r to w) unemployment rate 12.6%
    Florida (r to w) unemployment rate 9.9%
    North Carolina (r to w) unemployment rate 9.9%
    South Carolina (r to w) unemployment 9.5%
    Tennessee ( r to w) unemployment rate of 8.7%
    These are all states where the median income is substantially lower than Minnie. To be fair, there are a lot of non right to work states (Free Bargaining States) that have a higher unemployment rates than Minnesota.

    If a person really studies it, the myth that r to w laws create jobs is just that, a myth.
    According to the Economic Policy Institute; r to w state workers make $1500 a year less and are less likely to be insured, have a pension. Right to work is not a job creator but is proven to drive wages down.

    As far as NAFTA, that has hit manufacturing all over the US in a big way.

    Let’s just hope the unemployment rate keeps decreasing as it has recently, that will solve a lot of what ails our country

    • Ranger I

      How do you get out of paying for political activities as a member of a union in Mn?

  • max anderson

    When business does business it has a contract to protect itself, Workers now have that same right in Minnesota. Why would a person give up their right to negotiate fair wages and working standards?

    Lets face it the ultra right wing is pouring loads of outside money into the state on these constitutional amendments, this is nothing more of a brib/bailout for a bankrupt republican party doing the bidding of those willing to give them a wad of cash to bail them out of their financial mess. These traitors have sold out to the highest bidder.

    Why would someone give up hard earned rights to make less money? What right to work really means is the right to work for less.

  • Ranger I

    How much does your product cost? Can I afford it? Sell it cheaper and sell a ton more.Thats how the auto industry started out. Thats why America has the greatest middle class and everyone has the chance to be able to buy so many things. Eugene Huerstel