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