Who The Folk?! Deb Calvert

Deb Calvert was stunned at the April 16 Senate District 44 convention, just like everyone else, when State Sen. Terri Bonoff decided to run for Congress. That meant her seat was going to be open in November, and Calvert, a long-time organizer in the district threw her hat into the ring. Even if it meant cancelling a planned vacation to California to do it.

Calvert is one of five known DFL candidates running for the Senate District 44 endorsement. The seat will be open in November’s general election with Bonoff’s decision to challenge Congressman Erik Paulsen in the Minnesota 3rd District. It means a short campaign to convince delegates to endorse one of the candidates on May 19 at the Medina Entertainment Center.

Were you going to run had Sen. Bonoff not announced a Congressional bid?

No. I left the convention and I started thinking about needing to keep that seat, and knowing all the other candidates who were accomplished, and smart, wonderful, hardworking. But knowing the dynamics of the district., having organized here since 2004, I felt that I fit the profile better. One of the things I started thinking about was the political mood here and across the country is bad. People view politicians as having no shared experience, not being able to relate to what working people experience, and that they don’t have skin in the game when they need to get things done. I went out to dinner after the convention with a friend and my husband, and my husband saw a certain look on my face that I’ve only gotten a few times, and I said I should run. I worked on enough political campaigns that if you’re going to do it for real, then you’re going to have to do it, so I stayed home and got the campaign up and running.

What campaigns have you worked on for candidates or issues?

I was 3rd congressional district for John Kerry in 2004. I identified a super volunteer who helped organize the north end of the district. Up until that election, the 3rd District had voted for a Republican for president, for the previous 20 years. That year we went for Kerry. Most of this area was Republican. Terri Bonoff’s seat was Republican, my house seat was Republican, the seat that Cheryl Youakim occupies and Steve Simon occupied were Republican. Yvonne Selcer’s seat was Republican. That organization laid the foundation for those people to win those seats. Those are campaigns I worked on. I was on two statewide races for State Sen. Steve Kelley. Then I was hired by Amy Klobuchar to be her state scheduler.

What do you see as the biggest difference between being the candidate as opposed to the person behind the scenes for a candidate?

Even when you’re staff, it’s not the laser focus on you. You know that anything you say, anything you do, anything you have ever said or ever done. Any experience you’ve had with anybody and how it might be perceived by the general public. It’s more work when you’re the candidate because it’s on you to win. There’s certain things only you can do. Position papers, people can help you, but you need to have your own opinions on what you’ll say to endorsing organizations. I tend to be a workaholic anyway, and I have the sense that I can sleep when I die.

You can’t pawn off certain things. You delegate as much as you can but there’s certain things only the candidate can do.

How do you see the demographics changing in the district?

I think that people who have lived in Minneapolis, younger people, eventually get married and want to have families and they want the green-leafy suburbs. Obviously Minneapolis is one of the more liberal parts of the state and Twin Cities. The state in general is becoming more diverse and forces people to be more inclusive and more diverse in their thinking. They recognize different points of view and perspectives and backgrounds. That’s true all over the state.

What is it that you want people to know ahead of the nominating convention?

One of the things that people should know is that I’ve always been a Democrat. But given the nature of the district, you have to listen to different perspectives. You can take your values, and mine are strong, strong Democratic values, but I know that with [State House District 44A] being more conservative, there’s a reason Terri Bonoff won. You have to listen to all the people to represent the whole district. That doesn’t mean you back off your values, but you work towards those values in a way that you can actually accomplish legislation.

I really feel that one of the things I bring is that I can’t afford to do this. I went to my financial adviser after I decided with my husband to figure out how we’re going to do this because I really am committed to the fact that working people need someone with real solutions at the capitol. You can’t have that disconnect. If you don’t feel those problems that you can shove them away and deal with them next year when it’s a less contentious year or when certain issues aren’t so hot-button. I feel like we are losing the opportunity to get certain things done. You have to find a way to capture the moment and move it forward and save money in the long-run.

Having been behind the scenes, why run now?

I want to keep that seat in the DFL column. I’ve supported so many people and paid such close attention to what they’ve done at the Capitol that I fell I’d be a great senator. I understand in a very fundamental way how to move policy forward, what good policy is and I understand what it is to represent an entire district and how to bring things in a way that can convey to people from many perspectives a path forward where there can be consensus. That goes for the election and working at the State Capitol. It sounds like a campaign slogan but it’s really true.

Favorite Jewish Holiday

Passover. It’s the full-service holiday. They tried to kill us, we’re here, let’s eat. I love the ceremony and the songs. It’s the one holiday where family really makes an effort to be together. It celebrates freedom from oppression. It’s an awesome holiday.

Favorite Jewish food?

There’s too many to pick. My grandmother’s mandel bread with chocolate chips and almond. It makes me homesick for her.

Editor’s note: Calvert and one of her opponents, Leah Solo, are both Jewish. While TC Jewfolk will not be endorsing in this or any race, we have profiled both of them to introduce them to the community in Who The Folk?! If you’re a Jewish candidate for statewide office and would like to be profiled, let us know!

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