Lunch With Tim Walz

If you haven’t met Tim Walz before – much less sat down with him for any kind of extended conversation – one of the first impressions you would likely get is that he doesn’t come across like a standard politician. The Mankato Democrat, before his election to his first term back in 2006, was a teacher and a football coach, and also served in the Army National Guard. His defeat of longtime Rep. Gil Gutknecht was rightly coined a "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" kind of a story.

Another quick impression one can get of Walz is that he’s a pretty fast talker. I don’t mean that in a negative way – he’s not a fast talker in the sense that he’s trying to sneak some sort of detail by you. He just talks rapidly, and I can almost imagine whatever motor might be inside his brain running in overdrive as he spells out all kinds of knowledge and insight.

On Friday, Tim Walz came to Worthington; he had someone from his office call a couple of weeks before and schedule a luncthime appointment (for the record, I bought my own meal; I know some bounds of journalistic integrity). He had toured the JBS plant here in the morning, meeting with both working staff and management, before coming over with a couple of aides to the Globe. After exchanging pleasantries, we went over to Panda House for lunch.

Over a plate of steamed broccoli and a Diet Coke – somehow I’m guessing it wasn’t his first of the day – Walz engaged in a back-in-forth that showed me two things in particular. They are the same two things he usually demonstrates; how smart and articulate he is, and how good he is at talking to someone such as myself without treating them as, well, less than smart. That said, I must admit it was a bit awkward trying to take notes on what the rapid-fire man across from me was saying at the same time I was trying to take in some delicious shrimp lo mein.

We talked about healthcare reform (Walz is disappointed in the lack of progress, but said Republicans were dishonest when they issued a press release that stated he felt Democrats should rush through legislation before Republican Scott Brown was seated in the Senate.). He also admitted he was disgusted with dealmaking with Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson on the matter. He remained optimistic that a healthcare reform bill will eventually come to fruition, and praised President Barack Obama for his efforts to reach across the aisle to Republicans, despite a lack of results thus far.

Walz likes the concept of No Child Left Behind, but has long been dissatisfied with its implementation and is now unhappy with "Race to the Top," which he believes holds teachers unfairly accountable. (To clarify, he said he has no problem with accountability for teachers, but he doesn’t believe "Race" fulfills that goal.) He noted his support for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which he proudly states is working and had to be done to avoid even worse economic conditions, and pointed out his opposition to bailing out Wall Street and national automakers. He said it’s extremely important that America not let China widen its edge in renewable energy development, explaining the U.S. has always been an innovative leader and must continue to be such, especially in this area. (Our country has continued to increasingly rely on foreign oil, he said.) He supports President Obama’s decisions on Afghanistan, but also said that while he was optimistic for success there, it could also develop into an even messier situation than what exists now.

Walz will seek his third term in a political environment he knows is currently against him, but he’s also aware that consistent attempts to paint him as a puppet of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi have failed in the past. My opinion is it will take far more than a typical Republican with solid conservative credentials to take down Walz in November. It will take someone with an ability to speak smartly, intelligently and candidly to District 1 consitituents, not merely spewing party-line propaganda. I look forward to watching the campaign unfold.