By the mid-Nineties, Marcus and Michele were welcoming foster children into their home. It began with one, then another. By 1998, 23 teenage girls had lived with them at different junctures. It was at times a challenge, but always a labor of love. Some of Bachmann’s own children remember long lines for the bathroom, but, beyond that minor snag, they are in awe of their parents, especially their mother, for her boundless energy.
“Our adolescent foster children came to us as the last stop in the foster-care system,” Marcus says. He and Michele were determined to make sure that they were not lost in the system, just another name in a state worker’s manila folder. “When our foster children were older teens, I had the rule that summer was not for idleness. From 9 to 5, Monday to Friday, they either found employment or volunteered.” The disciplined guidance, he says, worked: Each of their foster children graduated from high school.
Bachmann, one of her sons recalls, never seemed to rest. Her professional legal work and her never-ending efforts as an educator of her children did not stop her from becoming involved in conservative causes. She would attend pro-life meetings whenever possible and take her children to see conservative speakers at local college campuses.
During Bill Clinton’s second term, Bachmann decided to speak out beyond the neighborhood coffee klatch. The Left’s heavy influence over the state’s public schools, which enabled bureaucrats to craft shoddy, politically correct classroom material, motivated her to join the Maple River Education Coalition, a group of parents and community members who, like her, were upset with the quality of public-school education.
Bachmann’s cries for education reform were soon heard around Minnesota as she and her allies campaigned against the St. Paul progressives. “I put together a two-hour commentary and went everywhere,” she says. “We talked about the curriculum being dumbed down and about how this is devastating for our kids.”
Her charisma and denunciations generated buzz in Stillwater. In 1999, she took her first step into electoral politics, running for a seat on the local school board. But it was not to be. She and a slate of her conservative friends mounted bids. All of them lost. “We had no idea about politics,” she chuckles. Bachmann shrugged off the defeat, looking for other ways to contribute.
A year later, lightning struck when she decided at the last minute to attend the state GOP convention, where many of her allies from the educational fights had congregated, trying to nominate conservative, pro-reform candidates. As Bachmann tells it, she was not even planning to attend, but was there for a wedding.
“I told Marcus that I felt like I should go, since I was in the area, and asked if I could skip the wedding. He said sure, so I put on jeans, moccasins, and a sweatshirt with a hole in it,” she says. She met up with her friends. As the afternoon unfolded, no one seemed to be interested in challenging Gary Laidig, her district’s longtime incumbent state senator and a moderate Republican.
Bachmann, without consulting her family, was prompted by a friend to put her name in for consideration. The GOP staffers were shocked when she walked up to the front and filed papers on a whim. “I was thinking that maybe if I ran, and we could get a discussion going on our issues, then it would be worth it,” she says. Winning, it seemed, was almost out of the question. She felt she was doing her duty as an activist and a mother.
After she signed her name on the dotted line, Bachmann thought she could return to her pack of friends in the back of the hall. No, no, said one of the party operatives, you must give a five-minute speech if you want to be an official candidate. “I got up there and delivered a speech about freedom,” she says. “I spoke about how it relates to the cause of life, taxes, and education.” Laidig watched all of this from afar. He was up next.