Bergstrom stops in New Ulm
NEW ULM — GOP lieutenant governor candidate, Donna Bergstrom visited New Ulm for Bavarian Blast this weekend and stayed through Monday to discussed the campaign before the Aug. 14 primary.
Bergstrom is the running mate of Republican-endorsed candidate for governor Jeff Johnson. Johnson is facing a strong challenge from former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who skipped the convention endorsement process to seek the nomination via the state primary.
Bergstrom lives in Duluth and is a member of the Red Lakes Nation. Her family was raised Lutheran by a mill-working father and a stay-at-home mother.
Bergstrom attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities and received a degree in political science. She was the first in her family to get a degree, but her family understood and appreciated the value of education.
“My dad and mom both thought it was important to stay informed, stay prepared and the best way to do that was through education,” Bergstrom said.
After college Bergstrom joined the Marines and remained in the Marine Corp for over 20 years. She served as an intelligence officer. While in the service she worked with the National Security Agency, Counter Intelligence, National Reconnaissance and other strategic agencies.
Bergstrom was once recalled to work with U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski as military liaison. During Operation Iraqi Freedom she was stationed at Headquarters in Arlington, Virginia to help ready forces for deployment.
In 2010, Bergstrom moved with her family back to Minnesota. She had no plan to run for office, but said it didn’t take long to notice Minnesota has high taxes and to see problem with the education system. This, as well as the loss of businesses and veterans from the state, inspired her to become politically involved.
Bergstrom served as co-chair for the party’s House District 7A. In 2016, she ran for State Senate, after receiving encouragement from Duluth Republicans.
“Even though Duluth is a very blue area, what our community felt was that I had a very compelling story having been in the military and having move back and wanted to make changes.”
When Johnson entered the Governor’s race Bergstrom asked how she could help. She had previously helped on his 2014 campaign. The led to her being selected as his running mate in 2018.
“It was an honor and a privilege to be asked,” she said. “I am not an elected official. I am a grassroots person.”
Bergstrom said Johnson reached out to her because he wants to overthrow the status quo and he wanted a person that represented the common person.
“There is a sense of arrogance in our politics,” Bergstrom said. “We want to change the way government does business. We want to bring in people who represent our communities, represent the changes we want and not be driven by the governing elite.”
Bergstrom said she does have experience working with policy through her time with the Marines as a commander officer in Panama.
Education is a top concern for Bergstrom. She said it is an issue near and dear to her. Both Bergstrom and Johnson support parents’ choice as a component to improving the schools. Bergstroms said ti cap class sizes to ensure manageable numbers, but she also supports the Charter School initiative.
“I think Charter Schools are amazing because of what they are allowed to do is respond to the needs of their school community,” she said. “I feel our education in set up in a 1950s conveyor belt and that’s not working.”
On gun violence, Bergstrom said she and Johnson are strong defenders of the Second Amendment. They support better enforcing the laws on the books “I grew in a time when we would bring BB guns and shotguns for show and tell,” she said. “I have a good appreciation for gun safety and how important it is to have good measure when using weapons.”
Bergstrom’s father even taught gun safety classes.
“There are ways to keep our schools safe without taking away our weapons,” Bergstrom said. “If a community wants to train teachers they should have the option.” In addition, she want to support police to protect the community from individuals with past records.
On health care, the Johnson campaign wants to remove the bureaucracy and lower premiums. Bergstrom does not believe the single-payer model works and felt more options through the free market were the best option.
Bergstrom does encourage veterans to take advantage of V.A. benefits.
“That’s a message I want to send all our veterans,” she said. “Don’t feel you don’t deserve it. If you need it go and get it.”
On the controversial copper-nickel mining project in northeastern Minnesota, the Johnson campaign supports mining. Bergstrom said there does not need to be a choice between mining and protecting the environment. She said both were possible with current technology.
A unique aspect of the 2018 Governor’s race is that Bergstrom is one of two Native American women in the race for Lt. Governor, along with Penny Flanagan who is running with Tim Walz.
“We are the only state to offer that,” Bergstrom said. “It’s amazing. I am incredibly proud of that.”
Bergstrom said she does feel her voice gets diminished because she is running as a Republican.
“There is a narrative that Native Americans are not Republicans,” she said.
“We come from a people that have had our language taken away, our weapons taken away our land taken away and yet we are still here. We want to live in a government that is going to respect us as much as anyone else.”
She said Johnson did not choose her as a running mate for her identity as a Native American, but having that background is another way to point to a broad and diverse background.
The Minnesota primary is Tuesday, Aug 14. Johnson is the GOP endorse candidate, but in the primary he will face former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and Mathew Kruse.