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Chapman: Heitkamp visit inspires children

By Staff | Jan 24, 2014

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., made a brief, but meaningful visit to Rugby on Thursday. The impact could be seen on about 25 glowing faces in Liisa Foster’s fourth-grade class at Ely Elementary School.

Hands shot up all around the room as the children couldn’t wait to ask her a question or offer expertise on North Dakota – the focus of fourth-grade history studies.

Party affiliation didn’t mean a thing to the students, and that is a good thing.

The students questioned her on state history, what she does in Washington, when she met the president and whether she likes her job.

Though political speak occasionally crept into the discussion, Heitkamp was surprisingly smooth and candid, and seemed to enjoy her time with the youngsters. She wasn’t in a rush and acknowledged every student that had a question or comment.

In return, the students expressed genuine interest in her explanations of the U.S. Senate and the role she plays.

If only we can follow the lead of the kids. Unfortunately, as many of us grow older we forget the youthful enthusiasm that allowed us to just sit back, shut up and listen to people with a real willingness to learn.

I, personally, don’t know enough of about Heitkamp or North Dakota politics to comment on who she is as a politician and what the visit should mean to voters in Pierce County.

I have interviewed senators before, including former Sen. John Kerry – now the Secretary of State – and Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. While both of those gentlemen were polite, they didn’t come across nearly as interested as Heitkamp.

Granted, she’s in her home state and probably relishing the chance to get away from the beltway. While Harkin did exhibit some midwest charm, he’s also been in D.C. since 1985 and been interviewed countless times by national media.

You and I may not agree with everything Heitkamp promotes or advocates for, but now might be the time to write and call her with your concerns. She can’t be fully entrenched in the incompetence of Washington after one year, right? I hope not.

One way to really know if our elected officials care about our interests is by communicating with them. You may not always receive a direct response from the official himself or herself, but you may get a better idea of how the whole thing works. Relying on talking points and believing what your cable stations or radio hosts of choice say is easy. It may take a little effort, but trying to engage with leaders may prove more fruitful than one might think.

Ely sixth-grader Dawson Schepp was ecstatic to meet the senator and was allowed to join his brother’s fourth-grade class. Dawson’s enthusiasm for history and government was amazing. He wasn’t afraid of the senator and soaked up the experience.

Dawson’s excitement and Heitkamp’s interest in the children serve as reminders that maybe our elected officials do care and North Dakota has great future leaders – even out of Ely Elementary School.

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