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Sen. Steve Cwodzinski taught American government classes for 33 years at Eden Prairie High School. He was photographed in his office at the Minnesota Senate Building. (Staff photo: Bill Klotz)
Sen. Steve Cwodzinski taught American government classes for 33 years at Eden Prairie High School. He was photographed in his office at the Minnesota Senate Building. (Staff photo: Bill Klotz)

Breaking the Ice: From classroom to Senate seat for Cwodzinski

Name: Steve Cwodzinski

Title: Senator, District 48

Education: B.S. and master’s degree in teaching, University of Minnesota

For Sen. Steve Cwodzinski, running for office seemed like a natural next step after teaching American government classes for 33 years at Eden Prairie High School.

It’s also been an eye-opener, the DFLer said, and not just because of the floor sessions that stretch into the wee hours.

“If I could go back, of that nine-week course at least two weeks would be on state and local politics,” Cwodzinski said.

The freshman lawmaker’s first session also has shed new light on one of his perennial assignments, a paper students wrote on whether elected representatives should vote their conscience or their constituency.

“Now I know there’s a third variable called the caucus,” Cwodzinski said. “That’s a hard thing to balance. When do you vote your conscience? When do you vote your constituents? When do you vote your caucus?”

Q. What’s the best way to start a conversation with you?

A. What I loved about teaching is meeting 30 kids every nine weeks to find out what their stories are. What’s your story? Somebody comes up to me and says, “What’s your story?” I can tell you that in two minutes and we’ll see what we have in common.

Q. Who was the first presidential candidate you voted for and why?

A. Jimmy Carter, 1976. I was very excited after those horrible years with Vietnam and Watergate. To have a man of his demeanor, he was breath of fresh air after that tumultuous period.

Q. What books are on your bedside table or e-reader?

A. I read a lot of books. I probably read a disproportionate number of books about the Holocaust. Books about what people had to endure to survive. When people start bitching about, “Oh, my God, the traffic today,” you have no business complaining, especially when you think about family members that took a boxcar to Auschwitz. Reading books about the Holocaust puts things in perspective.

Q. What’s a favorite activity outside your job?

A. My wife and I love walking together. We try to walk around Calhoun or Harriet or a state park or one of the parks in the southwest metro.

Q. If someone visits you in your hometown, what would you take them to see or do?

A. The parks in Eden Prairie. One thing that most people even in my district aren’t aware of is the Veterans Memorial [in Purgatory Creek Park]. It’s this delightful, inspiring little memorial in the heart of Eden Prairie. It’s just a nice piece, acknowledging people who sacrificed so much so we could complain about our commute to work.

Q. How has an event or person inspired you?

A. My grandma and grandpa. They raised me, with my mom. She was a single mom in the late ’50s mid-’60s. She struggled so she moved in with her mother and father. My grandma and grandpa were immigrants to America. They gave me a milk glass when I was 5 years old with JFK’s image on the front. On the back was, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Why would these immigrants to this wonderful country want to give their grandson his milk every night in a glass with those words on the back? One of the reasons I’m here right now is by these immigrants fleeing fascism and communism and tyranny of Europe. They came here and loved everything and had a lot of their family die in the Holocaust.

Q. What would be one way to end partisan polarization?

A. Get to know each other. Everybody who walks in that door wants the same thing. They all want Minnesota to be a better state. People have been struggling with this since James Madison, and he said factions will destroy this nation, but they’re inevitable because people want to join people that think like them. So the best thing we can do was try to write a document that will let factions work within the Constitution.

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