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Recent events create opportunity to discuss U.S. Constitution

“How much time have you spent studying the U.S. Constitution?”

That question was asked of me by a college history instructor. It’s a good question during these times of history in the making involving the impeachment inquiry by the U.S. House of Representatives.

In the heated debate back and forth among Democrats and Republicans involving President Trump’s phone call to the Ukrainian president and impeachable offenses, the U.S. Constitution is brought up continuously.

Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence committee, charges Trump has violated U.S. Constitution.

Trump charges the impeachment proceedings as “illegal,” and one of Congress’ “unconstitutional efforts to overturn the democratic process.”

The history instructor who raised the question knows a little about politics. Besides teaching at Minnesota West Community and Technical College in Worthington, Anita Gaul was installed as chairman of the Lyon County chapter of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmers-Labor Party in March. Gaul and a handful of DFL volunteers had just finished walking in 38-degree, snowy conditions down Main Street in Marshall during Saturday’s Southwest Minnesota State University’s Homecoming Parade.

The DFL huddled up in the back of the Wooden Nickel to warm up and enjoy some lunch.

My answer to Gaul’s Constitution question was: “not much.” It’s probably the answer for many U.S. Citizens, no matter what side of the aisle you sit on.

“I realized through all of it when I’m teaching, we really need to stop and go through what’s in the Constitution,” Gaul said. “What does high crimes and misdemeanors mean? What does it say? Sometimes the Constitution is so vague and deliberately so.

“It’s not always cut and dry. What was meant in the Constitution that we spent 200 some odd years hammering it out and why cases go to court.”

And it’s just not the impeachment process. There are other aspects of the Constitution that continue to be debated.

“The Second amendment — what does it mean in order to have a well-armed militia. You have the right to bear arms — what exactly does that mean? It (U.S. Constitution) was written in a different time and in a different place. Also written in the Constitution — black people were three-fifths of a person. That changed too.”

Gaul’s insight into the U.S. Constitution comes not just from teaching history. Gaul shared with me that she grew up on a Murray County farm. After graduating from high school, she majored in political science at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

“I was going to work for the foreign service. I wanted to become a foreign diplomat,” she said. But after spending a semester in Germany, Gaul realized teaching was a better fit for her.

“I love history and I love teaching,” Gaul said.

And what a time to be a history teacher. I can’t recall a time in my life where politics have become so tumultuous. Where the political divide has been so wide.

Gaul is not only teaching history. She’s helping to guide her DFL chapter in a region where being a Democrat can be difficult. But Gaul says her leadership strategy doesn’t involve divisiveness.

“I really focus on building bridges,” she said.

Gaul points to the event she helped organize at SMSU involving former Republican U.S. Senator Dave Durenberger and Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Lori Sturdevant. Durenberger and Sturdevant co-wrote a book called “When Republicans were Progressive.” The event drew Republicans and Democrats.

“These are the types of things I like to see. If we just sit there screaming at each other, nothing gets done and nothing gets fixed. We have to learn to talk to each other,” she said. “We need to keep talking to each other. It doesn’t help to sit there and scream, like throwing rotten eggs. So that’s really been our focus lately, to build those bridges.”

And Gaul admitted it hasn’t been easy for herself to help build those bridges. She revealed the 2016 general election “jarred her.” That election was her motivation to get involved in politics. She started showing up at DFL meetings. Next thing she knew, she became a leader.

“I showed up. The world belongs to those who show up,” she told me when I asked about her fast ascension in the DFL Lyon County Chapter.

And that should be a good thing for local politics. Maybe she can help keep us all talking to each other. Like she told me toward the end of the interview: The other side is not evil. “We just have different views on what’s best for our country. It’s hard to hate someone when you work with them. We come together.”

A good lesson to learn.

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