From The New York Times:
STILLWATER, Minn. — Nearly two decades ago, a stay-at-home mother and onetime federal tax lawyer named Michele Bachmann felt a spiritual calling to open her clapboard home here to troubled teenage girls.
“We had our five biological children that God gave to us, and then he called us to take foster children into our home,” Mrs. Bachmann told a Christian audience in 2006. “We thought we were going to take unwed mothers in,” she continued, adding, “We took 23 foster children into our home, and raised them, and launched them off into the world.”
In Washington, she has grabbed the spotlight as a staunch fiscal conservative and brash Tea Party leader. But a look at her life here shows that it was her role as a mother, both to her biological children and to her adolescent foster daughters, that spurred her to seek public office.
Mrs. Bachmann’s political awakening began with her deep disenchantment with the public school system. She helped found a charter school that briefly ran afoul of the state when some parents contended that its curriculum was infused with Christian teachings, and her first run for office was a failed bid for the local school board.
Her career has been deeply interwoven with her evangelical Christian beliefs — opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage were central to her agenda as a state legislator.
Mrs. Bachmann has offered few details about her foster children, and for privacy reasons their names have never been made public.
Over time, Mrs. Bachmann’s husband has said, their home on Johnson Drive grew so full that they expanded their kitchen. They have since moved to a larger home and switched churches. Former neighbors and church members say they saw little of the foster children.
Mrs. Bachmann, whose biological children now range in age from 17 to 29, worked until her fourth child was born.
The Bachmanns were licensed by the state from 1992 to 2000 to handle up to three foster children at a time; the last child arrived in 1998. They began by offering short-term care for girls with eating disorders who were treated through a program at the University of Minnesota, said George Hendrickson, the chief executive of PATH Minnesota, the private agency that handled the placements.
While Mrs. Bachmann may have envisioned herself caring for unwed mothers, as she said in 2006, Mr. Hendrickson, who worked with the couple for four years, said that to his knowledge, none were pregnant.
He said the Bachmann home was “technically considered a treatment home,” which offered a higher level of reimbursement. (The current rate is $47 a day, Mr. Hendrickson said.) That designation required a higher standard of care from parents who had the educational and emotional capability to handle “serious mental health issues.” Dr. Bachmann’s training was an asset.
Minnesota law permits foster care records to be destroyed after seven years, and the Bachmanns’ files are gone, so Mr. Hendrickson could not say how many children they took in. Some stayed a few months, others more than a year.
Critics point out that the couple had not “raised” the children, as Mrs. Bachmann has said.
But here in Stillwater, Mrs. Bachmann cut her political teeth on an issue that concerns nearly all mothers: education, beginning with her controversial work with the charter school, New Heights School, established in 1992 by Dennis Meyer, a local religious figure. Mr. Meyer envisioned it, school officials say, as a place for hands-on learning with a back-to-basics curriculum and heavy parent involvement. Mrs. Bachmann, whose own children had been home-schooled, enrolled one child and joined the board.
But soon after the school opened in September 1993, parents were “butting heads,” said Julie Kearney, the office manager. Minutes of the board meetings reflect intense debate: some parents wanted a school “based on godly principles,” while others contended that “the idea to be as close to a Christian school and be public while taking public money is deceit.”
In a vote over whether Mr. Meyer should resign, the minutes show, Mrs. Bachmann sided with Mr. Meyer. Denise Stephens, who led parents in challenging the religious emphasis, said teachers complained to her that they could not teach “Native American spirituality” or even yoga, and that one who wanted to show the Disney movie “Aladdin” was told she could not because it involved magic.
“Christian teaching was allowed,” Ms. Stephens said, “but any other faith was banned.”
The tensions came to a head when state and local school officials warned the school that it was at risk of losing its charter. In December 1993, after a tumultuous public meeting, Ms. Stephens said, Mr. Meyer and Mrs. Bachmann left the school.
By the late 1990s, with her own children enrolled in private Christian schools, Mrs. Bachman was upset by the education her foster children were getting in public school.
From Rolling Stone:
Anyone wanting to understand how President Bachmann might behave should pay close attention to what happened at New Heights. Because the school took government money, like other charter schools, it had to maintain a separation of church and state, and Bachmann was reportedly careful to keep God out of the initial outlines of the school’s curriculum. But before long, parents began to complain that Bachmann and her cronies were trying to bombard the students with Christian dogma — advocating the inclusion of something called the “12 Biblical Principles” into the curriculum, pushing the teaching of creationism and banning the showing of the Disney movie Aladdin because it promoted witchcraft.
“One member of Michele’s entourage talked about how he had visions, and that God spoke to him directly,” recalled Denise Stephens, a parent who was opposed to the religious curriculum at New Heights. “He told us that as Christians we had to lay our lives down for it. I remember getting in the car with my husband afterward and telling him, ‘This is a cult.'”
Under pressure from parents, Bachmann resigned from New Heights. But the experience left her with a hang-up about the role of the state in public education. She was soon mobilizing against an educational-standards program called Profile of Learning, an early precursor to No Child Left Behind. Under the program, state educators and local businesses teamed up to craft a curriculum that would help young people prepare for the work force — but Bachmann saw through their devious scheme. “She thought it was a socialist plot to turn our children into little worker-automatons,” says Bill Prendergast, a Stillwater resident who wrote for the town’s newspaper and has documented every step of Bachmann’s career.
The theme of socialists scheming to herd children into a factorylike system of predetermined occupations still comes up often in Bachmann’s rhetoric.
[...] Bachmann joined up with a Junior Anti-Sex League-type outfit called the Maple River Education Coalition, which was largely composed of Christian conservatives rallying against educational standards. The group met in a church, and its sessions resembled old-time religious revivals, complete with whooping and hollering. “There were enormous amounts of ‘amens,'” recalls Mary Cecconi, a Stillwater resident who attended an early meeting of Maple River. “It’s like a mission from God with those people.” Maple River was so out there that Minnesota’s then-governor, Jesse Ventura, no slouch in the batshit-conspiracy department, dismissed the group as nothing but a bunch of people who “think UFOs are landing next month.”
Maple River eventually morphed into an organization called EdWatch, which railed against various dystopian indoctrination plans, including the U.N.-inspired International Baccalaureate program, offered in some American high schools. Bachmannites despise IB because its “universal” curriculum refuses to recognize the superiority of Christianity to other religions. You and I might have thought William Butler Yeats, for example, was a great poet who died half a century before the Age of Aquarius, but EdWatch calls him a “New-Age Pantheism Guru” who was aggressively “undermining Christianity.”
Bachmann’s anti-standards crusade led her to her first political run. In 1999, she joined four other Republicans in Stillwater in an attempt to seize control of the school board. The “Slate of Five” proved unpopular: The GOP candidates finished dead last. Bachmann learned her lesson. “Since then, she has never abdicated control of her campaign or her message to anyone,” says Cecconi, who defeated Bachmann in the race — which remains the only election Bachmann has ever lost.
The slate of five had been put together by a local Republican kingpin named Bill Pulkrabek, who this spring was jailed for domestic assault after he allegedly pulled his mistress down a set of stairs by her hair. According to Pulkrabek, Bachmann initially came to him asking for advice on how to defeat Gary Laidig, a moderate Republican state senator, but he advised her to run for the school board first. “We talked about knocking Gary off later,” Pulkrabek recalled. And indeed, right after the school-board fiasco, Bachmann decided to take on Laidig.
In her later telling of the story, however, Bachmann substituted a higher authority than Bill Pulkrabek. It was God, she insisted, not a girlfriend-abusing politician, who instructed her to get involved in politics.
In another version of the story told by Bachmann, she ran against Laidig only because a GOP endorsing convention in April of that year spontaneously selected her, prompting yet another Home Alone extreme-surprise moment. “I came in wearing jeans, a sweatshirt and moccasins, and I had no makeup on at all,” she said. “I had made not one phone call, and spent not five cents, and I did not solicit a vote.” Laidig, who calls Bachmann a “cold and calculating” person, didn’t buy it. “Absolute bullshit,” he told reporters. “She planned this all along.”