To combat this dark outcome, 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. "As if we didn't have enough to do, He called me to run for the Minnesota State Senate," she said in 2006. "I had no idea, no desire to be in politics. None."
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."
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