BY T.W. BUDIG – ECM CAPITOL REPORTER
Jim Graves like people, including the congresswoman he hopes to defeat.
"I like Michele Bachmann. As a person, I really do," said Graves, 6th District Democratic congressional candidate.
"I’m just kid from the north side of St. Cloud," he said.
Graves, 58, is a highly successful businessman who built the AmericInn hotel chain after making the decision as a younger man, perhaps in accord with his entrepreneurial DNA, he joked, to leave a good job and clamber down the lower level steps at home with a typewriter and strike out on his own.
Yes, he had a business plan, he explained.
What’s more, he could spot opportunity.
"Somebody needs a night’s sleep. They want a nice experience. That’s their need," he said.
"That’s my opportunity," said Graves.
The ability to detect opportunity in need is as applicable to governing as to business, Graves suggests.
Graves parents live in the same house on the north side of St. Cloud where Graves, his brothers and sister, grew up.
Graves’ father was a salesman who sold peanut butter and cake mixes to local grocery stores.
"We had a great family," said Graves.
"Quintessence middle-class, hard-working family. But we had a lot of fun," he said.
Graves worked as a baker, delivered televisions, cleaned the bathrooms in a movie theater, he said. Like his brothers and sister, he paid for his high school and college tuitions, said Graves.
As a young couple, Graves, and his wife, Julie Graves, played lounges and clubs as folk singers, Jim Graves strumming guitar and singing with Julie Graves playing piano and joining in song.
They made some money.
"I mean it was good paying gig," said Graves.
"Back in those days if you made $600 or $700 a week playing guitar and singing, you were pretty happy," Graves said.
Indeed, the music money was as much as four times the amount he made teaching at Holy Spirit Elementary School in St. Cloud, he said.
Graves does not consider it much of a leap to move from music into business.
It’s all about working hard, developing skills – that’s what he used to tell his students, said Graves.
"Use your skill set the best you can and go and out and change this world and follow your bliss," he urged them.
That’s the most important thing in life, he said: doing what’s right, doing what you’re passionate about.
"That’s common to teaching school, that’s common to singing on the stage, that’s common to bringing people together to build a hotel or a restaurant," he said.
One thing that did prompt Graves to step outside his "comfort zone" was politics.
Graves, who has felt unease about the direction the country, said his determination to run for office set after watching a television commentator deplore the state of politics in the country and wonder why anybody, given the toxicity, would want to serve in office.
"That’s the kind of challenge that gets me going," said Graves.
"I’m the kind of person that likes to see a goal that’s reachable but maybe difficult – but a good goal, good for the common good," he said.
Graves may like Bachmann the person, but not Bachmann the politician.
"I think Congresswoman Bachmann epitomizes a lot, if mot all, that’s wrong with Washington," he said.
"Which is gridlock, which is lack of civility, lack of common good, and a lack of trying to get things done for the future," said Graves.
He depicts Bachmann as ineffectual, proposing little that has ever gained traction.
"I think it’s time the Sixth District in Minnesota has on the ground, full-time representation," said Graves.
In talking about the federal budget, Graves expressed annoyance with the idea that simply letting the Bush tax cuts expire or one or two other simple steps will turn the budget deficit around.
That’s too easy, he said.
"I don’t get any heartburn whatsoever about the Simpson-Bowles concept," said Graves, referring to a proposal crafted by a national commission that called for revenue increases and budget cuts.
"I thought Simpson-Bowles was a darn good start," he said.
"At the end of the day, we have to find a way to build the middle class," he said.
"That’s what is at risk. That’s what’s always driven the economy, historically," he said.
Liquidity, or money, is in the marketplace, but not demand, Graves explained.
"We just have to turn this thing around. And believe me, we can and will," he said.
On other issues, Graves indicated that hunters, anglers and gun owners would find a kindred spirit in Congressman Graves.
"The Second Amendment stands for itself," he said.
"I love venison in the fall. It’s a tradition in our family – hunting is a big thing."
In terms of immediate improvements to the district, Graves points to infrastructure.
He would like to see the Northstar Commuter Rail line extended.
He would like to see the St. Cloud Airport upgraded as to better suit the demands of business.
And there’s no question there are a lot of federal regulatory changes that can be made to improve the business climate, Graves said.
Graves opposes the proposed constitutional amendments appearing on the November ballot – photo ID and the same-sex marriage ban.
He’s worried Photo ID could place barriers to voting for seniors and veterans, he explained.
And as for the marriage ban amendment, he points to his own 39-year marriage.
"It’s the best thing that ever happened to me in my life," he said.
"And by gosh, why can’t everybody enjoy that?"
If a church or synagogue objects to same-sex marriage – fine. That’s entirely their right, he explained.
"But in America, we all have an opportunity to reach our happiness. As a legislator, I’m going to stand up for everybody in America," he said.
Graves indicated that he did not intend to self-finance his campaign.
"We’re going to raise the necessary cash to get the message out, to do the job," he said.
"The good people of the district are going to get to know me, and donate to the campaign," said Graves.
He enjoys campaigning, Graves explained.
"I get energized by it."
"I like people. I always have," Graves said.
The Graves have three children and seven grandchildren.
In a recent statement, Bachmann argued that she has done a good job representing the 6th District.
"From large projects like the St. Croix Bridge to personal issues like foster care, the sixth district has been my home for 40 years, and I will continue to serve my constituents on the issues that matter to them," she stated.
Democratic candidate Jim Graves faces Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann in a showdown in the 6th District. Bachmann is a former presidential candidate. (Photo by Graves campaign.)