Karen Branden seems to be about as far from an ideologue as you can get - she believes that middle ground can be found on absolutely any political issue, no matter how divisive.
"There is not one topic we cannot come to some agreement on," said Branden, who has been endorsed by the DFL to run against Republican incumbent Steve Green in District 2B, which includes most of Becker County.
Rather than seeing the two major political parties butting heads and getting nothing accomplished, her instinct is to search for "the third way, the middle ground - we're all connected, and when we see that, we all do better," she said.
Branden, 50, lives with her husband of 25 years, Dennis Jacobs (known in Detroit Lakes as an active member of the Experimental Aircraft Association) on about 60 acres in the Rochert area near Cotton Lake.
"I've lived in my district for 27 years and plan to spend the rest of my life there," she said.
Branden grew up poor but happy in Barnesville, and managed to become highly educated: She has been a sociology professor at MSUM for years. But she never lost her respect for the can-do attitude of rural people.
At one point in her career, she did some work with refugees in Uganda, and was surprised with some of the people on the American research teams. "So many of them - they were elite, advantaged people - couldn't understand the population they were studying," she said. "As opposed to any farm kid here - if there was a problem with equipment, they would have figured out how to fix it. If people were fighting, they would have found out why." That's her approach, too. "I will bring practical solutions to it," she said.
Not surprisingly, considering her career, Branden tends to be a big picture kind of person. "I discovered how important our rural voices are in what's happening in the world - they just aren't being heard," she said. "The rural voice is needed. It's all tied up in why I ran (for office)."
Her district, which includes Mahnomen County and portions of Clearwater, Wadena and Otter Tail counties, is one of the poorest in the state, she said. "But nobody's really talking about that - nobody's talking about our successes or innovations, either."
What people are concerned about is often health care. "The costs are causing people to lose their farms and their homes, and others have a real fear of losing their farms or their livelihoods because of healthcare costs," she said. "There are a variety of solutions, particularly in the transition phase (to a better system). We're trying to build solutions based on what people are saying."
On the employment front, "people need good-paying jobs, with benefits," she said. On education, she'd like to see high schools connect strongly with two-year colleges to help kids that are interested in the trades.
Lack of childcare and broadband access are issues in her district, and she is interested in balancing environmental protection with economic development, because both are needed, she said.
Like most Americans, she is a mix of races, including German, Irish, Scandinavian, Ojibwe and French Canadian.
In the past five years or so, she has gotten interested in her Ojibwe heritage - at one point she served as interim dean at the White Earth Tribal College for 18 months, has taught sociology classes there since the mid-1990s, and now teaches an Ojibwe class there. She embraces the culture, but wants to make it clear that she is not an enrolled tribal member and is not a spokesperson for the Ojibwe.
She doesn't agree with her Republican opponent on some of the issues, but prefers to stay positive about it.
"We need to shift this rural voice a bit and bring in a more practical approach to the world," she said.
She was asked to run for office by a friend of hers, but it took her a long time to decide. She isn't worried about the rough and tumble of politics - she has tough roots and grew up with three older brothers - but it's a moral decision that she takes really seriously. "I want to bring people together, listen to them, find out what the real issues are in the district, and do something about it," she said.