Political career began in Milaca

There was a knock on the door.

The seven-year-old who looked through the glass at the man with the mustache was scared.

Being a state senator, Dan Stevens could possibly have scared a lot of people – especially Democrats. But young children, that was probably pretty rare.

Stevens didn’t know that when he knocked on the door of the big, white house on Central Avenue N. in Milaca that he was knocking on the door of the news reporter for the Mille Lacs County Times. But I’m sure glad he did. He calmed little Christopher Hage down by taking a blue and white piece of campaign literature from a folder, autographing it and giving it to the boy. That boy saved that piece of literature for many years.

Stevens was the first in a long line of lawmakers and candidates Christopher would meet over the next 18 years. Being the son of a newspaper reporter and editor allowed Christopher to follow along as I covered politics at state capitols in Wisconsin and Iowa. My job has allowed him to meet a lot of special men and women lawmakers in Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota – and as an impressionable boy, he learned a lot of good qualities from people like Rep. Dan Stevens of Mora, Minn., Rep. LeRoy Koppendrayer of Pease, Minn., Rep. John Connors of East Des Moines, Iowa, Sen. Dave Zien of Wheaton, Wis., and Gov. Tom Vilsack of Iowa, along the way.

Christopher, himself, went on to be a senator – a student senator at St. Cloud State University – and has spent endless hours fighting for the rights of students at SCSU, the Minnesota State Capitol, and even at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. He has rubbed elbows with, and has worked alongside, some of our greatest local and state political leaders.

I will always remember the day, while working in Fergus Falls, when I was heading to a local bakery to get some press time with Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

It was an election year, and the local Democratic candidates headed to the bakery hoping to visit with the Senator, too.

It wasn’t the local newspaper editor or the local politicos that caught Klobuchar’s attention.

She got out of her car, looked my direction, and said, “Hi, Chris!”

I couldn’t believe it! I got my short, little interview. But it was my son who showed up the editor and political hopefuls and got the meaningful conversation.

Christopher has worked local, state and national campaigns since turning 18. He was in the trenches four years ago, fighting for the election of Barack Obama and has been there again this year.

In terms of political news coverage, I’ve often thought that it might be a good career move to forget about introducing myself as Editor Jeff Hage, but instead as Christopher Hage’s dad.

Sunday night, I was excited to have been credentialed to cover former President Bill Clinton’s visit to St. Cloud State University. I worked hard to get those credentials. I was in contact with both the state and national Obama campaigns, filled out and submitted applications, and waited in suspense, until about 11 a.m. Sunday, to find out if I had been cleared to cover the event. I had to be at the Atwood Center at 5:45 p.m. to check in to an event that was slated to start at about 8 p.m.

I walked into the west ballroom where Clinton would later be speaking. I settled in at the back of the room where the media was herded.

That’s when I heard a familiar voice.

Christopher was one of a handful of Obama volunteers working the main floor of the event. He later told me he was the event troubleshooter and was on hand helping the Obama campaign solve logistical problems that might come up. I was a proud dad.

Later in the evening, I was given an opportunity to go into the buffer between Clinton and the assembled crowd to shoot a few photos as the former president stumped for Obama. After making my way past a handful of Secret Service agents, I was clear to shoot my photos.

But it wasn’t President Clinton that I noticed first.

A few yards away from me, in the front row, in front of that buffer, was Christopher.

We made eye contact and exchanged great, big smiles.

I was excited for Christopher to be so close to one of his heroes and to be living in that moment, filled with so much excitement and adrenaline.

He later told me he felt the same thing: He was excited that I made it into the trenches, to be so close to the man who is my favorite President.

I got my photos and thought I was the winner that night. But I forgot that I was up against Christopher, who had another thrill of a lifetime and was able to shake Clinton’s hand.

I used to think Christopher could grow up to be president like Bill Clinton. Maybe he will. Maybe he won’t.

But he has a bright political future ahead of him. I look forward to seeing what the next eight years bring.

I hope Christopher takes his dad along for the amazing ride.

Jeff Hage is the editor of the Princeton Union-Eagle. Reach him by e-mail at jeff.hage@ecm-inc.com.

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