By Roz Kohls
“Politics” are a little bit like families, according to Erik Haapala of Dassel.
Republicans in the 7th Congressional District share an overall philosophy, but don’t agree on every issue, he added.
Haapala is chairman of the Republicans in the sprawling 7th district, which extends from Lincoln, Lyon and Redwood counties in the south, all the way to the Canadian border on the north, Meeker and McLeod counties on the east, and North and South Dakota on the west. The 7th district covers 35 counties.
Haapala is the grandson of Wincie Haapala, who lives at Lakeside Apartments in Dassel. He bought her house at 810 Willis St. in 1999, and both lives and works in the home.
Haapala, with his father, David Haapala of Wayzata, is a consultant with the aviation industry. He sets his own hours, which works well for someone who is a volunteer chairman for such a geographically large and diverse area as the 7th district is, he said.
“I knew there were going to be challenges,” Haapala said. “I have to get people to understand they’re not always going to agree.”
Every weekend, Haapala has been going to county conventions around the district, helping Republicans get organized. Each county defines “Republicanism” in a slightly different way, he said.
Haapala and the others on the district’s executive committee want to help all 35 counties, but not meddle, because each county’s group is autonomous. “It’s hard to balance,” he said.
Not only does Haapala drive hundreds of miles every week over different geographical territory, he also assists Republicans who have seen a lot of changes in their counties.
“Farming isn’t what it was 20 years ago,” Haapala said.
For example, Haapala knows a family in western Minnesota who have a 4,000-acre farm. In the past, it would have taken dozens of people to farm that much land, he said.
Also, in many parts of western Minnesota, the young people move away, and the only residents left are elderly.
Some Republicans are more concerned about social issues. Some are more interested in fiscal issues. Republicans disagree on ethanol and transportation funding. Nine out of 10 Republicans are concerned about RINOs, elected officials who are Republican-In-Name-Only, Haapala said, but there are still some who want Republicans to be more in the center of the political spectrum.
There also are the inevitable personality clashes to deal with, he added.
Since becoming chairman of the district in April 2007, Haapala has changed the focus of the district’s political plan to be more local than its previous emphasis on fielding a congressional candidate, he said.
Haapala was chairman of Meeker County Republicans from 2003 to 2007. He was elected chairman of the 7th district in Alexandria last year, taking the place of Judy Rosendahl.
“The higher up you go, the more people watch you,” Haapala said.
As a result, before he takes action, Haapala will think it through carefully, pray about it, and then “just do it,” he said.
Haapala said he believes people are more likely to regret what they didn’t do, rather than what they did.
Despite this sometimes difficult balancing act, Haapala enjoys getting to know people from all walks of life. Even when Haapala was growing up in Minnetonka, he was interested in politics. He liked to watch the Sunday morning press conferences with politicians on TV, he said.
His parents, David and Gloria Haapala, are originally from Dassel. Haapala’s great-grandfather founded Haapala Seeds, he said.
When his father became a pilot with Northwest Airlines, the family moved to the Twin Cities.
Haapala graduated from St. Thomas University with a bachelor of arts degree in business administration and an emphasis in entrepreneurial studies.
Now, as district chairman, Haapala gets to hobnob with some of the same people he saw on TV over the years. “They’re just regular people,” he said.
Once a month, Haapala goes to the state Republican executive board meetings in the Twin Cities and meets with the state chairman, Ron Carey. He also frequently meets with State Rep. Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, the House of Representatives minority leader.
Haapala’s 13-year-old son, Levi, is showing an interest in politics, too. Haapala told how he took his son to the state fair last year. His son marched into the DFL stand and asked the DFLers questions about their views. Haapala said he was glad his son doesn’t view DFLers as the enemy, just people who have different ideas on the role of government.
District 7 is served by Congressman Collin Peterson. To visit his home web site, click here. For a map of District 7, click here.