By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN Tony Kielkucki loves to talk politics and if he follows through with a possible bid for the office of secretary of state, there will be lots to talk about.
Kielkucki has been a teacher at Holy Trinity High School in Winsted since 1980.
The only break he has taken from teaching during that time was during the four terms he served as Minnesota state representative, beginning in 1996, as well as when he served two years as deputy secretary of state.
Although Kielkucki enjoys teaching, he admits he misses his political days.
“I miss the people and getting involved in the sparring,” Kielkucki said. “What I especially liked to do was, at the end of the sessions, work on negotiations. But I miss the people a lot.”
The dispute over the last election’s absentee ballot-counting between Al Franken and Norm Coleman has Kielkucki considering a return to government, and a chance to help improve the election process.
“I would be interested in running for secretary of state, maybe in 2010. I am going to at least look at it,” Kielkucki said.
When Kielkucki was deputy secretary of state, he had been in charge of the elections office and responsible for all of the elections in the state.
He remembers back to simpler election recounts.
“We had two recounts and they were state representative races and we didn’t have any problems getting those recounted and certified,” Kielkucki said.
However, Kielkucki added that Coleman had a valid reason for the recount.
“Every ballot should be treated the same,” Kielkucki said. “Even though most of us don’t like how long this is taking, however this turns out, we know we have got to change some of the law in terms of how we count ballots, and what we do with those ballots. The end result is, our elections should get better.”
Two other hot topics Kielkucki has been keeping tabs on is the state budget and the upcoming governor’s race.
As far as the state budget cuts and Governor Tim Pawlenty using his executive power to unallot, Kielkucki said, “It is best to go through the legislative process, but it didn’t happen that way. It is the governor’s job to have a balanced budget and he has the power to unallot.”
“There are a lot of people who are upset by his cuts right now. I do think it could have been a lot worse,” Kielkucki said.
With Pawlenty announcing he would not seek reelection, Kielkucki is calling the next governor’s race “a very interesting race.”
At the latest count, Kielkucki has learned there are as many as 30 people interested in running.
While Kielkucki served as state representative, Pawlenty became majority leader.
When Pawlenty threw his hat in the ring for governor, Kielkucki, along with other legislators, worked to get him elected.
As far as Pawlenty’s decision to step down, Kielkucki said, “I haven’t talked to him for awhile, but I think he has some national aspirations.”
Pawlenty has talked about wanting to rebuild the party, and Kielkucki said he believes he has the ability to reach out to the people in a good way.
Kielkucki also said Pawlenty’s credentials are well established, as far as the Republican party
“I always thought he (Pawlenty) was a pretty capable leader and has good vision,” Kielkucki said. “He is a very good public speaker. When he was majority leader he handled a lot of tough issues on the floor and he has kind of carried that over to his governorship. He is not afraid to tackle tough isues.”
Some Kielkucki history
Originally from St. Paul, Kielkucki attended Catholic grade school at Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, still in operation today.
After the eighth grade, Kielkucki went to Nazareth Hall, which was a minor seminary in Arden Hills. He attended school there from the ninth through 12th grade.
After college, he attended the St. Paul seminary for two years to study for the priesthood.
He left the year he would have been ordained a priest, and started teaching.
“I wasn’t sure if it (priesthood) was for me. I was about 23, maybe 24 years old. I took a leave of absence and started teaching,” Kielkucki said.
“When I finally made my decision to leave the seminary, I did promise God I would do something for the church. I have been teaching Catholic school ever since,” Kielkucki said.
The only years Kielkucki has not taught school since 1975 were the two years he was deputy secretary of state.
When he was state representative, he taught school a portion of each of the years he served.
His first teaching job was at St. John the Baptist in Excelsior, where he was a religion and social studies teacher, plus coordinated all of the CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine) classes for the junior and senior high.
He also helped with the liturgies.
In 1980, he began teaching religion and social studies at Holy Trinity High School in Winsted.
In the last two years, Kielkucki has added a political science class, which he regrets not teaching earlier. The class is an elective.
“It (political science) was really fun this year because of the election,” Kielkucki said.
Much of Kielkucki’s free time is spent volunteering. He helps with Winstock and Higher Ground, speaks at other parishes on behalf of Holy Trinity School.
This week he will be leaving on his fifth mission trip, this one to Sisseton, SD.
He and his wife, Lavon, will chaperone the trip. This is Lavon’s 11th year to help with the mission.
The one-week mission trip is part of YouthWorks, where students take part in house painting and minor home improvements within communities without the necessary funds to do the repairs on their own.
Kielkucki enjoys the mission experience every year because of how it changes students.
“When the kids come back, for most of them, it does change their outlook on life. They become a little more grateful because they realize what they have.”
Tony and Lavon, have three children: Mike, Katie, and Marcel, who is married to Sarah. Marcel and Sarah have two children: Gabriel, 5, and Joe, 3.