State Senator candidate Aric Putnam outside of the Atwood Memorial Center. Photo Courtesy Flickr.com
Editor’s note: Due to site maintenance, this article was republished on Oct. 7, 2020. This article was originally published on Oct. 4, 2020.
Often times politicians are so focused on their campaign, making time to talk with the people can be difficult to do. However, that is not the case for candidate Aric Putnam, who wanted to sit one-on-one with the University Chronicle via a Zoom call.
Putnam is not a Saint Cloud native; he was born in Washington D.C. and later moving to San Diego for his childhood. Putnam only came to Minnesota for his Ph.D at the University of Minnesota.
Originally, Putnam did not have an interest in running for any kind of office because of the classes he teaches at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University on history of public arguments and social justice.
It wasn’t until 2016 when he got a little more support from his daughter to run for Minnesota House of Representatives and become more involved with the community.
Putnam lost in 2016 to Republican candidate Tama Theis. This year, Putnam will go up against Republican State Senator Jerry Relph.
To Aric Putnam, being involved with politics it allows him to meet more people and see the needs that are necessary which is why he continues to work in politics.
It was no secret that the Coronavirus pandemic has affected candidates’ way of campaigning; however, Putnam believes that how an individual campaigns is also how they will govern.
The campaign for Putnam and his team started in August 2020 with a service project. Whether it was working at Habitat for Humanity or wrapping presents at the Crossroads Mall for the Humane Society, Putnam wanted to put action in the community in place even without being able to go door to door.
“When COVID-19 hit, instead of knocking on doors and doing political stuff in that sense, we were doing things that we believed in already, like doing food drives or bringing food to the homeless,” said Putnam. “We were doing those things that I think needed to happen anyway that some politicians may not prioritize as much.”
When asked what the message he wanted to tell students here at SCSU, he said that he is an educator and has given a lot of time to the education system from middle schools to universities and wants it to continue to be a fundamental part of students’ lives.
“I was a horrible student, I barely graduated from high school,” shared Putnam. “I know what education can do for someone’s life because of what it has done for mine. I know that education and good quality teachers can change your life because it changed mine.”
Putnam then went on to say more people need to go to college, not fewer. He also would like to not have frozen tuition, but a decrease in tuition.
“When you freeze tuition, you put extra burdens on the institution if you don’t invest more money,” said Putnam.
He then went onto add that during his college time, he could go to school and work at the same time to be debt free, “We need to get back to that and need to respect college students and the roles of the institution in the community.”
Something else that Putnam noted is that politics should be founded on the concept of respect and relationships as well.
“It would be disrespectful to go and knock on doors [amid] a public health concern,” said Putnam. “You don’t know what life is like for that person on the other side of the door and I want to err on the side of caution because the virus is a real problem.”
Putnam mentioned that anyone who is running for public office should recognize the things that they want to do and the things that they want to get done, which he believes can be separated in two ways, policy and public leadership.
“In terms of policy, COVID-19 exposed our profound need for a reform in our healthcare system,” Putnam explained. “[The system] didn’t work.”
Putnam then said that his idea of healthcare is a part of a larger concept, including mental health care in schools, which he mentioned is a major priority to him.
“I am an educator, so I have a particular attitude towards schools,” said Putnam. “I think schools are very important, they can’t be everything for everyone, but they can help the social mobility for students to have more opportunities.”
It was announced on Sept 25. from the Putnam campaign that former President Barack Obama had endorsed his campaign. Putnam explained how surreal of a feeling it was to have such a big name supporting him.
“It feels pretty cool,” said Putnam. “I have never met him and we didn’t exactly talk one-on-one about it, but I was picked from a list of candidates who had similar values and [they] checked me off.”
Putnam was one of seven campaigns endorsed in the state of Minnesota, which he noted sounds like a lot. However, considering how many people are running for office, it is much smaller of a number than people may think.
When asked about smear campaigns, a defamation of someone’s beliefs that comes out to essentially hurt one side and make the other look better, Putnam said that he does not want to take part in that sort of strategy to win an election.
“Moves like these are playing on fears to voters that are perhaps not getting information in other avenues, a kind of cynicism or disrespect to voters,” said Putnam.
Putnam then went back to reiterate that part of his campaign is public leadership.
“This is what public leadership is, calling crap for what [it] is, crap, and not participating in it,” shared Putnam. “Right now we have horrible legislators on that front. The public leadership standing for what is true, saying what needs to be said. It just isn’t being done.”
On the topic of the city of St. Cloud, Putnam noted that he grew an attachment towards the city after finishing his education.
“It was convenient to stay in Minnesota, but then I started getting more involved in St. Cloud and started to develop relationships and make friends. I enjoy the wilderness but I enjoy people and meeting people,” said Putnam “At one point it is kind of cool to know the same people for ten years and that was twenty years ago. I have been in Saint Cloud now for over twenty-five years,”
Putnam then added that relationships over time add momentum and says he loves the city of St. Cloud and the good things still go on in the city. “There is a lot going on in Saint Cloud and a lot of cool people that I don’t even know all of them yet,” commented Putnam.
At the end of the discussion, Putnam mentioned that once a week he will be in Atwood Mall to help with voter registration and help students who may be voting for the first time learn how to vote.
The University Chronicle has reached out to Jerry Relph’s campaign to set up an interview.