More than a few new faces were in the crowd Saturday, Jan. 27, at Schroeder Middle School when more than 100 people gathered to endorse five candidates at the Grand Forks County Democratic District Convention.
House Minority Leader Corey Mock of District 18 said that although the party lost 16 seats in 2016 he's encouraged by the number of people getting involved in politics for the first time.
"I want to make sure voters have options come November," Mock said. "Both parties have strong leaders and great ideas, but four years ago, 31 percent of the Republican legislators who won ran unopposed. There are hundreds of thousands of people out there who feel they are not being heard or represented."
And that's one reason Mary Adams, Grand Forks, stepped up to run for a District 43 House seat.
The longtime volunteer at Grand Forks Public Schools worked in retail for 20 years before joining Crary Real Estate after the 1997 flood.
"This is the first time I've run for anything. I just turned 65, and I went through the whole retirement thing. There's just a lot they don't do for seniors," she said. "And there's a lot the children need, too. We have to take care of the kids because they're our future. We have to support the teachers who see these kids every day. They're the ones who help mold these little minds. Our teachers are phenomenal. I haven't met one who doesn't give 110 percent."
First-year UND law student Joe Jensen, endorsed for his bid for another District 43 House seat, shared an education platform.
The Jamestown native said he wants the state to continue funding education at a level that ensures "the next generation isn't robbed of their future."
Nikolaus Groenewold, originally of Grand Forks and now rural Larimore, was endorsed as a Senate candidate for District 19.
The U.S. Air Force firefighter also was leading the charge for education, as well as small business growth and family farms.
"Our district needs better infrastructure in schools, and there's a lot of potential for growth in small business," he said. "And I believe family farms have been neglected. The state needs a more focused effort on keeping young people on the family farm."
He said the state needs to tax oil companies more for their "one-time harvest," advocating the Legacy Fund get a tax boost of 10 to 20 percent.
Monte Gaukler and Angela Urlacher, who last week announced their bids for District 17 House seats, also were endorsed as first-time candidates. Gaukler, a longtime teacher, said she believes women are underrepresented in the House.
"Government is better when we have a variety of voices at the table. So, I really hope to be a voice for education, new Americans and the LGBT population," she said. "Sometimes I think if a woman doesn't know everything about everything, she doesn't want to put herself out there. I realize I have a lot to learn, but I'm willing to listen, and I'm willing to learn."
Urlacher, a private music teacher and adjunct professor in UND's Department of Anthropology, laughed when she explained her decision to run.
"I wasn't a Leslie Knope. I actually came very late to knowing who I am politically," she said. "I grew up in a split household. My mother was a Democrat, and my father was a Republican, so to keep the peace we just didn't discuss politics."
But it was seeing so many others devoted to civic engagement that inspired her.
"I see education and public service as the cornerstone of a community. I want to be able to advocate for those programs," she said.
The convention was a first for Kaye Carlson, too. Now District 43 secretary, Carlson took action after last year's Women's March. She and her sister were the first to join a similar march in Grand Forks, she said.
"All I ever did before was work, read and vote. I decided if I didn't like it, I needed to get involved," she said. "Women are really stepping up, woo-hoo. Speaking up and getting involved is how we can make a difference."
Mock said four local seats remain undeclared by Democratic candidates. He said some of the top issues motivating people are property taxes, school funding and a state budget that's $700 million short.
"There are dozens of reasons for people to get involved and fight for their neighbors," he said.