They say that all politics are local and Mayor Sarah Schroeder, of Spring Grove, Minnesota, says that local politics are what matter most. In this candid two-part interview with Stories: YES Houston students, she discusses what politics are like in a small town and her experiences as a female elected official. Produced by Stories: Yes curator Tiffany Michels, with support by Erin Dorbin and Olivia Hoff. Music by Red Lodge.
Sarah Schroeder (00:00): I think the fact that I am younger and I am out more, out in public, I think people are more interested in what's going on in city government than if I were a 50-year-old man that didn't go out as much. I should say, Spring Grove's had a lot of female mayors. So, go Spring Grove.
Sarah Schroeder (00:27): I frequently get introduced as the mayor and people are surprised and I always want to ask them, are you surprised because I'm young or because I'm female or because I don't dress very nice? What are the reasons that you're surprised, because I know there's a lot of them? I wore makeup for this and I haven't worn makeup in a month, for anything. I'm not your typical anything, I don't think. But I do care about Spring Grove, and I don't care about my appearance in... I remember my first couple of meetings I dressed nicer than I normally do. And by the third meeting, I said, "You know what? They elected a hooded sweatshirt mayor. They're getting a hooded sweatshirt mayor. I'm sick of this."
Sarah Schroeder (01:14): I think you have to be authentic to get elected. I don't think that, at least around here, if you're a polished, shaking hands and kissing babies kind of politician, people see through that, and they don't like it. If I were to start going to sporting events all the time, people would be annoyed because I don't like sports and they know that. The fact that we're a small town in a small county, everybody kind of knows everybody so they know you, but they know you in a different context. You're not the mayor to them. You're their friend or you're the person they see at the grocery store or whatever.
Sarah Schroeder (01:51): Being a mayor is not a full-time job. So my life is about so much more than that. I know people through a lot of other things that, it's not even a thing that I am the mayor. I'm just their friend or the person that works with them at the Opera House, whatever I am to them.
Sarah Schroeder (02:14): My parents weren't political until I started talking about it. I joke that I raised two Democrats when I influenced my parents to be interested in that I've been voting since I was 14, because I've been telling them who to vote for. I'm glad my parents weren't political and told me what to think, because who knows. I might've done the opposite because some people do that.
Sarah Schroeder (02:39): It’s always been close. It's always been kind of a purple area. It's always close. The city of Spring Grove got a little more blue than the townships have. It's probably partially because Hillary was a woman. I hate to say that, but I think that had something to do with it. And that she was seen as part of a political machine, which I don't know why that's a bad thing, having experience in politics. Lots of people just have a terrible opinion on politicians, and Donald Trump wasn't a politician, and he was a businessman and people saw him as successful. There's a common thing with government people trying to say that it should be run like a business and I don't want agree with that.
Sarah Schroeder (03:24): You would do just about everything different if government was a business. A business exists to make profit. A city government, any government, serves to give services to the public. So they are very fundamentally different missions. Yes, you should be fiscally responsible, obviously, but your purpose is not to make a profit. If it was a business, we would be charging so much more for water and so much more for electricity, and I would be paid a lot more, first of all, if it was a business. I get paid $1,500 a year for being mayor, just FYI. We lose money every time we hook up somebody to sewer and water. It does not cover the costs, because we want people to move here and live here and have kids here and have businesses here because that all grows our tax base and that tax base is what pays for everything.
Sarah Schroeder (04:16): So, it's not like a business, but I think people want it to be because national government's broken in a lot of ways. And so partisan, and people are just frustrated and sick of it. And I'm asking people, when they say what are you frustrated about? They don't even know. I think that they thought that electing Donald Trump would somehow change that. I don't believe that it will or has. I think it's still a pretty broken system right now.
Sarah Schroeder (04:48): I know a lot of people that live outside of city limits that desperately wish that they could vote for city government here because they also really care about Spring Grove. They think of themselves as from Spring Grove, and Main Street. What's available in town matters just as much to me as it does to somebody who has got to drive 15 minutes to get there. They need a grocery store, too. They need a gas station. They need all the same things, and we're neighbors, even though we're not. You know what I mean? We all experience the same downtown.
Sarah Schroeder (05:22): Being mayor, I've learned how to control my temper, which is very good that I've learned how to do that. I've learned to not take things personally, if people disagree with me, which is a great thing. I've learned that if you've just talk to people about the facts and explain it to them as if they're intelligent, which they usually are, that even if they don't agree with you, they'll see where you're coming from, and we need more of that nationally. I think that's one thing we're doing right in small towns. You need people to leave and go to school and do something else and then go, you know what? I want to go back and raise my kids there, and that's what Spring Grove needs is for new people to come, but also people to return once they've moved away and left and started their lives.
Sarah Schroeder (06:17): I felt so connected to Hillary, and I feel like if I said that out in public, people would be you're crazy. But I felt so connected to her with her struggles of having to work in a man's world. I don't agree with her on everything. I voted for her. Shocker, right? I voted for Hillary. I feel like she's had to tailor her personality to fit in a box for so long that that's what made her come off as an inauthentic. Even though she wasn't my favorite candidate, I supported Bernie Sanders right away, but once she was it, I was like great, we're going to get a female president, and I was wrong. I believed that there was no way we could elect Donald Trump.
Sarah Schroeder (06:58): I believed the polls that said she was going to win, and when she didn't, I am not a very emotional person at all. But I actually shed tears driving to work the next day after I picked up all my yard signs around town, I drove to work and I listened to her speech and it was just so heartbreaking to know that we still live in a world where so many women are told they can't do stuff because they're women.
Sarah Schroeder (07:25): I know personally, that wouldn't come out and say they didn't want to vote for a woman. But everything they said about her, I kind of got the impression that they just didn't want a woman in office, and to know that people that I liked and respected felt that way, and they used whatever code word they wanted to use to cover up that fact and just pretend they didn't like her personally. So it was pretty defeating as a woman, and I don't usually talk about my life in context of being a woman, because I don't want it to be an issue, but it had become way more of an issue after that. I've always been aware of the fact that people are doubting me a little bit because I'm not a man, but I was way more wary of it and way more paranoid about it. I used to think like paranoid. Are they disagreeing with me just because I'm a woman? I don't know anymore.
Sarah Schroeder (08:18): I tend to go off. I do like to talk.
Asset ID: 8666
Themes: Crossroads, small towns, politics, work, history, women, democracy, voting
Date recorded: 2018
Length of recording: 08:38 m
Related traveling exhibition: The Way We Worked
Sponsor or affiliated organization: Houston County Historical Society, Minnesota
More information: https://museumonmainstreet.org/blog-node/youth-lead-toward-future-minnesotas-driftless-region
See Part 1 of this interview: https://museumonmainstreet.org/content/sarah-schroeder-young-lady-democrat-spring-grove-minnesota-part-1