July, 20, 1996

Politics fun? Only for Welty

by Dominic P. Papatola

Twenty years ago, Harry Robb Welty made his first bid for public office. Last year, on his seventh campaign, he finally won and took a seat on the Duluth School Board.

Its been a long road for the member from the 2nd District Ė so long that one canít help but wonder if the thrill of the chase has made the taste of victory a little bland.

Not at all, Welty reports. "Iím having so much fun, I canít believe it."

Fun? On the School Board? The place where democracy lurches forward amid discussions about salaries of part-time cafeteria helpers and the endless wrangling of verbiage on scholastic policy?

Is this guy crazy?

Well, no. And that's the point.

Despite running for the U.S. Congress once, the state Legislature twice and the School Board four times, Welty is not what anyone would call a conventional politician.

He has a, um, diverse resume that includes various careers as a teacher, insurance agent and roofer. A builder of snow sculptures and a Republican with some decidedly DFL ideas, Welty doesn't fit tidily into those predictable, sound-bite-ish slots that people currently seem to favor in politicians.

Back in the days when Welty would juggle - literally - his way through a candidates' forum or pose for a campaign photo in a denim jacket and a natty broad-brimmed hat, those of a kind disposition might have said that Welty was in touch with his inner child.

I myself admit to using a more direct appellation: Harry "The Wacko" Welty. That moniker drew a goodly number of knowing nods around town.

And so, there was concern in some quarters of the School Board when Welty eked by Kay Biga in the race for the 2nd District seat last November.

What, some wondered, could be expected from a man who once ran a congressional campaign using as its signature image a sketch of King Kong atop the Central Administration Building?

Quite a lot, as it turns out.

Welty has visited most of the schools in the district. He attends PTA functions. He goes to board committee meetings - including those committees of which he's not a member.

Board members, even those who disagree with him philosophically or politically, describe him with words like "honorable," "hard-working" and "a bottomless well of good humor and goodwill."

And he's aware of his reputation. "There have always been a lot of very smart people in Duluth who have thought of me as a very serious person squandering my future by looking foolish," Welty said, "but, during this last election, I was shocked at how wide this perception was that I was non compos mentis."

(For those unschooled in Latin, the rough translation is "bonkers.")

Perhaps Welty shouldn't have been surprised. Voters - especially the easily spooked voters of Duluth - have tended to put people on the School Board whose lives are more or less congruent with their own. But to vote for a man who - horrors! - stays home with his children while his wife works must have been seen as quite a gamble.

It seems clear that the gamble paid off. And though, at age 45, he's barely a half-year into his first term as an elected official, Welty is flirting with the idea that his previously unrequited love affair with politics may, after all these years, be starting to bloom. And he's not ruling out another campaign for another office someday.

Iím finding to my pleasure and delight that I am pretty much what I always thought Iíd be" as a public servant, Welty said. "I always thought I was the most reasonable person in the world, and I think there are an awful lot of public bodies that could use that kind of person."

Amen, Harry.


And here's me in my latest incarnation, the Trib's photo taken a few weeks ago for the 2003 school board race. I'm back to the full beard look of 1976 only without the fearsome scowl to make me look older. The gray hair takes care of that. 





and a whole lot more silly faces