Nancy Edmonds Hanson
When Mark Lindquist sat down with his parents in the family kitchen not so long ago, they were surely thinking, “What now?”
“I’m going to run for Congress,” he told them.
Gordon and Diane, wise to his ways, didn’t miss a beat: “Well, of course you are.”
“They’ve never known what crazy thing I was going to come up with next,” the Moorhead man says. And he grins – that big, engaging smile that has won friends and charmed audiences literally all over the world.
The farm kid from Ortonville has become something of a legend to the people he grew up with and, now, calls his friends. Adopted at 8 months from an orphanage in Korea, he grew up as one of only three Asians in the town of less than 1,800 two hours south of Moorhead.
“Growing up in Ortonville, I was one of just three Asians,” he reflects. “You could count the diversity on one hand. Yet I never felt anything but love. Ortonville taught me that you can love someone who doesn’t look like you. I want to share that lesson – together, we can also love someone who doesn’t think like we do, too.”
From the time Mark– who’s turning 40 – was in school, the farm boy has been tackling an itinerary of new experiences. Growing up in Ortonville, Minnesota, he followed his sister Heidi into Key Club, the Kiwanis’ youth service organization. By the time he graduated, he’d been elected tri-state lieutenant governor.
As a teen, he sang the national anthem a capella at the 50-yard line at Ortonville High School football games. Since then, he has sung it in dozens of stadiums before “about a third of the NFL,” he says, along with countless major league baseball teams, plus pro soccer, basketball and other sporting events. “There’s nothing like standing in front of 70,000 singing the national anthem. It’s an unmatched exhilarating feeling,” he confides. “For those 90 seconds, we are all one. We’re all Americans.”
After a year at Concordia, the 1999 high school graduate joined Americorps, the domestic volunteer corps inspired by the Peace Corps … following in the footsteps of his father, who – inspired by JFK – signed up to teach agriculture in Malaysia. Assigned to Washington, D.C., Mark logged experiences in dramatic contrast with his rural background – tutoring inner city kids, fighting wildfires with the Forest Service, joining Red Cross disaster teams. On 9/11, he was part of a relief group at the just-attacked the Pentagon.
And then he joined the Air Force. He spent five of his six-year enlistment at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii, working as an intelligence analyst for the National Security Agency. His last, though, foreshadowed the public person that he is today. He was tapped as the lead vocalist with Tops in Blue, the service’s elite touring entertainment ensemble. As part of the 34-person group, he sang at 124 military installations in 38 states and 22 countries.
Then, in 2012, it was over. “I came home to Minnesota and lived in my sister’s basement,” he says. He took political science classes for a couple semesters at Fergus Falls Community College before moving to Moorhead, where he has lived ever since.
His future up in the air, he headed off on another one of those “crazy ideas” his parents almost expect of him: He launched himself as a motivational speaker. “I started with Kiwanis and Lions and Rotary clubs,” Mark reports. Now, eight years later, he has gained a nationwide reputation, earning his living with high-energy presentations to Fortune 500 companies – Starbucks, Microsoft, Walmart, IBM – on finding and growing your passion. “Everybody needs a little kick in the pants from time to time,” he quips.
Now the total political novice is talking about a new passion … one that has spurred him into another unexpected turn into campaigning to represent Minnesota’s Seventh District in Washington, D.C. The response has been overwhelming. When he posted the news on his personal Facebook account last Thursday, it garnered 1,300 “likes” in only hours. He followed up with a hometown open house Saturday that drew a crowd of family and friends to congratulate their neighbor on his new goal.
He’s been thinking about a first-time run for office over the past year. During that time, Mark gathered his thoughts on how to get past the ugliness that has split the nation in two slender books offering his “take” on politics. America 2.0 and Platform of the People. “It’s time to reinvent American politics,” he emphasizes. “People are ready for a new approach.”
That platform includes 56 proposals and principles that, he says, reflect the Air Force motto: “Integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do.” “I am running on a platform of new ideas because I don’t wish to start my foray into politics based on a divisive approach that has failed year after year after year. The same-old same-old approach is not going to fix our country.”
He is jumping into the arena without elective experience, but with the same bounty of energy that he’s used to tackle the rest of the unlikely adventures that have carried him through his life. He says he has already dismissed advice from some seasoned campaign consultants who advised him to go for the big money from the start. Instead, he hosted the gathering in Ortonville last week and plans another here July 13. “I want to celebrate this first with the people who mean the most to me,” he says. “I’m not going to do this the way the machine wanted me to. I want to do it right.”