Dotta to step up as next county commissioner
There's no TV blaring in the Dotta living room, in fact, no TV at all.
Hubbard County's next District 2 commissioner lives on a fixer-upper farmstead north of Park Rapids with his family. They drink goat's milk, make their own foods, educate their children at home and revel in a rural life together.
The couch and easy chair are cheerfully patched with fabric that enhances the blemishes and doesn't even try to hide them.
Matt and Kim Dotta chose a simpler life, one that's been filled with joy, family and big decisions.
And some sorrow.
The California couple moved to Minnesota a couple years ago to be nearer Kim's family. They had lived on the family farm in northern California. Matt managed the farm with his dad and did freelance jobs using his financing degree, working mainly with non-profit companies and small businesses in need of a financial overhaul.
"We didn't set out to home-school our kids," Dotta said.
Kim said she didn't want to spend her days driving her kids into town for half-day school sessions when they started, so she decided to keep identical twins Hannah and Emma, now 13, at home.
It was about that time that son Levi was diagnosed with a genetic disorder that left him disabled.
"We pulled together," Matt explained as his four children nodded.
Levi passed away last year at the age of 10. His presence is constant in the family living room, where a photo of him sits on the desk, and in the consciousness of his survivors.
Millie, 8, and Josiah, 4, are the youngest in the brood.
On the dining room wall, Millie's illustrated world history tour is strung together with little paper drawings depicting significant events. They hang from a string. She knows more about world history than most college graduates and even her child-like renderings bear the knowledge of an adult.
Josiah, with red cheeks and saucer-like blue eyes, converses like an adult, but immediately pounces on words he doesn't understand. He helps gather eggs and milk from the barn.
The twins (Hannah has longer hair and a longer name," Matt explains to differentiate them) campaigned with their father and got an up-front look at politics, which they supplemented in the living room classroom. It was a family decision for him to run, Matt said.
Learning how government runs was portrayed in a personal exercise on the farm. The three girls ran for president of the farm, with campaign platforms, signs, the whole works, last fall.
Everybody got a vote, including the parents and all the farm animals.
Hannah and Emma explained that the animals were presented paper ballots with the names of the three candidates. Whichever ballot got the most nostril attention (the most sniffs) was deemed the winner.
Josiah filmed the campaign video.
Hannah and Millie emerged from the primary to run against each other in the general election, which Millie eventually won.
Unlike national politics, they didn't want this to be a bruising, competitive event, although they did debate the issues.
"Millie was crowned farm president," Matt said. "The next day the office was annulled and everybody went back to normal."
The family is looking forward to Matt's next adventure, when they can all forge closer ties with the county and Matt's constituents.
"He'll go to meetings and talk with organizations that are involved in county government," Hannah predicted.
"Daddy's very smart," said Emma. "He can move the county forward."
Matt has spent the past two years in the assessor's office, explaining valuation and taxes to the public. He got rave reviews in that job, as many voters who'd dealt with him at the counter wrote in support of his election.
He's replacing long-time commissioner Dick Devine. But Kim said the job "took him away from" the farm and his family. The more flexible schedule will allow him to be home some days.
Matt, commissioner-to-be Dan Stacey and the five serving commissioners recently returned from the annual Association of Minnesota Counties convention.
It gave Matt a renewed sense of purpose and reinforced his theory that the more diversified the board, the better.
"You have strength by diversity," Matt said. "If everyone had the same strengths I wouldn't have run. I'm kind of excited to see where the board goes."
"Matt does respect the natural processes," Kim said. "That's how we live our lives."
Deeply religious, the family has a Star of David flag on the kitchen wall, symbolizing the cradle of Christianity. But there is also a laptop computer in a small alcove off the living room.
The family shares Matt's excitement about his pending duties, and he will no doubt get expert help from each and every one of them.