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Paynesville Press - December 5, 2001

Scott Fischbach takes the MCCL reins

By Michael Jacobson

Scott Fischbach One of Paynesville's own is now the head of the largest pro-life state organization in the country.

Scott Fischbach, 35, a 1984 PHS graduate, took over as the executive director of the Minnesota Concerned Citizens for Life (MCCL) on Monday, Nov. 26. The organization features 67,000 members in 225 local chapters around the state, including the one at St. Louis Catholic Church in Paynesville, where Fischbach got his start in the movement.

"To raise one of our own to do that," said Rosemary Dilley, a local MCCL member for 30 years and a former president of the local chapter, "means that we have been successful."

"Scott's made giant strides in the pro-life movement, both locally and nationally," added Dilley, "so I wasn't surprised at all when he was chosen executive director. He's not afraid to speak his mind."

His first involvement in the pro-life movement was attending the annual MCCL rally in St. Paul in January with a group from St. Louis Catholic Church back in junior high. "I think that was my first taste of this issue, of being involved," he explained last week in an interview. "From there, it just snowballed."

Even before that, though, his interest in politics had surfaced. At 11, he served as an envelope stuffer for a local election campaign. In 1978, as an eighth grader, he helped with Rudy Boschwitz's first campaign for the U.S. Senate, which was successful. Five years later, in 1983, as a high school junior, Fischbach served six months as a Senate page for the Republican caucus, his first professional job in politics, through the influence of Boschwitz.

In 1984, while working as a staffer on Boschwitz's re-election campaign, Fischbach met Michelle - his future wife and now a state Senator representing the Paynesville area - who had a pro-life background as well. Her mother, Darla St. Martin, is a former associate director of the MCCL and has served as associate executive director for the National Right to Life Committee since 1984.

Some critics have charged that Fischbach heading an organization that lobbies the Minnesota Legislature is a conflict of interest because his wife is a state Senator, but Fischbach stresses that Michelle has been involved in the pro-life movement as long as he has. "We've always worked together," he explained. "We met working for Boschwitz. Politics has been part of our relationship from day one."

While in college at St. Cloud State, Fischbach would take off fall semesters to work on campaigns. In 1986, this type of work led to his first professional involvement with the pro-life movement, and his first consulting job. He served an internship with the National Right to Life committee working on the Senate campaign in South Dakota, where, to his dismay, the pro-life incumbent was unseated by pro-choice Tom Daschle, now the majority leader in the U.S. Senate.

After college, he and Michelle moved to Washington, D.C., where he worked for five years as the field director for the National Right to Life Committee. "The church, the faith, the politics, and the issue all come together," he said of his involvement in the pro-life movement. "It was a natural fit. I'm the ninth of nine kids, so we always had the pro-life message growing up."

During his time in Washington, D.C., his responsibilities were to develop chapters, raise money, and increase membership in a number of states with large pro-life populations but underdeveloped pro-life movements. He worked extensively in Alaska, Alabama, California, Idaho, Mississippi, South Dakota, Virginia, and Tennessee. "We had a lot of success in the states that I dealt with. We were lucky the assets were there in those states; they just needed to be organized," he said.

"Of the 50 state organizations, the MCCL is the most developed," he noted. "It has the most local chapters, the most technology, the biggest staff, and one of the largest annual budgets."

Part of the reason why the MCCL is so developed is the organization got its start prior to the Supreme Court's landmark decision in Roe vs. Wade in 1973 that legalized abortion throughout the country. In 1968, a bill to legalize abortions was introduced in the Minnesota Legislature, explained Fischbach, and a successful lobbying effort against the bill led to the formation of the MCCL. When abortion became legal anyway five years later, Minnesota already had an organization to fight against it.

Since then, the pro-life movement has been taking small steps to restrict and reverse this decision. "It's an incremental approach," explained Fischbach. "You've seen that through all the great movements in history, whether it's civil rights or drunk driving. It takes time."

Fischbach, who has worked as a political consultant since moving back to Paynesville in 1994, has always worked for pro-life candidates, regardless of party affiliation. In recent years, he has spent much of his time in Mississippi, where he advises Democratic Lt. Governor Amy Tuck and served as coalition director for the re-election of Governor Kirk Fordice. (Fischbach also worked for the Bush/Quayle presidential campaign in 1992 and as a senior consultant for Dole/Kemp in 1996.)

"Scott is the perfect fit to replace Jackie Schwietz for the MCCL executive director position," said MCCL president Leo LaLonde. "Scott knows how the political process works, he knows Minnesota politics, and he knows the pro-life movement from both a state and national level."

Since Schwietz's retirement announcement last June and Fischbach's selection as her replacement as executive director, he has met with the staff, with the board of directors, and spent considerable time with Schwietz. "Jackie and I spent a lot of time together going over the ins and outs of the organization, everything from knowing where the keys are to the filing system," he said.

Since he started on Monday, Nov. 26, overseeing the 20-person MCCL staff, he has phoned Schwietz on a daily basis. "She did a great job when she was there and she's been a real big help to me," he added.

With her help, Fischbach predicts a seamless transition. "We're not going to miss a beat," he predicted. He hopes to bring new energy and new ideas to the job but hopes to keep the organization running smoothly.

"This organization has been steadfast, reliable, effective, bold, and strong in defense of human life - and it shall remain so," he said. "Every life is worthy of being lived - every child is a gift from God, and the elderly are a treasure to cherish. With our rooted values in life, we will continue to branch out and together - with our faithfulness, our unbreakable hope and determination - we can move mountains and restore protection for all."

Fischbach wants to increase the MCCL's membership, the number of local chapters in Minnesota, and its financial base by encouraging more donations. He also wants to strengthen the MCCL's message to youth. "We want to re-energize our message with young people. We want to try to get our message out to young people better than in the past," he said.

As a lobbying organization seeking change through the legislative process, a large part of Fischbach's job will be dictated by the legislative calendar. This year, the Minnesota Legislature will only hold a short session, making it even more important that pro-life legislation is ready in advance.

Once again, the MCCL will be backing the Women's Right to Know bill in 2002, said Fischbach. This legislation, which requires a 24-hour waiting period before an abortion and requires the physician to provide certain information in advance of the procedure has been pushed by Sen. Michelle Fischbach in previous years and was vetoed by Gov. Jesse Ventura two years ago.

But 2002 is also an election year, which Fischbach calls the greatest challenge of the year. First, the redistricting of the Minnesota House and Senate districts provides a huge opportunity for the MCCL to support pro-life candidates in the state government, he said.

In addition, two of the states better-known politicians, both pro-choice incumbents - Gov. Jesse Ventura nor Senator Paul Wellstone - will be up for re-election next fall. "We need a pro-life governor and a pro-life U.S. Senator," Fischbach stressed.

In addition to all that, Fischbach intends to travel the state to meet more chapter leaders and local members in the MCCL. He has a full slate of press interviews and a successful transition to complete in the next month.

The Fischbachs have two children. Scott plans both to commute and to telecommute to work to the MCCL's Minneapolis office.

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