We sat down with State Rep. Stephen Sandell—and his granddaughter, Tiny Miss Princess of America Olivia Sandell—to talk about hard work, family values and their goals for the coming year.
Steve and Olivia Sandell might look a little different on the surface. Steve is a former educator and 14-year Woodbury resident who wears a suit to his job as state representative for Woodbury’s district, 53B. His granddaughter Olivia is 8 and chose a pink poufy dress when she competed for her title as Tiny Miss Princess of America. One’s in politics, and one’s in pageants—but they have a lot in common. Both started their recent endeavors at the urging of friends. They love their hometowns, celebrating their state, and making the world a better place. In lieu of a traditional interview, we thought we’d give them a chance to ask each other the questions, and their shared family values came out loud and clear. Here’s what they had to say.
Steve: Olivia, tell us about your talent [for the pageant.]
Olivia: My talent was dancing. My babysitter helped me prepare for it, and I danced to “No Excuses” by Meghan Trainor.
Steve: And what about community service?
Olivia: I go to the Humane Society and read books to the animals there. I also bring them toys.
Steve: You and your mom made treats for them, too, didn’t you?
Olivia: Yes. They had peanut butter in them.
Monique: Speaking of books, any favorites?
Olivia: Amelia Bedelia.
Monique: Steve, do you echo that recommendation?
Steve: Chuckles. I met Hubert Humphrey when I was about Olivia’s age and I eventually worked in the museum that’s dedicated to him. He was such a leader in the way he lived and served others, and he’s always been an inspiration. As for books, Bob Dylan’s Chronicles or The Words by Jean-Paul Sartre. Both focus on the importance of one’s actions—and they are so inspiring.
Olivia: Was it fun to run for office?
Steve: I was really lucky to win the campaign. There are around 49,000 people in District 53B, and I represent all of them. I spent a lot of time on the road last year, listening to people and talking to people. I had some amazing people on my team who helped me; they were so supportive and encouraging and gave me a lot of energy. But it was a challenge to do something I had never done before. It took some hard work—same as you, Olivia.
Olivia: How did you get people to vote for you?
Steve: About 25,000 people in the district ended up voting. I did a lot of talks with small groups, in homes. That was really fun. I went door to door introducing myself—sometimes Olivia and I together—and we were in a couple parades: the Woodbury parade, on a float that looked like an ocean blue wave, and in Afton. Olivia brought candy to that one. I had help from so many wonderful people—including my family. We were all together at my house when they were announcing the election returns on television.
Olivia: I said, “OMG.” It was cool.
Steve: Olivia, what was your favorite memory of the year?
Olivia: The part when they announced I won the pageant.
Steve: It’s a rewarding process, not just because of winning votes. Just like Olivia, this year I’ve gotten to know so many people—and the community spirit is really thriving in our area. It takes a lot of effort to get someplace like this, and it’s about the art of the campaign. Of course, it’s nice to win. But the inspiration and my reason for running is to encourage other people to think about what I have to say. There’s this amazing environmental artist, Christo, whose projects take a long, long time to develop. I always appreciated his work, because the art is in the doing—not so much the final result. That’s so true of politics. What about you, Olivia? What did it feel like waiting for the pageant results to be announced?
Olivia: I get very calm. I say to myself, “Don’t think about winning or losing—just having fun.”
Monique: There’s a lesson there for all of us, I think!
Steve: Definitely. What does it feel like to have won?
Olivia: I feel nice. Cool. Feels like royalty.
Steve: That’s not the way I feel. This is a big responsibility … to serve my community and do that well. But we both have a set of values that help us take that in stride. What’s your dream for the future, Olivia?
Olivia: I would like to run for president—I’d make it so Target would be free on Fridays—and I’d make the world a way better place.
Monique: Beat that, Steve!
Steve: When I ran, I focused on four things: education, and ways we can fund and support all of our young people. Comprehensive healthcare, and making it affordable and accessible. The environment, and being aware of the drain we put on it. And giving businesses a chance to grow in a prosperous economy. It’s been an enormous project, but amazing. Overwhelming at times. But a wonderful opportunity to talk to and learn from people all over Minnesota. Olivia, what would your advice be to other people?
Olivia: Believe in yourself. And don’t think about winning or losing.
Steve: She’s got that right. Believe in yourself—and believe in others. Think about the way things can be. And strive for that.