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Kettle River woman finds her political voice on campaign trail with Sandman

Sheila Coughlin talks about the importance of clean water while sitting on a rock along Lake Superior at Brighton Beach on Wednesday. Coughlin is a volunteer for the Ray "Skip" Sandman campaign. Bob King /

This is one of three profiles highlighting volunteers for the three candidates in the race to represent Minnesota's 8th Congressional District. You can read about a volunteer with DFL candidate Joe Radinovich's campaign here or a volunteer with GOP candidate Pete Stauber's campaign here. Read the introduction to the series here.

Sheila Coughlin has lived her whole life in Minnesota's 8th Congressional District — growing up along the Pine River chain of lakes north of Brainerd, where her grandmother ran a resort, before 10 years spent in Duluth, and now raising her 8-year-old child in Kettle River.

"I know about tourism," said Coughlin, who runs a blog spot dedicated to nature writing called "And I know what threats can come if we aren't careful."

The 37-year-old Coughlin, never too political before, found herself rejecting what she called the "lies" and direction of modern politics. She couldn't stay on the sidelines any longer.

She chose to support a candidate who she's known for years and described as a sage who has been helpful to her and many others: Independence Party candidate Ray "Skip" Sandman. Sandman is running in the 8th District election against Republican Pete Stauber and Democrat Joe Radinovich.

The high-profile campaign has filtered through millions of dollars in campaign advertising — only a fraction of it for Sandman.

"Skip's not part of that two-party system — entrenched in that money," Coughlin said. "He brings leadership we need right now."

Coughlin started out volunteering by collecting petition signatures to help land Sandman on Tuesday's ballot. After that, she's been researching positions, writing and posting materials, publishing campaign videos and more — putting her university skills and curiosity to work. Like a lot of volunteers, she found how easily a campaign can come to consume a person.

"When I got involved I was giving half my available time," Coughlin said. "At some point, it became all of the time I have."

When asked where she would like to have a portrait taken, Coughlin wanted to meet by Lake Superior. It was a symbolic choice.

"Water is a big issue in this election," she said, describing how motherhood made her think generationally and about what's left for the future.

After Coughlin sat atop a rock on Brighton Beach, she uncorked what amounted to a stump speech about the influence of big corporate money in politics, and how it's affecting nearly every issue in the campaign.

"I felt pulled to get involved," she said. "We all have a voice."

She rejects the whispered notion that a vote for the third-party Sandman is a thrown-away vote. She believes he can win.

"Of course, I do," she said. "I have a lot of faith people will put aside their fears on election day."

When told the Sandman camp had chosen her to be profiled, Coughlin was humbled.

"I feel very honored to be recognized by them," she said. "I didn't get involved for recognition. I got involved to help. Skip is a voice for the people."