Bly began his talk by stressing his connections to St. Olaf: he is an alumnus, both his parents attended the college, and his grandfather was St. Olaf's first academic dean. Bly graduated in the same class as President David R. Anderson and remembers attending the Paracollege with him.
Bly has taught for almost 30 years and has spent 20 years teaching at an Area Learning Center in Northfield. Throughout his teaching career, he has developed a successful student-centered approach.
"Before the No Child Left Behind Act came along, I was drawn to students who struggled," he said.
Bly's time at St. Olaf fostered his political growth, especially since he attended the college during the Vietnam War.
"You couldn't help being involved in politics," he said, mentioning his involvement with the College Democrats. "It was important in my life to be politically active," he said.
As a long-time Northfield citizen, Bly has been both the county chair and district chair, and has also been involved with the Northfield Democrats. Four years ago he ran for office but lost by 44 votes. Bly believes that the last midterm election would have swung in his favor had former Minnesota senator Paul Wellstone not died in a plane crash four years ago. Bly named Wellstone as a strong political inspiration, saying he was a man who found it important "to be someone who acts on their own convictions."
Bly sees a negative trend in politics since the 2002 elections. "We are moving away from caring about others," he said, calling attention to low taxes, student debt and social security.
Bly criticized the belief that high taxes were harmful to the economy, describing the negative impact of low taxes on many aspects of society, including roads and tuition.
"After the Reagan years, the free market became the be-all-end-all," he said. "The free market has not proven to be the savior everyone thought it would be."
Bly argued that the free market encourages insurance companies to cover only those who need health care the least. He named Social Security and Medicare as "democratic answers to those issues." According to Bly, the healthcare system needs considerable attention. He advocates a move toward a single-payer, universal healthcare system which would remove private competition.
According to Bly, tax cuts have pushed the budget deficit onto local governments and ultimately have been harmful to the state.
"It wasn't good for the state of Minnesota," he said. "There are times when you need to raise some taxes."
Bly pointed to current trends in lowering the value of labor and the subsequent inability of college students to pay back loans after college.
"The working people are not valued," he said. Referring back to his discussion of the free market, Bly said that the current economic and social system pays attention to stockholders but not the laborers.
"Work is honorable and should be something that people are encouraged to do, but they need the support to do so," he said.
Bly suggested several ways for the government to support college students and help reduce worries surrounding debt after graduation. "There are discontinued grants that can be started up again," he said, also mentioning additional support for work study programs.
Bly stressed the importance of every vote and the overarching impact of current political issues.
"You represent future college students," Bly said. "You represent a part of the community that needs representing."