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State Rep. Margaret Anderson Kelliher talks about her new role as deputy minority leader for House DFL Caucus

Interview with Margaret Anderson Kelliher: No. 2 leader of MN House DFL Caucus

Many Minnesota legislators will be seeking higher offices in elections later this year.

The politicking has already affected the House DFL Caucus. On Jan. 28, caucus members elevated state Rep. Margaret Anderson Kelliher of Minneapolis into a newly created No. 2 leadership position.

Kelliher, who was one of three minority whips, is poised to take over for Minority Leader Matt Entenza, depending on the outcome of his bid for attorney general. Kelliher moves into the deputy minority leader position in an election year when House DFLers hope to increase their 2004 gains.

In an interview with the Legal Ledger this week, Kelliher said she will work on House DFL campaign efforts along with her role inside the Capitol during the legislative session.

Kelliher has spent the bulk of her career at the Capitol.

After graduating from Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, she worked for former House Speaker Bob Vanasek. She was a legislative assistant for a few representatives and even spent a session in the other chamber, handling bill referrals to committees for former Senate President Allan Spear.

Kelliher has been elected by wide margins in the decidedly DFL-leaning District 60A since 1998. The district extends from downtown Minneapolis through the Uptown neighborhood.

Kelliher has two children and was raised on a dairy farm.

Legal Ledger: What is the deputy minority leader’s role?

Kelliher: I think it’s a lot of things I’ve done in the past in terms of my work on the House floor in which I work with members in terms of floor organization, amendments — those sorts of issues.

I also do a lot of work in the caucus working with members on issues they have coming forward before the Legislature.

In terms of the election to deputy minority leader, I will be working outside the building more on our campaign efforts, even more than I already have in the past.

I always have had a presence in those issues, but those sorts of things will step up outside this building starting now and going forward toward Election Day, November 7.

Legal Ledger: What do members of a minority caucus look for from their top leaders?

Kelliher: I certainly heard from caucus members, in terms of looking at a line of succession for Representative Entenza, which is how I look at this — as sort of succession planning in politics, looking at making transitions smoothly.

Actually, just being active making the decisions is very important for caucus members so that there is a smooth transition in place. Good communication, open communication style, looking for members who can understand the wide diversity in our caucus members’ opinions and points of view and understanding them and being able to be responsive to that as a caucus.

Legal Ledger: What are the challenges to maintaining unity within the caucus?

Kelliher: I think that clearly the communication process is important.

We have been able to achieve a level of effort that is really terrific in terms of our 66 members by really listening to each other and hearing where each other are coming from and being able to move forward on a position based on that.

It’s not just me hearing members; it’s really about having members hear each other’s concerns, and we’ll be able to make positions based on that.

Legal Ledger: Looking toward the legislative session that begins in March, what are the priorities for the caucus?

Kelliher: Obviously there are some commitments from the previous session here in terms of education funding, paying back the school districts. That’s a top priority, keeping that commitment.

Members feel strongly about property tax relief through local government aid. They are also, I think, looking at what are some smart things we can do with health care right now. It’s a short session. I wouldn’t expect major things, but members will be looking at those sorts of issues. Clearly that’s an issue on the minds of the public right now.

Legal Ledger: Last year there were rump groups that were established by rank-and-file legislators during the special session. What did you learn from those efforts?

Kelliher: Clearly there was a high level of frustration by members of the House and Senate as we went into special session. I look at it and say it’s good to have wider discussion.

Hopefully we can do that more up front in the House and in the Senate going forward. I think we saw a high level of frustration over the lack of dialogue across the broad membership.

And so I think you always have to remember every vote is equal around here. Nobody’s vote is weighted more than the other. And so those groups really provided some emphasis to get some ideas out and do some brainstorming.

I think brainstorming can actually happen in the institutionalized process as well. That should be happening in the committee process, as well as coming out of each caucus. I think there were some real lessons out of that.

Legal Ledger: You mentioned the elections. What does your job entail now as a leader?

Kelliher: I’ll be taking a much more front-and-center role in terms of our efforts on the campaign trail. That’s sort of all-encompassing as we move forward. That is certainly something that caucus members wanted to see and had a desire for, so that’ll be a central part of my outside-the-building work.

Legal Ledger: If the succession takes place, what kind of leadership would we see from you?

Kelliher: I’m definitely a person who I think is viewed as a very fair person, a very reasonable person. I understand the statewide nature of the decisions we make.

I think I have a good communication style and am really open to promoting that within the House.

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