Writers contributing to this story were JAKE GROVUM, PAUL DEMKO AND BRIANA BIERSCHBACH
New faces fill seats previously held by Kelliher, Prettner Solon, Moua
Despite the GOP rout on Election Day, there are a few new DFL presences in the 2011 legislative mix as well – six, to be exact, out of a class of 60 legislators who were not around the last time a Minnesota Legislature was convened.
All but one of the six (three in the House, three in the Senate) made their way to the Legislature via races in safe DFL districts where an incumbent retired or opted to run for a different office. The lone exception: DFL Sen.-elect Barb Goodwin, who beat Sen. Satveer Chaudhary in the August primary after a backlash arose concerning an amendment he offered in the closing days of the 2010 session.
HD 7B: Kerry Gauthier
Kerry Gauthier has spent nearly four decades actively engaged in DFL politics. He’s occupied the roles of state treasurer and 8th Congressional District chair as well as a number of other posts.
But it wasn’t until last year that he gave any thought to making a run for office himself. The Duluth DFL was looking for someone to run for the City Council’s 4th District council post, an effort Gauthier was involved in himself. Then, Gauthier recalled, his would-be opponent Gordon Grant referred to Gauthier’s neighborhood as “that neighborhood,” in a somewhat less-than-flattering way.
That was all the motivation Gauthier needed to make a run himself, and he won. A year later, Gauthier’s preparing for another transition from one role to another. This time, instead of going from party operative to city councilman, he’ll make the leap from the municipal government to state government as the new representative from Duluth’s House District 7B.
A lifelong DFLer, Gauthier says his father taught him to be a Democrat and his mother a liberal. His grandfather was a union activist, and Gauthier says he remembers hearing every day from his World War II veteran father about the good FDR and Harry Truman were doing. He was 18 years old when Richard Nixon resigned. “That kind of set the tone,” he said.
The story of how Gauthier ended up in public office in the first place can provide a window into how he might adjust to life at the Capitol, particularly on issues he’s passionate about. “I’m a tenacious fighter. When I believe in a cause, I don’t let go,” he said. “I plan on standing up for my people very strongly.”
Still, Gauthier admits his party’s minority status in the wake of November’s elections drastically changed his political and policy outlook for the session. In many ways, where he had plans to play offense at the Legislature, he’s now preparing for defense. “I had looked at how we’re going to preserve LGA,” Gauthier said, as an example. “Now we’re going to fight for LGA. We’re going to fight hard for that.”
Another area Gauthier plans to focus on is transportation, a particularly potent issue for his home town of Duluth. Adding to that focus, he said, was the defeat of long-time U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, who wielded considerable power in Washington when it came to transportation policy, and particularly when it came to projects in Minnesota. Another big-ticket item he focused on during the campaign was taxes, particularly his desire to make the state tax code more progressive.
But there’s also a concern Gauthier has that he hopes to focus on in St. Paul which regularly receives little attention: human trafficking. After 29 years working in fields helping deal with chemical dependency, most recently as a case manager, Gauthier says he’s seen firsthand how trafficking can ruin lives and communities.
Specifically, he recalled one patient who left treatment on a Friday and was found dead on Sunday in Minneapolis. “I’m familiar with the issue, I know how ugly it is,” Gauthier said. “It gets pushed under the carpet a lot.”
Outside of his work and political involvement, the 55-year-old unmarried Duluth native loves pets – he has three dogs himself – and traveling. He’s particularly interested in seeing the United States, and has visited 28 states thus far. Gauthier also “dabbles” in photography, he says.
HD 60A: Marion Greene
Marion Greene’s no stranger to politics, policy and government service. For years, the 40-year-old was immersed in it one way or another, whether it was growing up with parents in the U.S. Foreign Service and living all over the world, or later working among the think tanks and lobbying shops in Washington.
“My parents were really aware and engaged,” Green said. “This was the topic of dinner-table conversation growing up.”
But, Greene said, between being born in Connecticut and living in Morocco, India, Brazil and Pakistan by the time she was 16 years old, she never felt like she was “from anywhere” enough to run for office.
Then, 10 years ago, Greene moved to Minnesota. And come January, she’ll be the new state representative from Minneapolis’ House District 60A, a seat vacated by Speaker of the House Margaret Anderson Kelliher, just four years after Greene served as Kelliher’s campaign manager in the 2006 elections. Greene was also associate chair of the Senate District 60 DFL.
Greene was deeply involved in Democratic politics before she found her way to Minnesota. In 1996, she helped out on the Clinton-Gore campaign and eventually worked as field director for the New Mexico Democratic Party’s Coordinated Campaign. She later worked on with the New Mexico House Democrats as an analyst on the Voters and Elections Committee. After New Mexico, Greene earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, before moving to Minnesota.
Prior to 1996, Greene graduated from Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania with a biology degree and worked with the Center for Science in the Public Interest, focusing on nutrition policy, and later the Friends Committee on National Legislation, the Quaker lobby. Greene also interned with Indiana Rep. Lee Hamilton, who served 34 years in Congress.
Coming from a reliably DFL-leaning district – and entering the Legislature as a member of the minority party – Greene says she hopes to be able to work with her Republican colleagues on the significant issues facing the state, particularly amid a political environment that Greene says “is so polarized.”
The top area of concern for Greene is health care. She’s particularly interested in tackling the issues of access and cost. And Greene will bring a particularly useful perspective to the debates that are sure to be held in the Legislature concerned health care this session: For eight years now she’s worked in the medical device industry, first in marketing and currently analyzing health policy for St. Jude Medical.
“I’m nervous that people aren’t going to be interested in health care reform,” Greene said of her future colleagues. “But there are changes we could make to save money.”
Greene is also interested in working with higher education issues, for two reasons: the deep ties between the device industry and research done in higher education, particularly the University of Minnesota, and the fact that her district is home to Minneapolis Community and Technical College.
Outside of work and running for office, Greene says her No. 1 hobby is traveling and her second is exploring the outdoors. Two years ago, she married Bart Cannon, an 8th-grade English teacher at Maple Grove Junior High, and became a stepmom to Cannon’s two daughters, Mia and Ellie.
HD 65A: Rena Moran
Just 10 years ago, Rena Moran and her children moved to Minnesota from Chicago’s south side. For several months, they were homeless and staying in a Minneapolis shelter. She made the move, Moran later said, with little pre-planning, and soon found herself relying heavily on the state for assistance.
Eventually, Moran got a minimum wage job at Camp Snoopy in the Mall of America, followed by a stint at a YMCA. She and her husband, John, became homeowners, and Moran eventually began working at a commodities trading firm in Minneapolis.
But despite a relatively quick transition from homelessness to a more comfortable job, Moran decided she wanted to be more involved in the community and the state. Her experience in receiving social services gave her strong ideas about how the bureaucracy could be improved, and she was likewise eager to find ways to help improve her community more generally.
So Moran set out to learn about public policy and community organizing. And come January, the 50-year-old Moran will be the new DFL state representative from St. Paul’s House District 65A after beating DFL-endorsed candidate Jeremiah Ellis in the primary. Along with newly elected Sen. John Harrington, she is one of the first of two black lawmakers ever to represent the city of St. Paul in the Legislature.
In many ways, Moran says, her personal and professional experience is a natural fit for what she hopes to accomplish as a lawmaker, particularly when it comes to initiatives intended to help improve schools and help the poor. She has a degree in early childhood education from Southern Illinois University and is also a graduate of the Community Action Partnership of Ramsey and Washington Counties’ public policy program as well as a Wellstone Organizing Fellow.
“My first priority is to bring the voices of District 65 to the Capitol – to keep people engaged and informed,” Moran said. “I believe my voice and my experience is truly, truly needed right now because there are so many families who have lost jobs and lost homes and lost hope.”
Moran’s district is among the most ethnically diverse, poverty-stricken and heavily Democratic in the state. In representing it, Moran says she wants to focus on helping people get affordable, quality health care and invest in early childhood education. Still, coming to the Legislature as a member of the minority party, Moran concedes that some of her policy goals may have to bide their time.
Moran is currently a parent-leader coordinator with Prevent Child Abuse Minnesota, where she advocates for the rights of parents in the policymaking efforts of the Department of Human Services. She hopes to be able to keep doing that work 10 hours a week once the session begins.
In her free time, Moran likes to read inspirational books and take quiet moments to herself when she can. She and husband John have seven children; the oldest, LaSheeka, is married with a young son and the youngest, Silver, is a junior in high school.
SD 50: Barb Goodwin
Former House Rep. Barb Goodwin was looking forward to the chance to serve in a DFL majority in the Senate next session. During her tenure in the House, from 2001 to 2007, Republicans were in control of the chamber; now, for the first time in the modern partisan era, Republicans have taken over her new home in the state Senate.
“I was excited to serve in a chamber where I would have more power to get things done,” she said. “But in all honesty, I never anticipated being in the Senate in the first place.”
Goodwin got into the race under unusual circumstances. A rift formed within the district’s DFLers after it was revealed that former Sen. Satveer Chaudhary had proposed an amendment to a fishing bill that would have affected a lake where he owned a cabin. For the first time ever, a district committee stripped the DFL endorsement from an incumbent senator and promptly granted it to Goodwin. She won a primary contest and the election, taking the place of Chaudhary for the second time in her political career. (In 2001 she assumed his old House seat when he moved to the Senate.)
Goodwin was all about jobs before it became the slogan of the campaign season. During her first three terms in the House, she focused on workforce issues in the state. In her first term, Goodwin led the charge against the use of state dollars to hire consultants, a practice that had grown substantially during the 1990s. Her work brought more scrutiny to the practice. She also worked to prevent the offshore outsourcing of Minnesota jobs, and was able to prompt Gov. Tim Pawlenty to change state outsourcing practices.
During her time away from the Capitol, things haven’t improved much, she said. She plans to pick up where she left off in the fight to keep state jobs from being outsourced. “When the state moves things out of the country, those are tax dollars being moved,” she said. “I would like to get those jobs back here and that will be a start to getting the economy back on track.” Having dealt with budget deficits in the past, Goodwin is also making the massive deficit a priority. She has requested to serve on the finance and jobs committees.
Goodwin graduated from Edison High School in Minneapolis and soon got a job working in an optician’s office. Goodwin didn’t go back to school until she was in her thirties, attending North Hennepin Community College, where she got an associate’s degree in 1984. She got her bachelor’s degree from Hamline University in political science and sociology in 1985.
Before coming to the Legislature as a representative, Goodwin was a researcher and a legislative services director for the House DFL caucus, and spent four years as the legislative affairs director for the 10,000-plus member Minnesota Association of Professional Employees (MAPE), a job she credits with spurring her interest in workforce issues.
More recently, Goodwin served on the Columbia Heights School Board and taught a practicum on the Legislature at Hamline University. In her free time, Goodwin likes to travel, write, and go fishing at her cabin in Pine City.
SD 67: John Harrington
Less than a year after he stepped down as chief of the St. Paul Police Department, John Harrington is preparing for a new role as state senator from Senate District 67. Harrington won nearly 66 percent of the vote from his district on St. Paul’s East Side.
Taking over the seat from retiring Sen. Mee Moua, the first Hmong elected Hmong state official in the country, Harrington represents a first as well: Along with newly elected Rep. Rena Moran, he is one of the first two black lawmakers to represent St. Paul at the Legislature.
Given his decades as a police officer – the 54-year-old Harrington was a cop for more than 30 years – he has his eyes set on a number of public safety initiatives, some of which carry over from his time as police chief, that he hopes to draw attention to during the legislative session. Harrington called violence against women, youth violence and gang activity the “most pervasive and most damaging” issues facing communities, particularly his own. “I’m interested in jobs as a stabilizing factor,” he said.
In many ways, that mindset is why Harrington isn’t concerned about being labeled the “public safety senator,” or being pigeonholed into a specific issue. “If I did nothing but work on public safety issues, it would have ripple effects,” he said. “Public safety is a very broad platform from which to approach a broad base of issues.”
Moving from a position of command and authority as police chief to a more collaborative body doesn’t worry Harrington, he said. “The logistics of how you function as a senator is a little unclear, but I’m already talking with Sen. Moua and the rest of the St. Paul delegation,” he said. “Working with people isn’t any different. That’s what policing is about.”
Harrington says he has no plans to observe one long-held Capitol custom: He doesn’t mean to keep his head down and stay quiet as a first-year legislator. “One thing you won’t have to worry about is trying to find me,” he said. “I tend to be very direct and share my opinions. Someone said my strategy should be to be seen and not heard, and I’m not really good at that.”
Professionally, Harrington thinks of himself as an academic as well as a cop. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College in Far Eastern Religion and Chinese. While serving as a police officer, he went on to earn a master’s degree in education philosophy at the University of St. Thomas, and attended a doctoral program in public administration at Hamline University. Harrington has taught classes in the sociology of gangs and criminal justice at St. Mary’s University, Concordia College and, most recently, Metropolitan State University.
Harrington also stays busy with his seven kids, partner Sarah Walker and his six grandchildren, not to mention serving on the board at De La Salle High School. He likes to read, ballroom dance and stay in shape.
SD 7: Roger Reinert
Roger Reinert believes that serving in the Senate will allow him to be a more effective fighter for the entire city of Duluth. During six years on the Duluth City Council, Reinert represented the entire municipality. But upon joining the House in 2008, replacing 16-term legislator Mike Jaros, his district was limited to the central and western parts of Duluth. “When the opportunity came to essentially represent the entire city again, it just was very fitting for me,” said Reinert.
The 40-year-old DFLer takes over the seat being vacated by Yvonne Prettner Solon, who dropped her re-election bid in order to be Democrat Mark Dayton’s gubernatorial running mate. Reinert won the DFL primary with 76 percent of the vote and then triumphed in the general election by an equally lopsided margin in the heavily Democratic district.
During his single term in the House, Reinert focused on several issues specific to Duluth. The city is under state and federal mandates to eliminate sanitary sewer overflows into Lake Superior, an extremely costly endeavor. If the environmental directives aren’t met by 2012, all development in the area could be forced to stop. Reinert was able to help obtain funds to pay for holding tanks, a lift station and other equipment during the 2009 and 2010 legislative sessions.
“We’re about 90 percent there,” Reinert said. “We’ve got a couple remaining pieces to put in place.”
The first-term DFLer also introduced legislation that would have allowed the University of Minnesota-Duluth to take over the economically struggling Great Lakes Aquarium. He believes it would be a natural fit with the college’s advanced-degree programs in environmental science and hydrology. The proposal has received a warm response from the institutions directly involved, but it would require writing off the aquarium’s existing debt. Finding the funds to do so will likely prove a challenge.
Perhaps the biggest issue of concern for Reinert is the long-term economic viability of Duluth. He believes that the city unfairly shoulders the financial burden for services such as libraries and parks that are used by the entire region. The financial struggles of Duluth and other regional centers will likely be exacerbated by anticipated further cutbacks in local government aid (LGA). Reinerts wants to explore some creative potential solutions, such as allowing cities to charge for library cards. “My much bigger concern is the vitality of regional centers round the state,” he said. “As LGA becomes more and more suspect, this issue takes on more and more prominence.”
In July Reinert attended the Bowhay Institute for Legislative Leadership Development Program in Madison, Wisconsin. The annual fellowship program is organized by the Council of State Governments and is awarded to 36 legislators from 11 Midwestern states each year.
Reinert joined the Navy reserves in 2005 at the age of 35, becoming the fourth generation of his family to enlist in that branch of the military. He took advantage of a program that allows prospective soldiers with advanced degrees to immediately become officers and is now a lieutenant. He spent most of August stationed off the coast of Korea on the USS Blue Ridge.
Reinert is working on obtaining his pilot’s license. He hopes eventually to fly down to St. Paul for legislative sessions.
Reinert made three promises to himself heading into his first session at the Capitol: never take the elevator, don’t eat anything that comes in Styrofoam, and work out regularly. As evidence of his success in that last endeavor, he set personal best times in both 5K and half-marathon races since joining the Legislature.