Third-generation politico is part of seven-strong DFL field in St. Paul
In a race with many candidates but few expected policy differences, supporters of Matt Freeman’s House District 64B DFL candidacy are placing their faith in his door-to-door skills to set him apart from the crowd.
“Few people have knocked on more doors in Highland Park and Mac-Groveland than Matt,” said Chris Tolbert, a St. Paul City Council member whose district neatly overlaps the legislative district and who endorsed Freeman and serves as his campaign co-chair. “Delegates want to see someone who not only believes in progressive values and can articulate them, but who knows the neighborhood and will work hard for it.”
Freeman, the son of Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman and grandson of former Gov. Orville Freeman, is making his first bid for elected public office in the race to replace DFL Rep. Michael Paymar, who is not seeking re-election this fall after 18 years representing the district.
The 28-year-old director of outreach and labor relations for St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman is one of seven DFL candidates since Paymar’s retirement announcement to file paperwork for the seat, which rests in a DFL partisan stronghold.
Freeman has served in many political positions, including Coleman’s 2013 re-election campaign chairman and field director for U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s 2012 re-election campaign. He said he’s running because he believes he can play a leadership role in the Legislature.
“It’s not enough for the next state representative to just be right on the issues,” he said. “That person needs
to be a leader who can bring assets together to empower the community and promote the things we believe in, and I can be that leader.”
St. Paul ties
Freeman grew up in Richfield and attended Georgetown University in Washington D.C. before taking his first job with the D.C.-based Close Up Foundation, working in an early childhood special education classroom and teaching civics to middle school and high schools students.
Returning to Minnesota, he got involved in DFL politics, opposing the war in Iraq and working on President Obama’s Minnesota campaign team in 2008 and on Gov. Mark Dayton’s recount team in 2010.
Freeman has only lived in St. Paul for four years, but was elected a delegate to the 2012 DFL state convention representing Senate District 64. He says door-knocking in 64B for Coleman, Klobuchar and Tolbert has taught him much about the district.
“It’s a community that’s unusually tapped into what’s going on politically, with a lot of experts in their field,” he said. “Civic engagement, voter participation and more is really high.”
One person with deep roots in the district is Linda Slattengren, his campaign co-chair and a resident of the district since she was 2 years old. Now retired, the former head of the Minnesota Nurses Association said she got involved with his campaign because he provides the best chance among all candidates to rejuvenate the local DFL Party and bring statewide leadership to the Legislature.
“Our district has been blessed with Rep. Paymar for many years, and there might be a few cobwebs on it,” she said. “Matt is a remedy for that. He’s got a vast amount of experience on his resume for someone his age.”
As director of outreach and labor relations for Mayor Coleman, Freeman has shown a “natural ability to reach out to people and engage folks, whether they look like him or are from different cultures or backgrounds,” Coleman said.
As his re-election campaign manager, Freeman motivated campaign volunteers to get out and work hard in a race where the biggest challenge was “getting people to take it seriously when it didn’t look like the toughest race I would have,” Coleman said.
Coleman said he hasn’t endorsed anyone in the 64B race.
“I’m fond of Matt, but a lot of the people in the race are my friends,” he said. But Freeman “would certainly do well for the district.”
On the issues
Freeman lists education at all levels as his top priority, if elected, noting that many in the district either have student loans, pay their kids’ students loans or work for educational institutions.
“The expanded investment in early childhood education, K-12 funding and the higher education tuition freeze passed by the DFL Legislature last year was a good start,” he said. “I think additional investment in the higher education system is needed to make higher education affordable again for everyone who wants to attend.”
Freeman also supports a state minimum wage increase “beyond $9.50 an hour,” and indexing it to inflation for the future.
Renovation of the former St. Paul Ford vehicle assembly plant in the district is a top concern for its residents, and Freeman said his familiarity with the issue as part of Coleman’s mayoral staff gives him a leg up when it comes to any possible state involvement.
“The city plays a role in zoning, and Ford owns the site, but we need a regional look at its future and the state should be involved,” he said.
Bringing a strong transportation infrastructure to the Ford plant neighborhood before redevelopment and helping with environmental remediation of the site are two areas in which the state could play a major role, Coleman said.
Slattengren said she doesn’t believe local DFLers will have difficulty reaching an endorsement, despite the number of candidates in the race and the potential for statewide political interest in its outcome — including TakeAction Minnesota, the statewide progressive advocacy group who counts fellow 64B hopeful Greta Bergstrom as a staff member and whose PAC endorses legislative candidates.
“What I think works in Matt’s favor is that he’s not connected overly to any outside interests,” she said. “I think he’s open to people’s ideas, and that will work well in the district.”
Professionals who are union members in the district are a sizeable force, Slattengren said, though she doubts than unions will be endorsing before the local DFL endorsement convention.
The district has “a lot of strong-minded, individualistic DFLers who have the ability to make up their own minds,” said Tolbert.
Freeman said he will abide by the party endorsement process. “If someone else gets endorsed, I won’t run,” he said.
Freeman’s family legacy of public service shapes him, Slattengren said.
“He possesses a fabric of experience with a lot of good golden threads running through him, handed down from previous generations of his family,” she said.
Freeman said he is proud of his family’s history in Minnesota politics, but it doesn’t define him.
“In this district, it is leadership and relationships that will define the race and who’s the best candidate,” he said. “I think I’ve demonstrated my own brand of leadership and I hope the rest of the district agrees.”