Legislative candidates running in even the safest districts often say they aren’t taking anything for granted and will continue to pound the pavement to reach their potential voters. In that same spirit, Peggy Flanagan, an experienced campaigner for public office and progressive causes, said she plans to work hard in the run-up to the Nov. 3 special election to replace Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley.
Anything can happen, candidates say, and one can’t be sure until the last vote is counted.
“Our strategy always has been about the district — knocking on doors and being in a deep conversation with voters,” said Flanagan, who currently serves as executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund. “I’m going to continue to run this race.”
In Flanagan’s case, the candidate’s caution seems somewhat extreme: The DFL activist was the first to declare her intentions to run and managed to literally clear the field; no other candidate, Democrat or Republican, filed to run for the seat.
This came as a surprise to Flanagan — and to Tim Reardon, a public affairs professional and House District 46A resident who is also running for the seat. At least he thought he was. Reardon said Tuesday that he had only learned of the 6 p.m. Monday registration deadline to file with the Secretary of State’s office after the time had passed.
Reardon said he still intended to try to file to be placed on the ballot alongside Flanagan. Reardon said conversations with Brian Rice, the consummate DFL campaign insider, and Ann Kaner-Roth, the deputy secretary of state, had led him to assume he had no legal recourse to challenge his position and that his only option was to mount a write-in campaign.
Should Reardon decide to pursue that avenue, history is not on his side: Write-in candidacies are fairly common, but no Minnesota legislative contestant has won with a write-in campaign in at least the last three decades, according to the Legislative Reference Library.
That fact is one of many that seem to have sealed the race for Flanagan, and early: She quickly notched the endorsements of the Minnesota AFL-CIO labor union, the Minnesota Nurses Association, former DFL House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, and, last but not least, Winkler himself.
Reardon said Tuesday he suspected that Flanagan might have been given advance warning of Winkler’s May 21 announcement and that she had the campaign “wired” from the get-go.
“But that did not intimidate me,” he continued. “I don’t care how many endorsements the DFL candidate has. The people haven’t weighed in yet, and last time I heard, people are selected for office by people who live in their district, and not by a group of establishment candidates or the party establishment.”
Flanagan rejects that claim. She said Winkler had intimated that Flanagan might want to consider running for the seat someday, but had made it sound like the opportunity would come years down the road. She said she was just as surprised as anyone to learn of Winkler’s imminent departure from the Legislature. (The five-term Democrat is leaving this summer to move to Belgium, where his wife has been named vice president of a hotel chain.)
Once she did hear the news, though, Flanagan immediately began assembling a campaign team and reaching out to an extensive network of Democratic insiders. Flanagan has a large Rolodex of connections to rely on, having previously served on the Minneapolis Board of Education — at 24, Flanagan was the school board’s youngest-ever elected member — and as an organizing trainer at Wellstone Action.
“I worked at Wellstone Action for eight years. I teach folks how to do this,” Flanagan said, explaining her campaign’s rapid ascent. “I have a long history of working on campaigns, and I was able to pull this together very quickly.”
Flanagan said she has worked extensively with Winkler during his time in office, most notably as a co-chair of the Raise the Wage Coalition, which advocated for passage of Winkler’s 2014 bill to increase the state minimum wage. She said her campaign, and a virtually certain first term in office — Flanagan demurred, saying she was “not putting the cart before the horse” — would look to pick up where his legacy left off, with a focus on progressive economic issues, especially for working women.
Last session, Winkler waged a less successful campaign to inscribe paid family leave into the state’s employment law, as part of the DFL’s “Working Parents Act.” Flanagan said she knows she would have to be realistic about how much progressive legislation could pass with a Republican majority holding the House next session. But she said she can find common ground on certain shared priorities, like transportation, where Flanagan’s district is especially keen on seeing a funding bill that includes support for the Southwest Light Rail Transit line, and education funding.
Flanagan’s origin in St. Louis Park traces back to her mother, who raised Flanagan as a single parent, relocating there to take advantage of the good school system.
“I think there are opportunities for [the DFL] to partner with [Republicans] … on education, and getting our schools funded,” Flanagan said. She added: “Frankly, through the work I’ve done over past several years being an advocate for children and families, I think we need more voices like that at the Capitol.”