Sen. Barb Goodwin, DFL-Columbia Heights, announced last week she won’t seek a third term in the Senate next year, putting a cap on a three-decade career in and around the Capitol.
Goodwin has served in the Senate since 2011 and had three terms in the House, from 2001–2006. Between those stints she taught graduate government classes at Hamline University and served on the Columbia Heights School Board. Earlier, she worked for the House DFL caucus and as a lobbyist. Goodwin said she is done running for office but might like to return to teaching college and wants to continue introducing kids to the Legislature, in classrooms and at the Capitol.
The two state representatives from Senate District 41, Carolyn Laine and Connie Bernardy, are running to replace Goodwin. Goodwin calls both friends and “good candidates” and won’t weigh in on her successor.
Here is Capitol Report’s interview with Goodwin on Tuesday (edited for length and continuity):
Capitol Report: You’ve retired from the Legislature before. How does this retirement feel different from the last time, when you left the House?
Rep. Barb Goodwin: At least I’ve had time to spend time in the majority this time. I spent three terms in the House, but I never ended up in the majority. The way things work around there, if you’re not in the majority you don’t get bills heard or you don’t get issues done. So it makes it harder to serve and feel like you’re doing anything. When I was in the House, I started to get pretty cynical about the process. And I thought, when I get cynical, it’s time to go.
I started my career in 1985 with the Legislature, so I have been 30 years now, one way or another, in and around the Legislature. I approached it from being a staff person, state representative, state senator, teaching at graduate school at Hamline, lobbying for state professional employees, and helping parents who have children with mental illness, teaching them how to approach their legislators.
But it’s time. It’s time for me to enjoy my life a little bit, and have more time for family and things that I want to do. I have one grandson and two adult children who are both married.
I’m not cynical this time. I’m not leaving out of cynicism. There’s a lot of people older than me in the Legislature, but I am getting up there in age. I’m going to be 68, or close to it, when I end this term. So I’d be 72 if I took another four-year term.
CR: Officially it’s supposed to be a part-time role, but it’s a consuming role, isn’t it?
Goodwin: It’s a life-consuming job. “Part-time” is such a misnomer. It’s really part-time and the session. You get a lot of other responsibilities as a legislator too. You’ve got to know what’s going on in your community. I’ve got six cities. You need to listen to other community leaders, like school boards and city councils and other groups. The list is pretty endless.That’s the fun part of the job to me, but it does take up a lot of the time when you’re not in session, and even evenings in the beginning [of session]. Then there’s four or five months of a campaign. You can’t plan things with your family — when you’re in the campaign mode, it’s seven days a week. It’s on your mind, even if you’re not constantly working on it — “What should I be doing?”
But it’s an honor and every day is an education, like being in school or college, where you’re constantly being educated on new issues. And that’s the lure of it.
CR: It sucks you in.
Goodwin: It really does, because nowhere else you can research your issues and present them and have some chance to make a difference as far as the law goes. Making a difference in people’s lives — it’s very exciting in that way.
CR: Which committee assignments have stood out as most interesting for you?
Goodwin: Most interesting has been the Senate Judiciary Committee [where she is vice chair]. We’re suffering the consequences of the tough-on-crime period of the 1990s and early this century. They overdid it and now we’re financially suffering — other programs have gotten cut. We’ve got the Department of Corrections asking for 500 beds and it’s going to keep going like that unless we make some alternatives.
I’m interested in the mental health issue. When I discovered how many people are sitting in jail rather than getting treatment because we don’t have treatment available, I was shocked. I’ve been working on that the last three years. One of my disappointments here is that I wasn’t able to pass a major bill that I had on crisis centers. But I was able to educate people about what’s going on in the jails and prisons.
When my bill didn’t get into the Health and Human Service [omnibus] bill, there was quite a ruckus. All the Republicans voted for it but only four Democrats voted for my amendment on the [Senate] floor. I went to the [DFL] caucus and was very upset and let them all know. It was deep disappointment, but it was not cynicism.
Some things may be able to be done [next session]. I’m going to put the crisis bill out there and another bill that would create at least some place that the police can drop them off that would steer them to those places. If [legislators] don’t want to do the crisis centers, we might be able to get crisis services in jails, alternative sentences, or alternatives to jail [so] people don’t end up with a record over something as silly as yelling in the street or walking into someone’s garage. They don’t know what they’re doing and they end up going to jail for it. Then they can’t get housing, they can’t get a job and they’re still not getting help.
I’m on a [prison population] task force now that Sen. [Ron] Latz and Rep. [Tony] Cornish put together, where we’re looking at alternative sentencing and getting rid of mandatory minimum sentences. We’ve got to make changes. We just can’t keep on criminalizing people for being sick. Minnesota is last in the country for spending money on mental health per capita, for the number of treatment beds. We’ve got to do something.
CR: How about a bill that did pass?
Goodwin: I worked a lot on the Safe at Home legislation. Every year I passed some improvements to that program, which is how people can keep their addresses anonymous if they have been stalked or abused. It’s saved people’s lives and kids’ lives, so I’m proud of that one.
CR: You started out working for the DFL caucus, but as a legislator you’ve talked about putting district above party.
Goodwin: There have been times I have not voted with the caucus, when I knew my constituents felt differently. It doesn’t matter which party it is — it can get political for reasons that aren’t in the best interests of the people or the taxpayers. I’m vocal about that. I inform my caucus when I have reservations about what’s being done.
A good example was the end of session last time. I was very vocally opposed both in caucus and even publicly about what happened with 100-page bills — no opportunity to read them or see them before we were expected to vote on them. I’ve probably gotten myself into trouble, with some of our current leaders anyway.
But I don’t feel threatened by that. I just feel that all of us come and go. It’s not our seat — it’s the people’s seat. And while I’m in the people’s seat I’m going to try to do the best I can for the people in the district.