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Rep. JoAnn Ward, DFL-Woodbury, is an avid gardener and has a tapestry with a floral pattern on her office wall at the State Office Building in St. Paul. (Staff photo: Bill Klotz)

Breaking the Ice: Bringing ‘civil discourse’ to the Capitol

Name: JoAnn Ward

Title: Representative, District 53A

Education: B.S., education, Kansas State University; M.A., human resource development, University of St. Thomas

Rep. JoAnn Ward, DFL-Woodbury, believes legislators can do their jobs better when they get along better.

Beginning her first term in January 2013, Ward said, she came upon “a pretty inefficient, ineffective, chaotic place.”

After that session, Ward went for training at the University of Arizona’s National Institute for Civil Discourse. That built on experience in restorative justice Ward had gained through her background in teaching, business and nonprofit management.

She offered legislators a workshop on civil discourse two years ago, another took place last January, and she hopes to kick off the next session with some time spent on civil discourse.

“My sense is that many of the people elected to office are yearning for a better process, a more respectful environment,” Ward said. “I have a lot of hope. I see people reaching out to each other. We have a ways to go but we are moving.”

Q. What’s the best way to start a conversation with you?

A. Tell me about yourself. Who are you? What’s important to you?

Q. Who was the first presidential candidate you voted for and why?

A. My first opportunity to vote my candidate did not win.

Q. What books are on your bedside table or e-reader?

A. I am currently working on “North to the Pole,” by Will Steger. It occurred to me as I got into it and it was starting to turn cold outside and I was feeling cold, this is not a good book to read now. I should be reading it in July and August.

Q. What is a pet peeve of yours?

A. Disrespect.

Q. If someone visits you in your hometown, what would you take them to see or do?

A. Depends on who they are. If we’re talking about young children, the Madison’s Place Playground [in Woodbury]. East Ridge High School is pretty cool. Battle Creek Park. If this person is athletic and likes to bike or whatever, we have lots of trails to go on. Even walking around Colby Lake. Introducing suburban life; it’s an opportunity for people to see that it isn’t necessarily the “suburban elite.” I would take them to the food shelf.

I’ve been thinking about that because I’m trying to do an exchange with legislators, particularly trying to connect with a rural legislator. I’ll spend a day in their district and they could spend a day or part of a day in Woodbury or Maplewood and Oakdale.

Family comes first. We do lots of things together but not enough. There’s just not time with busy families and my crazy schedule. Gardening. I also need to exercise pretty regularly. That’s really hard to do during session. But it’s essential for me to do that.

Q. How has an event or person inspired you?

A. Women speaking on the [House] floor. Seeing people stand up and share their voices is always inspirational to me. Having [House Minority Leader] Melissa [Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park] stand up for them in a way that was unusual, not a common practice, was really inspiring. (Hortman made headlines in April for demanding that members return to their seats from a “100 percent white male card game” in the House retiring room.)

Q. What would be one way to end partisan polarization?

A. The short answer in my mind is that we listen to the people. When I first started running and people who know me said that’s such a dog-eat-dog world and you’re too nice to survive it, I went to listen [to residents while door-knocking]. The overwhelming theme — whether it was the environment, health care or education or whatever concerns they had particularly — was, “Why can’t you get along? Why can’t you work together?” If this is the culture that we just accept, then nothing’s going to change. But if we are intentional about making changes, then we can do that. It doesn’t have to be this way. It doesn’t have to be all about power or individual power. It can be about shared power for doing good.

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