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Susan Kent’s volunteer efforts in education and schools led to calls for her to run for office. (File photo: Kevin Featherly)
Susan Kent’s volunteer efforts in education and schools led to calls for her to run for office. (File photo: Kevin Featherly)

Breaking the Ice: From ‘data geek’ to ‘policy wonk’

Name: Susan Kent

Title: Senator, District 53

Education: B.S., communications, University of Texas at Austin

Sen. Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, was pretty sure marketing wouldn’t be her life’s work. But it has offered valuable experience at the Capitol.

“I got to work with a wide range of individuals, from big corporations to mom-and-pop businesses,” Kent said. “So when we’re talking about issues that some parts of the business community might be understandably nervous about — take minimum wage — we can talk about why putting more money in people’s pockets is good for business.”

Kent worked in large marketing agencies before going independent. Her volunteer efforts in education and schools led to calls for her to run for office. Always interested in politics, Kent ran for an open seat in 2012 and won a second term in 2016.

Now an assistant minority leader, she has stepped aside from leadership of the “Purple Caucus” of GOP and DFL senators who seek to reduce party polarization. “I still care deeply about the mission,” Kent said.

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

A. In marketing communications I was a big data geek. Now I’m a big policy wonk. I love to dive into an issue, and if somebody has some perspective on something — legislation and policy or dinner party conversation — I love learning new things and hearing those insights.

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

A. Walter Mondale. His commitment to public service, his history with civil rights. That was a big issue in my family.

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

A. I have started, “All the Light We Cannot See.” The other one is the new Chris Matthews book on Bobby Kennedy. My mother gave me that for my birthday.

Q. What is a pet peeve of yours?

A. Not being considerate of others. We need to treat each other with basic respect and kindness.

Q. What’s a favorite activity outside your job?

A. Hanging out with my family. My husband and I will celebrate 30 years of marriage in February. Our son is a junior at Woodbury High School. When we get to get away and be together we’re a fun little group.

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

A. In Woodbury, I would take them for a hike along our beautiful parks and trails. My real hometown, the one I was born and raised in, is New Orleans. I love the older parts of Uptown along St. Charles Avenue.

Q. How has an event or person inspired you?

A. My dad [Joe Lawson] passed away right before Thanksgiving, and it’s him. He was a law professor. He was from Alabama and Mississippi at a tough time in our country. He was always viscerally committed to civil rights and justice.

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

A. I’m a big fan of what my friend JoAnn Ward is doing with “Civil Discourse.” Part of the challenge is our system does not reward moderation. Our system rewards red meat and bomb throwing. I don’t know how we combat that other than trying to encourage people not to reward the bomb throwing so much.

Q. Where do you like to eat lunch?

A. My favorite place in Woodbury is Woodbury Cafe. The walleye sandwich is to die for.

Q. What is something very few people know about you?

A. I was a drama geek as a kid. I used to sing in front of people, which is really weird to think about. I loved it, and I got paid a very tiny amount of money to be a backup singer on a demo. That obviously did not pan out.

Q. What’s your favorite hidden place at the Capitol?

A. My favorite hidden place is not hidden. It’s the Senate chamber. It has that Daniel Webster inscription going around it. And back to the influence of my father, a history major, that sense of history and respecting where we’ve come from and being informed by it as we make decisions for how we move forward, is so important.

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