After 16 years in the Minnesota Senate, DFLer Linda Higgins ran for and won a seat on the Hennepin County Board. She is taking over in the Second District, an area represented by former Commissioner Mark Stenglein for 15 years. Stenglein left in May to become president and CEO of the Minneapolis Downtown Council.
Higgins was sworn in on Nov. 20, which was early because the seat was open.
The county's Second District stretches from St. Anthony on the east through northeast and north Minneapolis, Bryn Mawr and North Loop neighborhoods in Minneapolis, and Golden Valley and Medicine Lake into the eastern edge of Plymouth.
Higgins lives in a neighborhood in north Minneapolis with her husband, Brian Bushay, and their two black English cocker spaniels, Winnie and Gracie.
Higgins talked about her transition from state to county government:
Q Do you regret leaving now that the DFL is in the majority in the state Senate?
A "I think I was going to be fifth or sixth in seniority. It would have been a great opportunity, but I was ready to hand it off. ... They're still not going to have an easy time. Democrats can fight with Democrats, too."
Q Why did you want to serve on the County Board?
A "Hennepin County is known nationwide as a county that works well. I've watched it over the years being more nimble than any other government I've been around. ... From the outside, it looks like there are seven people who can sit around a table and address an issue. ... I'd like to be part of that."
Q Are there issues you can get at better from a seat on the County Board as opposed to the state Senate?
A She noted she served on a Health and Human Services Committee for all but her first Senate term. "Health and Human Services is half the budget. We're the delivery system here. The state was more the policy end and allocating the funding."
Q North Minneapolis always has many needs. Any specific plans?
A She mentioned that she has connections from her years as a senator with many of the major players and organizations on the north side. She also chaired the Public Safety Budget Division in the Senate for four years and knows many county judges. She talked about working with the county to help fund the Humboldt Greenway Hennepin Community Works project in her early years at the Capitol and said she is excited about the next works project on Penn Avenue.
Q What is your philosophy on criminal justice?
A "I'm not a throw-away-the-key person. A lot of the work I did at the Capitol was about what to do with people when they come home [from incarceration]. ... So the best option isn't to go back to prison."
Q How do you balance the diverse needs of different parts of your district?
A "We [candidates] got asked that a lot because so many of us were from north Minneapolis. Suburbs such as Golden Valley and Plymouth and Medicine Lake will have different needs and issues -- transportation or environmental, for example -- where [north Minneapolis] will have significant human services needs."
Q How will your approach differ from Commissioner Stenglein's?
A "Mark came here after a career in business and brought those experiences and values. I'm coming from another career in government and will bring those values. We both are easy to get along with and I hope that won't change." She added with a smile, "I'm probably to the left of Mark a little."
Q How will being to the left of Stenglein manifest itself on the board?
A "I have no idea."
Q: Any priorities for your tenure?
A "I don't think I get one the first year." Higgins said she would be shepherding through projects that "Mark set in place," including working on the Southwest and Bottineau light-rail transit corridors.
Q Do you plan to spend a lot of time lobbying for the county at the Capitol?
A "I'm hoping so. I have good friends there, and I'm looking forward to seeing my friends."
Q What do you do for fun?
A She said she and her husband go to art fairs and parades and take their dogs. "We take them pretty well everywhere," she said. She's also an avid reader of Minnesota-based mysteries and thrillers. She mentioned John Sandford, Jess Lourey and Vince Flynn as three authors she enjoys.
Rochelle Olson • 651-925-5035 Twitter: @rochelleolson