Lt. Gov.-elect Peggy Flanagan’s transition office on the third floor of the State Capitol is largely empty, save for a flip chart, some state government briefing booklets and a hefty binder titled “Governor’s Office Transition Materials.”
“There’s not a lot in here on the role of the lieutenant governor,” Flanagan said as she leaned on the massive binder. But she isn’t disappointed by the lack of guidance. “It’s exciting. And that provides an opportunity for us to continue to do what we do, which is reshaping this role and how it works.”
Soon-to-be Gov. Tim Walz and his running mate Flanagan sold voters on a “One Minnesota” vision that included raising the minimum wage, universal pre-K and a MinnesotaCare buy-in. Now they must prioritize the long list of goals and work with a divided Legislature to make them a reality.
For Flanagan, that starts with the creation of the One Minnesota Transition Advisory Board. On Friday, she announced the members of the group who will help the administration get ready for Jan. 7, when Walz and Flanagan will be sworn in.
Labor leaders, members of the agriculture industry, corporate executives and higher education representatives are among the 30-person board that will work on ensuring that the governor’s top staffers reflect the diversity of the state, as well as influencing the administration’s policy agenda and the development of the next two-year budget.
Flanagan — who is leading the advisory board — said its creation is part of a commitment to bringing a range of voices into the governing process.
It also signals her continued prominence in the Walz administration.
With some exceptions, lieutenant governors in Minnesota have historically not played major roles in the policy work of the administration. Often, gubernatorial candidates pick someone to campaign with who will attract voters from a different geographic region. But a running mate’s time in the public eye has often faded after Election Day.
But from the time Walz selected Flanagan as his campaign partner, she has had a significant presence in the race. She campaigned across the state and was featured in their television advertisements. Walz frequently mentioned her during speeches and debates.
“The way that we campaign is the way that people can expect us to govern,” Flanagan said. “We have different areas of expertise, and I think that will also be reflected in how we work on policies together, how we are connecting with communities across the state.”
Flanagan, of St. Louis Park, is the first American Indian woman to hold statewide office in Minnesota. She spent two terms in the state House, both in the minority party, and previously served as executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota. She also worked as a political and community organizer. Those experiences shaped some of her priorities, including access to affordable child care, paid family leave and equity and inclusion, she said.
Her organizing experience and relationships with legislators could pay off as the new leaders bring an ambitious policy agenda to the State Capitol, fellow legislators said.
Rep. David Bly, D-Northfield, sat next to Flanagan on the House floor for the past two years. He said he was sometimes surprised by the Republicans who stopped by to talk with her about issues or seek her opinion.
“She’s not afraid to interact with or engage the other side,” said Bly, who is retiring from the Legislature.
Her experience creating the People of Color and Indigenous Caucus in the House will be important as she works with the new advisory board to elevate underrepresented voices, Bly said.
Sen. Sandra Pappas, D-St. Paul, has served in the Legislature during five previous gubernatorial administrations; she said the lieutenant governor has little power beyond what the governor delegates. But Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton’s second lieutenant governor, Tina Smith, now a U.S. senator, took on a very visible role. With Dayton’s health problems, “she was kind of like Eleanor Roosevelt,” as she traveled around the state and was deeply involved in negotiations, Pappas said.
“It does seem like the Walz-Flanagan team is shaping up to be similar,” Pappas said.
Smith was the first person Flanagan said she called after Walz started talking to her about the job.
“She said, ‘I’m going to put on a pot of coffee then we’re going to go for a walk around the lake,’ ” Flanagan said. Smith changed the way the lieutenant governor’s office functions, Flanagan said, and she looks to her as a mentor and sounding board.
There are times when she and Walz disagree or have different perspectives on an issue, Flanagan said. “The reality is, there is one governor. And I’m super clear on that,” she said.
But, she added, it helps that they have been friends for 13 years. Flanagan and Walz first met when she was a trainer and he was a student at the progressive political program Camp Wellstone.
For the new administration, the hectic campaign trail pace doesn’t let up during the two-month transition period. They need to hire nearly two dozen state agency commissioners by Jan. 7 and debut a budget by Feb. 19.
But there are a lot of people who want to help, Flanagan said, noting the advisory board has tripled in size from what she originally envisioned. Some of the members include former Republican U.S. Sen. Dave Durenberger, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin, Council on American-Islamic Relations-Minnesota Executive Director Jaylani Hussein and Hormel Foundation Chairman Jeff Ettinger.
Flanagan expects the board will hold three to five meetings before Inauguration Day, with its first meeting tentatively scheduled for Nov. 26. Members will use their connections to encourage people to apply for jobs through the administration’s new website. They could also have a lasting impact on how the administration engages with the public.
“We want to make sure our administration is accessible, transparent. That we don’t always expect people to come to the Capitol,” Flanagan said. “ ... I think that this group will also help shape what that looks like going forward.”