By Ricardo lopez
Progressive activist Peggy Flanagan may be running unopposed for the Minnesota House in a special election this fall, but she said she's not coasting.
"Our strategy has always been about the district, knocking on doors and having conversations with voters," said Flanagan, 35. "Even though there isn't anybody, the strategy will be the same."
Flanagan, a St. Louis Park resident, hopes to fill the seat recently vacated by former Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley. Winkler, an outspoken liberal stalwart in the House, resigned last month. He moved to Belgium with his family after his wife, Jenny, accepted a job there.
When Winkler resigned, many wondered what candidate might take his place during House floor sessions, where he relished the chance to antagonize opponents.
Winkler, who represented District 46A, served five terms in the west metro region. No Republican has won the seat since Jim Rhodes, in 2000. After redistricting in 2012, the region, formerly District 44B, became 46A. So far there is no Republican candidate for the seat.
Rep. Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, predicted Flanagan would "serve Minnesota well" and carve out her own distinct role in the House. "She'll come in her own shoes," Murphy said. "She's a tremendous leader."
Flanagan is executive director of the Children's Defense Fund-Minnesota, a nonprofit child advocacy group. She served on the Minneapolis Board of Education from 2005 through 2009. She made one previous statehouse run, challenging Rep. Joe Mullery, DFL-Minneapolis, in 2008.
A member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, Flanagan says she would bring her life experience to the Capitol, noting that she was raised by a single mother who worked hard to provide her with opportunities.
"For me, it's really important that I bring my identity and who I am," Flanagan said. "I grew up in a low-income home. That really informs my work at the Children's Defense Fund. I hope that having an additional person of color [in the Minnesota House], as a Native woman, helps change the conversation and dynamics. I think we do better as a state when we have leaders who reflect the folks who live here."
Flanagan graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in child development and a minor in American Indian Studies. She is no stranger to the legislative process. She was co-chair of the Raise the Wage coalition, which led the effort to raise the state's wage floor to $9.50 by 2016. In 2018, it will be indexed to inflation — a major victory for activists.
Flanagan recalls the uncertainty surrounding the minimum wage effort during 2014's legislative session.
"We didn't know what was going to happen. Frankly, we didn't think we'd get to $9.50 [an hour], let alone $9.50 indexed to inflation," she said.
After a long day spent meeting with legislators, she said she called her mother.
"We were talking about the minimum wage, and my mom said, 'I wish there had been a coalition for us,' " Flanagan said. Her mother's advice, she said, was clear: "Don't you settle. Don't you quit, and don't you stop."
The special election is Nov. 3.