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One recent morning I found myself rudely awakened at 2:30 a.m. after being kicked in the side by my eldest toddler for the 15th time that night (parents of small children get it).

Breaking every rule in the book about getting good sleep, I decided to check my phone. I saw a text I'd missed from my night-owl husband — a link to "Mama bears may be the 2024 race's soccer moms" (July 23), an Associated Press story in the Star Tribune that portrayed today's "mama bears" as conservative extremists.

While my toddler may have been kicking me in the side, the article felt like a punch in the gut.

I am a proud mama bear, and I am not a "conservative extremist."

When I became the youngest woman ever elected to the Minnesota Senate in 2020, I had a 1-year-old on my hip and was newly pregnant with twins. I was running to make sure that those three little boys and their generation inherited a better, more prosperous Minnesota than the one I was living in.

I went to work that session determined to help mothers and children in Minnesota. I have worked tirelessly to strengthen our education system, make Minnesota safer and give our children a healthy economy to grow into. My record shows I reach out across the aisle whether I'm in the majority or minority, and successfully passed legislation that works toward those goals.

That is what a mama bear is.

The only thing she is extreme about is protecting and loving her children. She works to find solutions and compromises in order to move the community she is raising her children in toward a better future. Mama bears aren't left or right — they are passionate about standing up for children in public policy.

The bipartisan use of the term "mama bear" can be seen with Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, who sent a tweet thanking mama bears and has referred to herself as one several times. While Flanagan and I disagree on a lot of things, we share a mutual respect that we get up every day and go to work with the well-being of children at the top of our minds. Would those who wish to cast aspersions on the "mama bear movement" also classify our Democratic lieutenant governor as a conservative extremist?

I have worked with liberal mama bears, conservative mama bears and apolitical mama bears in my community to guarantee paid pumping breaks for working moms, help low-income mothers get their children off to a healthy start, improve school safety and much more.

The mama bears the article took pains to criticize are fighting for the same things and even more — they are fighting to say parents should never be displaced in their children's lives by government or schools.

If you are a mother who cares deeply for her children and is working to safeguard their futures, then you, too, are a mama bear.

I believe if there's one thing that can bring two parties together it's a love for one's children and a shared bond among mothers. I have seen this bond transcend partisan politics on several occasions, and that gives me hope the days of heated partisan bickering can someday be behind us. I have seen firsthand mama bears on different sides of the aisle sit at a table and respectfully discuss a path forward benefiting all Minnesota families.

Before questioning the motives of conservative mama bears and labeling them a hate group, we should instead listen to what's caused them to organize and find some common ground.

So, I ask that we not let this bipartisan term be used to divide us. Continue getting your mother those "mama bear" sweatshirts for Mother's Day. Keep referring to yourself as a mama bear when you stand up for your kids and community. And never forget that mama bears will transcend political labels to always fight for their families.

Julia Coleman, R-Waconia, is a member of the Minnesota Senate.