The allocation last week of more than $200 million for the first wave of upgrades to the Interstate 35W/494 interchange brought immense satisfaction to state Rep. Linda Slocum.
“Uncork the champagne!” the Richfield DFLer said. “All of the representatives in that area have been working really hard on that for years.”
Slocum announced this month that she will not seek re-election this year and retire once her current term ends, in order to focus on treating her diabetes and other health issues. Her decision caps a 12-year run representing Richfield and Bloomington at the State Capitol.
“I need to do this … but I’m going to miss this,” Slocum said in an interview last week.
Slocum has had type 2 diabetes for the last 17 years, she said. Two years ago, she underwent a triple bypass surgery to clear blockages in her heart.
This winter while walking her dog, Slocum noticed she was becoming breathless. A doctor later found complications from her previous heart surgery.
“It’s kind of scary when the doctors tell you that,” she said. “I have to get control of the situation as much as I can.”
Richfield Council Member Michael Howard has announced that he will run for Slocum’s seat rather than seek the mayor’s job, as he had previously planned. Slocum said she supports Howard and that she will campaign for other candidates running in local elections, including races for mayor and Howard’s at-large council seat. As of Wednesday, no other candidates had declared themselves for Slocum’s seat.
Slocum has lived in Richfield for 20 years and was a public school teacher before beginning her political career. She raised two daughters, both of whom also became teachers.
When she was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2006, she followed a principle that has guided many rookie lawmakers, she said: “Sit down and shut up.”
But she didn’t stay silent for long, introducing more than 20 bills during her first legislative session. In the years that followed, Slocum pushed legislation that updated regulations on charter schools, established rules for organized trash collection and obtained funding for transportation projects in the suburbs she represented.
Those projects — renovation of the 35W/494 interchange and construction of the 77th Street underpass linking Richfield to the Mall of America — have been in the works for years. Construction on the underpass is expected to begin at the end of the year, she said, and the highway renovations could start as early as 2021.
“I’ve been working on the 35W/494 interchange and the 77th Street underpass for so long, I am going to make sure I am around to use them after these upgrades are complete,” she wrote in a news release.
State Sen. Melissa Wiklund, DFL-Bloomington, said Slocum helped her gain her footing after she joined the Senate in 2013.
“She has a kind of never-give-up attitude, and I think that’s very important in a legislator,” Wiklund said. “She’s willing to fight for her district as long as it takes.”
Richfield Mayor Pat Elliott said he will miss having Slocum represent the city at the state level. “She’s had boots on the ground for the entire 12 years she’s been there, and she doesn’t back down from a fight,” he said. “It’s the most you can hope for from a state legislator.”
Serving in the Legislature was patience-testing, stressful work, Slocum said. She knew that some of the bills she sponsored, such as the comprehensive gun-control legislation she proposed this year, wouldn’t get the necessary support.
“I tend to be a little bit ahead of the curve,” she said. “You know it’s a slow process, so you just keep plugging away.”