In January, I was honored to take the oath of office to serve our community in the House of Representatives. As my first year in that role comes to a close, it seems important to report back – a brief “year-end report” of sorts – not only on my work so far but on what comes next.
The excitement of my own first year has come in a dispiriting context. The 2013-2014 DFL legislature and Governor Dayton achieved so much progress in strengthening our state’s economic health and improving the well-being of all Minnesotans. With a new House majority in 2015, the accomplishments were fewer, far more modest, and overshadowed by a number of missed opportunities.
Even though education funding increased, for example, it did so by less than the rate of inflation plus pupil growth – a real cut for schools. The House majority pushed to dismantle protections for our environment – one of our biggest sources of pride as Minnesotans. There was no comprehensive transportation bill, despite studies showing that our roads, bridges, and transit need an additional $6 billion in funding over the next ten years. And no tax bill; no relief from increasing property taxes (I had co-authored legislation to help); no tax cuts for middle-class Minnesotans.
Of local importance, the failure to pass a tax bill also served to block at least temporarily a provision that I authored that would help facilitate development plans at the Ford site; I will push for it again in 2016.
Against this frustrating backdrop, I had some individual policy successes. The most significant drew from my background outside of the Legislature, where I direct several statewide efforts to protect vulnerable victims of sexual exploitation. I secured first-ever state funding to support local investigations of such crimes. Recognizing the adage about the cost of prevention vs. cure, I also authored a law safeguarding funding for sexual violence prevention. At a smaller scale, I authored several clarifications to data law, including one making it easier for school districts to collaborate with libraries and other community partners.
Those who closely follow Minnesota politics seem to view my first year as a successful one. I was identified as a "rookie to watch" by news organizations and was selected as a "Legislator of Distinction" by the League of Minnesota Cities – the only urban House member to be recognized in this way.
As we move into 2016, the challenges that we face seem ever-deeper and more complex, with the goals ever-farther away: Racial and gender equity; a fair tax burden on all of our citizens; clean water and air; safety from gun violence; robust, broadly shared prosperity; and more.
I am exploring policy change in each of these areas, and others too. But my chief focus has remained the same: Ensuring that every child gets off to a great start in life. Given time, every other problem that we face can be solved if we get this one right. I’ve spent the summer and fall meeting with policy experts and advocates to begin to craft a “prenatal to age three” agenda – everything from comprehensive prenatal care to high-quality opportunities for early development. As it turns out, the best way to help infants and toddlers to thrive is to help their families to do so – meaning policies like paid family and sick leave, increased affordable housing, and living-wage jobs. Broad change will likely need a new House majority, but I’m working hard to explore steps that we can take in the meantime. Be on the lookout in early 2016 for more details.
In our district, expect outreach to be a major theme in 2016, with “community conversations” planned on several topics, and other opportunities to connect throughout the district. I will continue to actively monitor plans at the Ford site, working closely with neighborhood organizations on many other issues as well. One important focus will continue to be the new Minnesotans and lower-income families in our neighborhood, especially along West Seventh; I've been honored recently to attend several events - a celebration with the Eritrean community and a menorah-lighting ceremony (at the Cooper's supermarket!) - with families in the area.
In short, there’s much to do, and much opportunity too. Please don’t hesitate to contact me with your thoughts about priorities for 2016. With the first year behind me, I’m eager to get to work.
I hope that you've had a peaceful and joyous holiday season and wish you the very best for 2016. Thank you for the honor of serving our community.
State Representative, District 64B
321 State Office Building