Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan Sets a Pathway for the Underrepresented to Take Office

Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan
Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan talks politics and priorities.

In 2016, we interviewed Peggy Flanagan, then a member of the House of Representatives for district 46A. Now lieutenant governor, Flanagan sat down with us to talk about what’s important for Minnesota, some of the joys and challenges of the office and more.

City South: What inspired you to run for the position of lieutenant governor?
PF: I really enjoyed my time in the House—it felt great to represent the community that raised me. I was planning on continuing in that role, but I had a conversation with then-Congressman Tim Walz, and he asked me to be his running mate. I needed to think about it—hard—because I really enjoyed my role in the Legislature. But the governor and I have been friends for 15 years. We first met when I was his trainer at Camp Wellstone in 2005, and from there we formed a friendship and worked together on issues when he was in Congress and when I was with Wellstone, and then with Children’s Defense Fund. When I thought about the [potential] for moving issues forward that affect children and families, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

There’s a real need to ensure that Native women are seen and heard and valued, and during that particular time there was the tragic murder of Savannah Greywind. Native women are all too often invisible at best, and worst, disposable. I thought if there’s a way we can highlight the good work that’s happening in the [Native American] community and ensure that [Native American] folks have a seat at the table, I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity.

I’m really pleased we were able to pass the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Task Force bill.

CS: What are some of the highlights from the past legislative session that you’re most pleased with?
We were able to increase funding for our schools, as well as freeze the special-education cross subsidy [the gap between the cost of special education services and what state and federal funding covers].

We increased the Minnesota Family Investment Program [MFIP]—which is cash assistance for families in need. The majority of the folks who are part of the MFIP program are children. When we think about increasing family incomes, we improve child outcomes, and I think that was a really important increase that we haven’t seen for 33 years. These are working families, families that work in retail, health care, the service industry. And it provides some economic stability for families while they get back on their feet.

We got a budget that put children and families and communities first. We didn’t get everything we wanted, but it’s a down payment.

And we also have to get serious about our roads and bridges. It’s going to be important for both sides to work together.

CS: What were some of the disappointments for you in the past legislative session?
The family leave policy. It passed in the House but was not included in the budget. I think Minnesota is ready for it, so that’s something we’re going to be continuing to advocate for in the future.

CS: What’s the best part of being lieutenant governor?
The work is different every single day. I get to work in partnership with the governor, who is a dear friend, and someone I respect and admire, and really digging into those tough issues together. We literally sat next to each other and put together the budget, line by line. The budget we put together is different than what we got at the end of the session. We think that budgets are fiscal documents, but more importantly, they’re moral documents.

I’m learning new things every single day. When you’re a member of the legislature, you focus on your community and on the committees. Now my constituency is the state of Minnesota, so I’m learning new things about our state all the time and it’s really exciting, and it’s a fun time to be here.

I also have a 6-year-old in first grade. I have her around here quite a bit. It’s important to me that she sees the work that I do and knows there are a lot of options for her and other girls like her in the future.

CS: Do you still live in St. Louis Park?
Yes, in the Bronx Park neighborhood. We’ve been there for several years and it’s where I am raising my daughter. It’s the kind of community we want for her. I get to share with her the things I got to do as a kid, and it’s important to me that she gets to experience the benefit of living in a vibrant, diverse, welcoming community.

And her school has a Native American affinity club. She’s able to spend time with other Native students. That wasn’t my experience growing up, so I’m excited that she has that.

CS: What are some of your favorite haunts in St. Louis Park and Minneapolis?
We’re really excited about Parkway Pizza. We always do a game of foosball. And we can walk there, which is lovely.

We spend a lot of time at the rec center and local parks—we benefit from living in a community that thinks playgrounds are important.

We try to go to Bde Maka Ska fairly often—it’s one of my favorite things to do during the summer. Other places we like are Barbette, Roat Osha and of course we like to go get ice cream.

CS: How would you advise people who never ran for office but who are thinking about it?
The best way to get engaged in politics is to volunteer for a campaign. The first campaign I worked on was for the late Sen. Wellstone. I started out stuffing envelopes, and then I went back every single day. By the end of the campaign, I was an organizer for the Native American community.

Volunteering for a campaign is a way to get a sense of how you like it. And volunteering for a smaller office, you also get a chance to make recommendations and see your own perspective reflected.

Women have to be asked on average nine times to run for office. We [women] have a lot of knowledge and expertise in our own lives and in our communities. That knowledge needs to be heard in the halls of power. If you feel passionate about something, think about stepping up and running for office.

There are more and more women running for office, and that matters. The more that we see people who look like us in office, the easier it becomes for us to see that pathway.

I’m a mom of a 7-year-old little girl, and that means she comes with me on the campaign trail, and she comes to a lot of meetings. I’ve had women running for office say to me, “Thank you so much for bringing your daughter.” I say I appreciate the feedback. And it’s also what’s completely necessary for my life.

I think it’s important that we are honest about what it actually takes [to run for political office], the kind of time and sacrifice. It’s also important to surround ourselves with people who give us the love and support we need to do it.

At the end of the day, I want my daughter to know that her mom did everything that she could to try to make the world a better place for her.

CS: Do you think there’s been progress in disparities since we talked to you in 2016?
I think there’s been progress but there’s certainly more to do, and it’s across the board. We have to look at the whole person, the whole family, the whole community. We have to look at education, housing, wages. Individuals don’t come in pieces. We have to look at the way we’re putting together budgets and the way that we govern.

When we talk about racial equity and policy-making, it has to be really intentional and we have to be willing to be uncomfortable. We have to make sure that people [who experience disparities] are included in the conversations we’re having in order to have better results. We need to do this work to be the kind of state we want to be.