Edie Barrett: My Run for House in Rural Minnesota

I ran for Minnesota House, District 12A, as the endorsed DFL candidate. My district is in West Central Minnesota. It is a large geographical area due to the ruralness of the counties.

The incumbent was Republican Paul Anderson, who has held that position for 14 years. He is a farmer from Starbuck. Democrat and Beardsley resident Murray Smart withdrew his candidacy for House. No one in my district — no one — came forward to challenge Anderson. I became a first-time candidate at the end of May.

I am a fifth generation Minnesotan.  I have extensive professional experience in nonprofit program development, finance, and management. I worked in higher education administration for over 13 years. I am a writer and a solo exhibiting fine artist. In May 2022, I walked for my graduate degree in public affairs from The Humphrey Institute at the University of Minnesota.

After I decided to run, I met with a current Minnesota House representative. She said to me, “Clearly, you are a formidable candidate. Your district and the state would be lucky to have you. But the question is, are you electable?”

Therein lies the rub. Hope springs eternal. Between redistricting, and the Dobbs decision regarding Roe v Wade, I believed in my ability to win.

We are fortunate in Big Stone County, because there is a very strong and committed DFL group. Here Kari Dorry, also from my town of Ortonville, was running for Senate. With two rural women on the ballot, some of our effort could be easily doubled. In five months, my campaign raised $34,000.

In the end, I received 28.83 percent of the votes, with Paul Anderson receiving 71.06 percent. He had 7,893 additional votes over me. I am told that for this area it was an impressive outcome.

I returned to West Central Minnesota 12 years ago after living in Santa Barbara for 26 years. I marvel at the assumptions about who lives in rural communities and why. When it comes to politics, I can imagine an arm waving — in one broad sweep — gesturing to Greater Minnesota while asking, “Why we should bother with them?”

Why We Should

Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan had a solid lead when they were elected this fall. Votes for Kari and I contributed to that. In our district alone, we gained over 3,000 new registered voters. If it wasn’t for the Democratic votes of Greater Minnesota, Keith Ellison and Julie Blaha would not have won. Our votes were part of Steve Simon’s lead. Greater Minnesota votes contributed to holding the House and flipping the Senate.

Said another way, ALL of Minnesota, urban and rural, made winning possible. Every vote matters regardless of where you live. Think of us like the backup choir. We may not have the gravitas of those sitting in the front row, but the truth is, our voices make all the difference.

Now speaking as a past candidate, I see future challenges for our red region. Running for this position was a significant amount of work, stress, time, and travel. It was a JOB. This candidacy was a group effort by my campaign committee, with countless hours spent by volunteers.

How do we maintain the momentum for candidates to run again? How do we attract quality candidates? And how do we maintain strong volunteerism and financial donations when there is a questionable outcome?

Kari Dorry was an outstanding Senate candidate. She is smart, committed, and dedicated to quality rural life and upholding ethics and values that contribute to rural living. I could say the same about myself. Dang it! We should’ve won.

Torrey Westrom, Kari’s opponent, has been in that role for 26 years. I feel that Kari and I were up against the old white male patriarchy. Tradition. Status quo. Who and what is familiar, comfortable, known.

I did my graduate capstone project in agriculture and soil health practices. My area of presentation was on trust and relationship and how those two factors influence behavioral change. At the time, my focus was on soil, but other relevant applications were easy to see, such as who we trust regarding COVID vaccinations.

When it comes to behavioral change, and beliefs, this is not simply a Greater Minnesota challenge, nor a Minnesota challenge — it is a national challenge. It is THE challenge of our time. How do we find our way back to each other and to the values that connect us?

This is done one relationship at a time. It happens over coffee, neighbors helping each another, families choosing relationship over political differences, realizing that the greatest asset we have is each other. Our shared values not only serve our region but contribute to quality living and our sense of belonging to the long linage of being human.

Values about connection and belonging are what make me proud to live in Minnesota and be a Minnesotan. These are the values I stand-up for.

As for a next run? Who knows, but I am saving the yard signs.