We had an opportunity to talk with Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan on International Women’s Day. Here is some of what she shared with us.
I come from a long line of badass women. That is part of my identity. My grandma was very involved in the DFL party before it was polite for women to be engaged and involved in politics. That is just what she did, and how she showed up for her family and for her community. My mom would take me with her every time we would go to the voting booth, and hoist me up on her hip.
We are in this moment now for my daughter — her entire world is different than when I grew up. She still has women around her who are our leaders, demonstrating to her what it looks like to care for your community. The way that she sees leadership and the way she sees women and what is possible for her is totally different than anything I could imagine. I grew up in Saint Louis Park, where I was one of a handful of Native kids in my school. I never saw a teacher who looked like me. Certainly, the curriculum was not reflective of the full story of Minnesota — Minnesota before it was Minnesota.
Here is my daughter who gets to be her full, beautiful Indigenous self when she walks into a classroom or when she walks down the street. I am going to continue to fight like hell to make sure that is possible for her. In this moment, her mom is a lieutenant governor, auntie Jamie Becker Finn is chair of the judiciary committee, auntie Deb [Haaland] is on Zoom calls with mommy as U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Miss Rena [Moran] is chair of the Ways and Means committee. It simply is her reality. I do not want to go backwards.
We are in this moment of great possibility, knowing that simultaneously there are attacks on our ability to make decisions about what happens with our own bodies. I have grown up under the protection of Roe [v Wade]. The idea that that may not exist for my child is horrifying to me. We have to keep fighting, the way that my grandma did, to make sure that women are seen, heard, and valued. The way that my mother did it. Now the way I am doing it for my child so that she does not have to keep fighting these battles.
We have a lot of work to do, and I feel that urgency in a major way.
There are some folks who did really well during this pandemic, and there are others, particularly women, who have been hit really hard. Our frontline workers who have been needing to take time off or have had to leave the workforce — for some that means permanently due to issues like childcare, or lack of earned sick and safe time, or paid family medical leave. Those are the things we are focused on in the short term. Making sure that folks who have been hit can get a little relief right now. Direct cash payments to make sure folks are feeling like they can get a little bit ahead. That means getting boxes of diapers, additional food on the table, being able to pay your electric bill or phone bill. This is real money for real people.
In the long term, we have to make sure we are investing in the systems that, frankly, we have underinvested in for a long time. Things like the childcare system — fully funding the childcare assistance program so there is no waiting list, increasing the reimbursement rate for the program to the 75th percentile. That also impacts wages. It is a surprise to no one the folks who are doing these jobs are often women of color who need to be paid for this incredibly important work — the workforce behind the workforce.
Paid family and medical leave is part of our budget. You shouldn’t have to choose between taking care of a new child or a sick family member and a paycheck. Investments in education and housing, making sure there is additional support for our relatives experiencing homelessness.
This is an opportunity to invest in the future of Minnesota. If we don’t take this chance now …
I feel this urgency. The governor does, too, and that is reflected in the budget that we rolled out. As a woman, as a mom, as a child advocate, this is the budget that I have been waiting for and working towards for the last 20 years.
Sometimes the governor will look at me and he’ll say, “If you knew then what you know now, would you run for this office?” And you know, the answer is yes. It has been an honor to serve in this role. Certainly what we have experienced both through the pandemic and also the racial reckoning that has been a long time coming in the state [has not been easy].
I am proud of the fact that we are able to protect the lives of Minnesotans during a really uncertain time — now we have the vaccines, and more of our children can get vaccinated. I am proud of the translation work we did to make sure that our immigrant communities were getting the information they needed in the way that they needed it.
Even though we are dealing with all of these things that have been difficult, we have some pretty significant accomplishments, like the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s task force and now the creation of the office of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives. [Juliet Rudie, a tribal member of the Lower Sioux Indian Community and lifelong Minnesota resident, will lead this first office of its kind in the nation.’
That led to the work around the Missing and Murdered African American Women’s task force that Rep. Ruth Richardson has been a powerhouse behind leading that work.
The Healthy Start Act, and making sure that our mothers who are incarcerated have what they need to have healthy babies and to be able to be with their child, because we know that that is good for moms and it is good for babies and developments. I was able to work on that Dignity and Childbirth Act with Rep. Becker Finn.
I am very proud of the increase, the first time in 33 years, to the Minnesota Family Investment Program.
We are starting to see the scaffolding that is being built and the things that we are moving, and what is possible. While it has not all passed yet, I am proud of this budget that we put together. The governor and I often talk about the fact that children and families don’t come in pieces, and so we try to have a comprehensive approach.
Budgets are moral documents.
I appreciate this question, because things can feel like a slog, and overwhelming. It is important for us to celebrate those wins so that we sustain ourselves and keep doing this work.
As a Native woman, I work in and operate in a system that was not created by us or for us, but in many ways was established to eliminate us. It is heavy. During our last two years we have experienced this collective trauma — for some communities, experiencing trauma upon trauma — so I want to acknowledge that. It is hard to turn a ship that has been headed in the same direction for 164 years.
But I love Minnesota. I love this place. I love our people. Recently I was standing on the [Capitol] steps with hundreds of people who were there to say ‘We love our trans kids in Minnesota. We want to protect them. We want to lift them up, and that is who we are.’ So I love this state and I love our people.
What frustrates me is that we still get hung up on “Minnesota Nice” — which I think really is our inability to talk about hard stuff. Those are the things that I call ‘Who wants pie?’ moments, when we start to talk about issues around race or trauma and suddenly we switch the topic to food. We just don’t want to talk about it. The disparities that exist in this state exist because we are unwilling to have those conversations.
As one of two BIPOC people who are elected statewide and the first Native woman elected to statewide office, I am super clear that my role is to continue to talk about these things to make sure that we are shining light on issues that impact women of color, Indigenous women, our families — because we need to have a seat at the table. When we do have a seat at the table, conversations change, policies change, the budgets we put out change.
I am frustrated by the reactions people have sometimes when people are simply telling the truth about how they experience life, instead of leaning in to learn more. We throw up walls or get defensive. But we just don’t have time for that anymore.
We were talking about the world that I want to create for my daughter. I need everybody to feel that urgency. I don’t want this moment to be a moment in time, or a blip on the screen, with more women being in leadership positions.
Every morning I wake up and recommit myself to this work, knowing what is on the line — making sure we have autonomy over our own bodies, that our LGBTQ+ youth know that they are loved and valued. I can get frustrated, but when I wake up in the morning, those are the things that get me out of bed, knowing that I have to keep fighting. I think that is how women lead.
I am so grateful to the Minnesota Women’s Press for telling the stories that frankly don’t get told often enough. Thank you for seeing me and so many of us across the state.