This ongoing series on Minnesota women’s involvement in politics was conducted by journalist and project director of Bosnia’s Contemporary Women’s Festival, Amra Avidi, in collaboration with the Minnesota Women’s Press, with support from the Global Community Solutions Program in Fall 2021.
With her TV audience in Bosnia, Amra interviewed women in politics in Minnesota about how to get involved and support women candidates and voters in what is perceived as a patriarchal society.
Can you tell me how your story of becoming a politician in the Minnesota House of Representatives began?
I joined a group in the United States called the League of Women Voters. This began after women gained the right to vote through the 19th Amendment. They wanted to educate women on the subject. So I joined that group in my community and was recruited by one of my friends in the League of Women Voters who was at the local school in political meetings, the school board, the city council, the state legislature. Board. I did that for two terms. Then I got hired for the state legislature. When I joined, I was wary of recruiting other women, realizing that men often run for political office and women are more indifferent. I would not have entered politics without the League of Women Voters and strong women pushing me. I try to do the same for other women.
You’ve said earlier that it’s important to give more encouragement to women to run. What has been proven in your experience to be an effective way to encourage women to run?
Women don’t like to do it alone. A lot of people support them and they need a lot of help. So I give this advice to men and women, but it’s usually women who do it. Don’t decide to run until your helpers are there. You need a treasurer or someone to collect the money and deposit it in the bank and prepare the credit. You need a volunteer coordinator who can recruit people to knock on doors with you. You need someone to manage your social media. I tell women to do it. They feel comforted and energized, and that they are not alone in the race, because races can be tough, especially these days with all the negative campaigns.
I often see women who always wonder if they are ready to enter politics. Are we ever ready or should we be brave, and even if we don’t think we have it all set, just try?
Just go in. Because we are never ready. you’re right. We always learn if we are lucky; We are lifelong learners, always reading books and listening to documentaries, podcasts and stuff. We are not done learning. The best place to learn is in the designated office. So when you’re on the school board, you can talk to the school superintendent every day if you want. If it’s about how to manage buses, and getting kids to and from school, or what’s the best curriculum for reading or math, you have people to ask in your school district. As I said, I come from the League of Women Voters, where we study issues to death, because we always think we need to know more. However, when I ran for the Legislature, everybody said, forget it, you know, just get on with it.
It is so depressing in my country that even women don’t want to vote for a woman because men have been in politics longer, know more, etc. But how can we change the entrenched mentality? What can we do to change these things?
I think success breeds success. Those of us who support more women in office should continue to do so and promote them. Like you said, they have to be motivated and brave, put their hat in the ring to run and then win. It’s when they’re not competing that we don’t have the number of women we should be; The higher up the food chain we go, the more critical it becomes. We think that governors and presidents and people at the top should be really strong and it’s good to have a male voice and a strong person or something like that. So those are the places where it’s harder for women to run or succeed. We know that women study and work hard, and generally, you know, they do very well. So I think they will be more role models.
What are you trying to achieve by participating in the political game? How challenging was it to fully expose your throat? How do you handle your personal but public situation at the same time?
This was a luxury for me to be a legislator when Jim was ill. He was 21 and I had been in the legislature for six years. I was already a people person, and so were our children and my husband. When Jim got sick, it was a natural progression for me to talk about our family. When newspapers, television and radio stations find out that the legislator has a personal history, this is good news for them. Especially when Jim got sick in 1999, something like mental illness might not cover the issue at all. Even though it was really hard, it was still a luxury because you were under a lot of personal stress. Whenever our family was in trouble, the hospital wouldn’t talk to us because they didn’t ask for medical discharge information or the police wouldn’t take him to the hospital even though he was seriously ill and out of control, I could make a big fuss. They didn’t want to be the ones who didn’t take good care of Representative Grayling’s son. This gave me power and I felt that I should use it for other people.
The first law I ever passed was the first problem we ran into; They couldn’t talk to me because Jim didn’t sign a release of information. In fact, they didn’t ask him to sign one. He was a little anxious and psychotic when he went to the hospital, so they didn’t think it was their job to ask him, but they didn’t ask him and they didn’t tell me. I saw him in the legislature with the lawyers. We wrote a simple bill that says hospitals should explain to families about the need to sign a release. I thought this was common sense. Usually that’s the policy, there’s just common sense where people don’t use their common sense. So all things like that. It made me feel better.
I have to know after 20 years in the Legislature, what are your proudest accomplishments?
I was mostly proud of this massive education finance reform I developed in collaboration with education groups across the state, and they all finally agreed to it. We have different areas of the state that need different types of money, and they’re always going against each other, but we had this plan that was fair to everyone. That would have been my crowning achievement. We didn’t make it through in the end. We passed it in the House of Representatives where I served, and I think the governor would have signed it. But the Senate’s rural Democrats, my own party, killed it because they feared they were doing better under the old system, and were able to argue for certain exceptions in the education finance bill. So that passing is not over. This was my biggest regret.
What I am most proud of is the Mental Health Act. We ended up with a bigger, better-funded mental health system, more robust service delivery, and many policy reforms. Although I spend most of my time in education, I think they are the most memorable.
How does the daily life of being a wife, sister, mother, daughter play an important role in political action? How do you see it?
Well, I think women are good at multitasking. So I think it’s a natural thing. We can wrap everything up. I think it will improve all the relationships in your life. You don’t have much time, but my family is always proud of me. Our daughter is a journalist, like you, and interested in public policy, but she was smart enough not to enter the fray herself. She works for Politico, if you’re familiar with that organization.
Our son Jim helped me write the book. Many parents I know want to write about their children having schizophrenia or some other mental illness, but the family member doesn’t want them to write. They are accustomed to a culture of silence that this is a shameful thing. It combines your sadness and grief. So everyone benefits when you and I do public speaking, I’m always public speaking, helping my family, and my son who helped me write the book can help get involved.
Did you know this?
Drug deathIn the year There were 1,286 accidental overdose deaths in Minnesota in 2021 — a 22 percent increase from 2020. Most of these are related to fentanyl. Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said. “An important step is to expand programs that give people easy access to naloxone — the overdose-reversing, life-saving drug.”