Susan Whitaker – MN House 60A

Tell us about a time — before you were a candidate for public office — where you
felt strongly about a local/state political issue. Give an example of the action you
took in response.

In 2004, I advocated for maintaining summer staff for our Minneapolis parks. Budget cuts were proposed and there was low representation from our ward in particular at Park Board meetings. I attended numerous Park Board meetings to share our community’s concerns about the potential staffing cuts that were imperative to strong programing for our children during crucial months when schools are out of session. It resulted in the board approving the budget for staff at our local parks for two additional years. I also spoke at a Minneapolis Park Board meeting about the funding and land purchase to create the Edgewater Park site within our district. It has been a wonderful amenity along the Mississippi River in Northeast Minneapolis, and has had an increase in usage and visitors since 2013 because of its proximity to the Lowry Bridge and the new river walking paths built nearby.

If elected, what committee assignment would you like to receive and why?

I would like to serve on the following three committees:

  1. Health and Human Services Finance Division, because I am concerned about affordable and equitable health care services for all Minnesotans.
  2. Education Policy, because of the chronic underfunding and lack of resource allocations within Minnesota schools.
  3. Environment and Natural Resources Finance Division, because I want to protect and sustain environmental assets that are essential to our state’s livability and economy.

Do you agree that we’re facing a climate emergency? If yes, what’s the appropriate emergency-level policy response?

There is an on-going global climate crisis and Minnesotans must do all we can to negate the man-made effects of global warming before additional irreversible damage is done. Fortunately, Minnesota is well-positioned to be a leader in clean energy and should take up the charge to transition to sourcing more and more energy from renewable sources. There are frequent exciting advances in solar, wind, biofuel and other energy sources that can save our planet and save everyday people some money too. By providing subsidies and outreach, the state of Minnesota can create opportunities to expand our state’s usage of alternative energy to make sure we stay on the forefront of what is possible.

Name some specific housing policies you would push as a legislator to make Minneapolis a more affordable place to find housing.

One plan would be for higher-income households to cross-subsidize the lower-income housing developments, through the creation of affordable housing mandates imposed by state legislation. The affordable housing mandates would be a requirement placed on developers, in which they would need to rent or sell a defined percentage of their newly built homes at a below-market cost. I would propose modeling housing mandates that were effective in cities that were of similar size and housing inventory as the Twin Cities metro area. Furthermore, I would explore funding options for an increase in subsidized social housing for people with special needs. To serve unmet housing needs, I would pursue policies that increase the housing supply coupled with an increase in subsidies. I would analyze data carefully to maintain balance, to avoid the potential consequence of rent hikes due to competition for remaining affordable housing that is priced just above those subsidy levels.

I believe every Minnesotan should be able to own a home if they desire, however with the increase in home prices in Northeast and Como, as well as the increase in taxes and student loan debt, homeownership seems less achievable for many in our district. I believe that the renters in our community are just as valuable to our neighborhoods as homeowners, yet they are often not treated that way. As your representative, I will be committed to valuing the voices of all of my constituency and look for avenues to assist first-time home buyers and renters, and curb the barriers that exist to homeownership.

Can you identify anything the legislature currently gets wrong on transportation — and how you’d fix this?

Here in District 60A, we have so many residents that are reliant on public transportation to fulfill everyday needs; I myself ride public transit every day to get to and from work. We need to make sure public transportation is fully-funded and supported at the state level, and need to make it more accessible for Minnesotans that find it difficult to utilize for any reason. The benefits of public transportation do not only apply to those in the inner-city, a fact that is far too often lost on many out-state legislators who are dismissive of it. On a grander scale, we need to keep up with our infrastructure needs to keep our roads maintained and our bridges safe. I am also excited to explore potential projects that bring new services across the state, like proposed high-speed rail lines connecting Duluth to the Twin Cities, or the Twin Cities to Chicago.

Identify the top challenges facing schools in your area and how you’d address them.

Education is vital to building the next generation of citizens to help continue to build up Minnesota as the wonderful place it is. It begins with early childhood education, as the first five years of a child’s life are the most formative, therefore we need to fully invest in statewide early childhood programming with licensed teachers. In order to better serve our special education students, we need to increase support professionals within our schools. My K-12 priorities include retention bonuses to keep educators invested in their school communities and investments in new teachers that match the
diversity of our student populations.

For higher education, I would support tuition freezes that would reduce the financial burden for students and strengthen protections for students against predatory student lenders. I am entirely committed to supporting tuition-free higher education for all Minnesotans at public universities for their first two years. Beyond the first two years of college, I believe all avenues need to be explored to make sure ever-rising tuition costs are made more manageable for all. After sending my children to public universities here in Minnesota, I know first-hand the struggle it is for students and their families to pay for tuition and other higher education costs, all while it is more important than ever for Minnesotans to attend.

Name an issue area about which your own knowledge and experience are lacking. How are you learning more? Who do you turn to for advice?

One of the most exciting facts of this race is that each candidate is new to seeking public office, and we all have so much we would need to learn in an expedited time frame before joining our fellow legislators in the House of Representatives. In the House, I will have to learn about a myriad of subjects, some of which I have no background in, such as agriculture, but are vitally important to the state as a whole.

I have turned to the community throughout this campaign to learn more about the issues that matter most to them, attending several community meetings to listen in on what is being discussed within each neighborhood of the district and try to work with our neighbors to come up with solutions that make sense. We are fortunate to have so many active and engaged people who care about making their communities the best places to live they can be, and I have been grateful
to be able to hear their voices to learn from them.

Do you see specific opportunities for the state legislature to support the work of —
or remove obstacles for — the Minneapolis City Council and Mayor?

Local governments have consistently been incubators for policies that advance our society, a testing ground for new laws that can then be implemented at a wider level after they have been proven to be successful. For this reason, I would defend the authority local governments have to create laws that meet the needs of its residents, especially those policies revolving around employment. We need these local governments to lead the way in enacting policies that expand the social safety net, providing actionable benefits that protect and enhance the lives of all people. I want to do everything I can as a legislator to work with Minneapolis, my home and the city I would represent, as well as any other local government throughout the state to make sure their needs are sufficiently met by the state, rather than have them view the state as an obstacle in their way.

Lightning Round – Short answers if possible.

What neighborhood do you live in?

I have lived in the Marshall Terrace neighborhood of Northeast Minneapolis for my entire life, being raised here by my parents and choosing to raise my own family here as well. I love this vibrant, diverse community, and I could not imagine living anywhere else.

Do you have a favorite Metro Transit bus route? Where does it take you?

I utilize the 11 bus and the Green & Blue Line LRT on a daily basis to get to my office serving Hennepin County, and I am grateful for the easy access to affordable, reliable public transportation to get myself and so many others around our city.

What leadership experience do you have?

  • Co-founder of the Marshall Terrace Neighborhood Organization and their Secretary for over ten years
  • Chairperson for a Neighborhood Revitalization Plan implementation committee for five years.
  • Chairperson of the Human Development/Health and Safety committee of the Minneapolis
  • Capital Long Range Improvements Committee for four years.
  • Chairperson for the University Avenue Beautification and Tree Planting Project.
  • Received a certificate of completion for the Community Leadership Institute at Hamline University
  • Served as the Secretary of the University of St. Thomas Campus Safety Council for two years
  • Have you run for elected office before? Which one/s?
  • While this is my first run for elected office, I did co-found the Marshall Terrace Neighborhood
  • Organization in the 1980s, and served as a community organizer for the St. Anthony West Neighborhood Organization in the 1990s. I have dedicated so much of my life to public service, and I seek this office to continue helping the residents of this district.

Do you support the Minneapolis 2040 plan?

Yes, I support the goals of the 2040 Plan, which are comprehensive and meaningful. In particular, the parts of the plan that I am most enthused about are:

  • equitable and inclusive civic engagement initiatives
  • affordable housing production
  • the preservation of existing housing using targeted, priority-based strategies
  • employment strategies and accessible programs that can remove some of the road-blocks for residents wanting living-wage jobs to support their families

[Click here to read answers from all district 60A candidates. The special primary election is on January 21st, 2020.]