Minnesota Now with Cathy Wurzer

'Weather' caucus? Two meteorologists elected to Minnesota Senate

A woman wearing a red shirt
Nicole Mitchell, meteorologist
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR

Minnesota's is a citizen legislature with each member bringing a vast array of backgrounds and experiences to the job. This coming session, in the senate chamber will be not one but two meteorologists.

Nicole Mitchell is now state Senator Mitchell. She is a former TV meteorologist for KSTP-TV, and represents District 47 which is Woodbury and Oakdale. Rob Kupec is a former TV meteorologist for KVRR in the Red River Valley. He will represent District 4, the Moorhead-Detroit Lakes area.

We have reason to believe they are the very first meteorologists who will be Minnesota senators. The two talked with host Cathy Wurzer.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation. 

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Audio transcript

CATHY WURZER: Today is orientation for the new Minnesota State senators who were elected last week. Minnesota's is a citizen legislature, with each member bringing a vast array of backgrounds and experiences to the job. This coming session, in the Senate chamber, there will be not one, but two meteorologists. One of them is familiar to NPR listeners.

Nicole Mitchell is now State Senator Mitchell. She is a former TV meteorologist for KSTP TV, and of course, she did the weather with me for "Morning Edition." She represents District 47, which is the Woodbury/Oakdale area.

Rob Kupec is a former TV meteorologist for KVRR in the Red River Valley. He'll represent Senate District 4. That's the Moorhead, Detroit Lakes area. Both are DFLers, and we have reason to believe that these are the very first meteorologists who will be Minnesota State senators. Welcome to you both, and congratulations.

NICOLE MITCHELL: Thank you, Kathy.

ROB KUPEC: Thank you so much, Kathy.

NICOLE MITCHELL: I feel like I should be giving a weather report. I'm here at the Capitol, with slight snow. I'm looking toward NPR right now. Yeah, lovely day for this.

CATHY WURZER: Nice, right? Well, congratulations to both of you. I remember, Nicole, thinking when you left media to make your run for office, I thought, oh, no, if she thought broadcasting was tough-- and it is, as you both know-- politics is even more sharp elbowed. Why did you jump?

NICOLE MITCHELL: Well, for me, I've always had a background of public service. I'm still in the National Guard, 30 years. I've always volunteered. I'm still a foster mom. So I just think there's so many things that if you want to leave a good legacy for your children and your community, this is a way to do it. And if you remember, I was a hurricane hunter for 16 years, flying in the storm, so I feel like I'm well equipped.

CATHY WURZER: Yes, you probably are very well equipped. Rob, what made your decision? What was behind the decision to jump?

ROB KUPEC: Part of it, I grew up in a household that was often engaged in politics, and I worked behind the scenes in politics as much as my job would allow. And then it was just this, I'll use a pun, perfect storm of personal life and political life that just came together, and I just thought I would decide to try it.

CATHY WURZER: By the way, what did you both think of the process, the campaign, the process of running, raising money, getting out there and meeting voters. Rob, what was that like?

ROB KUPEC: The meeting voters part was great. That was my favorite part of the campaign. And obviously, when you go to somebody's door and the TV meteorologist is standing on their doorstep, if they hadn't heard you were running for Senate, was a funny little moment and was a good icebreaker. The raising money part, I will not-- I absolutely detest the raising money part. Talking to voters was great. Raising money was not my favorite thing.

CATHY WURZER: Nicole Mitchell, what about you?

NICOLE MITCHELL: Can I just say ditto? Yeah, it's not in my DNA to ask people for money. And so that was hard. Again, same thing, I grew up in the community, I ran in, which is Woodbury. And so for me, I'd be knocking doors, and it would be someone that my parents went to church with or that I went to high school with. So I just love that part of it.

CATHY WURZER: Now, Nicole, you, I believe, are the first woman veteran to serve in the Minnesota State Senate, and--

NICOLE MITCHELL: I am the first in a decade.

CATHY WURZER: In a decade. OK, thank you for helping me out there. How do you think your experiences will inform your time as a senator?

NICOLE MITCHELL: Well, I think there's so many veterans issues that we need to look at seriously. I just went to an excellent panel on Friday on restorative justice, dealing with PTSD, and as a female veteran, there are unique challenges. So I think just having representation is really wonderful because women are more likely to have sexual trauma and things like that. So hopefully, that's an area that I will be able to bring a voice to.

CATHY WURZER: You both are part of the new DFL majority in the Senate. Those who've had that opportunity say it's more fun being in control than in the minority. Any idea of what bills you might be interested in signing on first thing? I mean, I know you have to find the bathrooms first, but Rob Kupec, what issues might you want to start working on?

ROB KUPEC: I ran a lot on education and health care, so those are going to be a couple of the big things that I'm concerned with. And it's funny-- and Nicole and I have had some discussion-- climate change, while that does not come up as a top-tier level when you're out on the doors. When you talk about it, it resonates with people. So I think, certainly, Nicole and I will be looking at legislation that helps move Minnesota forward and combat climate change.

CATHY WURZER: I'm betting you both could be excellent educators for your colleagues on that issue.

NICOLE MITCHELL: I plan to definitely, hopefully, lead on environmental issues. I would also like to add to that. I have small children. One of my foster sons a special need, and we just really need to support our schools, and we had a huge turnout based on women's reproductive rights. So I would like to see us codify the State Supreme Court ruling that gives us the rights we have right now. I'm a woman who almost died during a planned pregnancy, so I think that's very important that we respect bodily autonomy.

CATHY WURZER: And going back to climate change for just a moment, can you see yourselves being educators for your colleagues on that issue, Rob?

ROB KUPEC: I think so. I know, right after I had gotten the nomination, one of the House Representative in our area, she was texting me, actually, from the House floor and telling me things that were coming up in a bill that they were debating on the House floor. And there was just so much misinformation there that was going on.

And I was like, really? People think that? That is just not true. So certainly, I think some scientists in the legislature is a good addition.

CATHY WURZER: And Nicole Mitchell, what do you think?

NICOLE MITCHELL: Same thing. So climate change in and weather relate to so many things, so it's just not our weather cycles changing. The fact that we had tornadoes for the first time ever in a December last year or the phenomenal droughts we've been dealing with the last couple of summers, then it impacts agriculture and what we might eventually be able to grow in Minnesota.

Pollution issues tend to disparately impact poor and minority communities. So when we can show our colleagues the connection that it has to maybe other areas that they're interested in, then I think we get more people on board in protecting our environment.

CATHY WURZER: Now, you both are going to be on committees. Have you had the opportunity to talk to leadership yet about what committee assignments might be interesting to you, Rob Kupec?

ROB KUPEC: That is something that is in discussion right now. I am certainly-- I'm coming from Western Minnesota the Agriculture Committee is of great interest to me, and I think also, in terms of worrying about climate change for our farmers and how that will impact our economy and Minnesota is an important thing. So that one is high on my list.

CATHY WURZER: All right, Nicole Mitchell, any idea of what committees you want to be on?

NICOLE MITCHELL: So many things, so I'll probably have to narrow it down. I've been an election judge. I love elections. Clearly, veterans issues. The environment, and children's issues. But then when I hear about other things, it might be nice to learn something new as well and get different perspectives. So we'll be hashing all those things out as you said, after we, so to speak, even find where the restrooms are.

CATHY WURZER: Well, it's a big place. You're going to find that to be true. So you're just doing orientation today. What's the one surprising thing you learned so far, Nicole Mitchell?

NICOLE MITCHELL: Oh. Wow, like how many support staff there that are experts in all of these areas, because we don't know everything, and so I think that's going to be a tremendous help.

CATHY WURZER: Staff is amazing. Rob Kupec.

ROB KUPEC: OK, so I will confess, I am not at orientation today.


ROB KUPEC: No, I have a previous commitment to my employer, not the television station. I actually started a new job as a meteorologist for an insurance company, and I am at a beekeeping convention today.

CATHY WURZER: Beekeeping?



CATHY WURZER: OK. Wow, you guys really have an interesting background.

ROB KUPEC: I've learned a lot about beekeeping.

CATHY WURZER: I bet you have. I bet you have. Well, I wish you both well. We'll have to check in with you to see how things are going throughout session. It should be really interesting. And you're coming in with a really big class of new individuals too, very interesting individuals.

NICOLE MITCHELL: A lot of different backgrounds, which I think is great.

CATHY WURZER: Yeah, exactly.

ROB KUPEC: Yes. The people in the room last week, it is an amazing assortment of individuals.

CATHY WURZER: All right. Well, Nicole Mitchell, Rob Kupec, again, congratulations. All best, and we'll check in later on. Thank you.

NICOLE MITCHELL: Thank you, Kathy.

ROB KUPEC: Thanks, Kathy.

CATHY WURZER: We've been talking to Nicole Mitchell. Of course, you know Nicole. She was here on the air with us on "NPR News, Morning Edition," former TV meteorologist for KSTP TV. She is representing the Woodberry/Oakdale area as a new DFL State Senator. Rob Kupec, also former TV meteorologist, KVRR, in the Red River Valley. He's representing District 4, which is the Moorhead, Detroit Lakes area.

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