Flanagan hopes to leave her mark as lieutenant governor

Minnesota Lt. Governor-elect Peggy Flanagan speaks.
Then-state Rep. Peggy Flanagan speaks at a press conference in the State Office Building on Aug. 15, 2018.
Lacey Young | MPR News File

Minnesota's lieutenant governor has only a short list of duties prescribed in state law. They include serving on a handful of committees related to Capitol planning and security.

The only responsibility spelled out in the state constitution is to succeed the governor, if necessary.

Peggy Flanagan has a lot more in mind.

"I think my role will be to be Gov. Walz's top advisor and to work on issues around public engagement, family economic security, some of those issues that I focused on in the Legislature," she said.

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Flanagan spent more than a year campaigning with Gov.-elect Tim Walz, who selected her as his running mate in October 2017. Flanagan said she agreed to join the ticket because she had seen what Tina Smith did in her time as lieutenant governor under DFL Gov. Mark Dayton.

"I think she changed the way that this office functions, the way it's perceived. And when Lt. Gov. Smith walked into the room, it was as if Gov. Mark Dayton was in the room, and you knew that they functioned in a real partnership," said Flanagan.

Flanagan said she has a similar partnership with Walz. She says it began to take form on the campaign trail and during a post-election listening tour across the state. At some stops they stood side by side. But at others she was on her own.

"We can be together. But also, folks know when I am in the room it is as if the governor-elect is there as well and vice versa," she said.

Flanagan said she wants to build on the foundation that Smith built as lieutenant governor. She also wants to shape the office in new ways. During the transition, Flanagan is leading an advisory panel on the administration's hiring and budget decisions.

Flanagan is a DFLer from St. Louis Park who was first elected to the Minnesota House in a 2015 special election. She was re-elected in 2016. She is a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe. Before she was a legislator, she worked as executive director of the Children's Defense Fund Minnesota and was once a Minneapolis school board member.

Walz said Flanagan helps him see issues in a different way.

"It's the life experience of an indigenous woman, single mother and a leader who has established herself around the same core values I believe as myself but from two very different worlds. It's really good to have your top advisor who can bring a new perspective to issues you care about," Walz said.

Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt, who will serve as minority leader next session, said Flanagan's legislative experience is relatively short but will still be helpful to the governor's office. Daudt said he's not sure what to expect from the new lieutenant governor.

"Lt. Gov.-elect Flanagan is probably on the further left side of her party, which I think presents some challenges. So, it will be interesting to see how they manage that and what kind of active role she takes in the new administration," said Daudt.

For the past two years, DFL Rep. Liz Olson of Duluth sat behind Flanagan in the House chamber. They also served together on two committees. Olson said Flanagan is committed to the people of Minnesota, especially those who are often not heard.

"I really saw her do an excellent job connecting with the outside world so to speak, outside of the Capitol walls to really work on policy with people and bring them along with her on her legislative journey. I think we can expect that same kind of work in her role as lieutenant governor," said Olson.