Although the field is not as crowded as the primary race for House District 60A (won by DFLer Sydney Jordan), the race for House District 41B has attracted four DFL candidates that we know of.
So far, only DFLer Mary Kunesh-Podein, current 41B Representative has announced for the Senate seat; Carolyn Laine has announced her retirement. The DFL caucuses for District 41 will be held February 25 at 6 p.m. at Columbia Academy, 900 40th Ave. NE, Columbia Heights. St. Anthony, Columbia Heights, Hilltop and part of New Brighton are included in the 41B district; Senate District 41 includes the other part of New Brighton, Fridley and part of Spring Lake Park. The Northeaster will revisit these contests after formal filings, before elections.
Candidates for Minnesota House 41B
Sandra Feist has been working in immigration law since 2001. She has lived in House District 41B for five years and her children attend public school in the district. Feist said her career began as an immigration paralegal, and in 2003, she decided to go to law school, “in order to be an even more effective advocate for the vulnerable families I worked with.”
Feist said she is running because, “As a parent, I am focused on fighting for high-quality schools, universal healthcare, and environmental protections needed to provide a bright future for all of Minnesota’s children. As an advocate for civil rights, I am passionate about racial justice. And as an immigration lawyer, I want to ensure that Minnesota is welcoming to people of all backgrounds and experiences, a place of opportunity for all…and I will represent our district’s values at the State Capitol.”
Feist feels that the biggest issues in her district are accessing high-quality education, obtaining affordable health care, and “creating a more welcoming community for Minnesotans of all backgrounds. As a mother with two children in public school, I know how critical it is for students to have equal access to quality education. I also believe that all families should have access to affordable healthcare, so that no one has to choose between paying their rent and getting the medical care they need.”
She sees solutions for these issues lie in “fighting for high quality, fully funded public schools with comprehensive services for all students, extensive measures to address Minnesota’s achievement gap, and post-secondary education that is accessible and affordable to all. For healthcare, I would support universal health care, limits on prescription drug costs, and prevention of surprise medical bills. To make our community more welcoming, I would advocate for racial justice and LGBTQ+ rights, while supporting programs that would provide for the most vulnerable in our society: immigrants, the homeless, and those with mental illnesses.”
Feist said her professional experience, leadership locally and nationally on civil liberties advocacy, and pro bono and volunteer service qualify her for public service. She noted, “I have worked alongside and led diverse groups to achieve common goals; I’ve been active on boards and committees with local organizations including the ACLU of Minnesota, YWCA, Minnesota Women Lawyers, and Cub Scouts; and as the owner of a legal firm that employs six people, I have experience with budgeting and management. My leadership style is a combination of confidence and collaborative outreach and I have overcome many challenges that demanded my unique blend of empathy and conviction. I have received two national awards from the American Immigration Lawyers Association recognizing this skill. I will be an effective and confident leader in the Minnesota House of Representatives on Day One.”
Social worker Mary Granlund is running for office because “I believe we need a strong voice, anchored in our community that can bring a front-line perspective to this seat. I’ve spent the past seven years volunteering every week in our schools and the last 20 years working in health care, allowing me to see the inequities people face, both locally and state-wide.” She says these experiences have provided her with the knowledge to create “meaningful, lasting change locally through community and coalition building.”
She said the rising cost of health care is a concern for people in the district, as is equity in education. “Too many of our friends and neighbors are suffering due to the cost of their health care. You should not have to choose between going to the doctor and losing your home. As a cancer survivor, I came within inches of losing my life and my family came within inches of losing their financial security.”
She would create a single-payer health plan that provides coverage for “everyone, from the most vulnerable children through adulthood. The cost of this is cheaper per person and provides more quality coverage than many employer-backed plans currently used,” she said.
She also said schools are the backbones of communities and the state should pay its fair share toward education. “Fully-funded schools should not be dependent on a ZIP Code.”
She feels she would be a good legislator because her experience as a social worker and program manager has made her a good listener. “I’m trained to listen and help find solutions. As a program manager, I am responsible for making hard decisions daily, which requires me to be thoughtful about the impact of those decisions. I’m a tireless advocate with a proven track record in our community of bringing together people and making positive changes. As a cancer survivor and working mom, I understand the pressures that many in our community face. These experiences have given me first-hand knowledge of the issues impacting friends and neighbors. I see people who fall through the cracks every day, so I will bring my knowledge and experience to patch those holes.”
Amanda Koehler is a state policy organizer for the Land Stewardship Trust, a non-profit organization that promotes stewardship for farmland, and development of healthy communities and sustainable agriculture. Koehler says she is running to represent House District 41B, “because our community needs more than a good vote–we need a courageous and experienced leader. I will lead according to my faith and values, by advocating for those whose voices aren’t typically heard. Like so many in our community, I know what it’s like to live paycheck to paycheck. I know what it’s like to choose between paying rent and paying off debt. I know what it’s like to depend on my employer and employment status to get the medical care I need. I am running because Minnesota can do better. The status quo isn’t working for most of us and I will fight to change it.”
A New Brighton resident for 11 years, she says the issues people in the district care the most about are “Building an economy in which every person can thrive; ensuring all members of our community have accessible, affordable, high-quality health care; advancing racial, gender, and LGBTQ justice; and regenerating and sustaining the health of our environment and climate.”
Koehler says solutions to these issues must start with “fully funding our schools. This includes fully funding (and ending unfunded mandates for) special education, early childhood education, and social workers to address mental health awareness in our schools; expanding permanently affordable housing options in our district and across the state; criminal justice reform, to ensure it does not profit from or prey on people of color, immigrants, people living with mental illness, people struggling with addiction, or lowest wage earners.”
She noted that she is union-endorsed by United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1189 and MAPE (Minnesota Association of Professional Employees) She would support unions, living wages, and ensuring post-secondary education options and affordable and accessible job training, adding, “I am committed to advancing MinnesotaCare for All. No one’s employer, employment status, or medical condition should prevent them from receiving the care they need. We also must cap the costs of medications, including insulin.”
Regarding relevant experience for the office she’s seeking, Koehler said, “I have spent thousands of hours listening to Minnesotans across our district and state on economic justice, climate and the environment, and protecting our democracy. I have brought hundreds of Minnesotans together to craft impactful legislation, build public support, and create effective legislative strategies. I am the only candidate who has written a bill and gotten it signed by the Governor. Last year, I organized a school board race in St. Anthony/New Brighton. As a member of ISAIAH, TakeAction MN, Outfront MN, the Sierra Club, and the Land Stewardship Project, I have learned what issues matter most to our community and I have worked within the legislative process to achieve progressive change. The inequity in our community also inspired me to be a founding board member of Greener Pastures, a non-profit focused on healthy food systems. I also serve on several committees within the Minnesota Environmental Partnership.”
Maret Olson is an attorney specializing in real estate litigation. She said she’s running because, “As a trial lawyer, I love a good fight, and am ready to fight to protect what we all hold dear and bring about necessary change. We need creative, hardworking, tireless problem solvers to keep protections in place or replace what has been lost. I’m ready to take on that challenge. I believe black lives matter, no human is illegal, families belong together, love is love, women’s rights are human rights, science is real, water is life, and injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
On issues, Olson said that affordable housing is at the heart of financial security, the ability to work, and the ability of our children to learn at school. Yet in Minnesota, the waiting list for Section 8 housing is two years. “Once a person loses their housing, in my experience it costs approximately $3,000 to restore that person to housing. We need to make sure our affordable housing dollars are spent as efficiently and humanely as possible and that affordability and stability for the residents is the top priority.”
She said she has attended several events by various local groups in the past four years on the issue of sensible gun reforms. “One speaker really touched on the depth of the issue. Her daughter came home from kindergarten and played active shooter drill with her three-year-old child. We are failing our children by failing to protect them in schools. It’s time to change that.”
Olson is concerned about staff reductions and the repeal of regulations quietly taking place at the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), and said, “We need to work even harder at the state level to protect what the federal government is ignoring.” She is also concerned about the U.S. Supreme Court and the challenges to the Affordable Care Act and Roe v. Wade, the preservation of health care coverage for preexisting conditions, and a woman’s right to choose.
She said solutions would involve improvements and increased funding for affordable housing and to fight homelessness; access to affordable health care and Medicare for all who want it; preserving environmental protections, incentives and increased usage of renewable energy and electric vehicles; promote local manufacturing, agriculture, and local consumption; improving agricultural methods to reduce reliance on herbicides and pesticides, and reduce carbon emissions; and to improve mass transit, interstate and intrastate; racial equity and criminal justice reform; and sensible gun reforms. She said she supports an assault weapon ban and a 30-day wait on gun owner licensing prior to purchase.
Olson said, “I was a trial lawyer for 20 years before making a change. I now work in the consumer lending division of a bank. It’s not unusual to see couples with $200,000 or more in student loan debt seeking mortgages. It takes one heck of a starting salary to pay both a mortgage and student loans at that level. Minnesota has an excellent higher education system, but I’ll fight to make it more affordable, and keep it affordable.”
Nancy Robinett is no stranger to politics. She ran for St. Anthony City Council in 2018 and for mayor in 2019. She called it a learning experience.
Robinett says she has “the passion, energy and experience to represent District 41B in the State House. I have a lifelong commitment to civic and community engagement and I believe that I will faithfully represent the needs and interests of the district in the State Legislature.”
To her, the biggest issues in District 41B include: 1) Increasing health care access and affordability for all citizens. “Minnesota has made great strides in increasing health care access and affordability, but we have more work to do.” 2) Fully funding education. “Education is the backbone of Minnesota’s economic strength and vitality and needs funding from pre-K to post-secondary.”
She says family economic security, which includes issues of affordable housing, minimum wages and social welfare safety nets, is another concern, as is the climate crisis. “This issue affects policy and practices in our district and our state, and calls for innovative solutions,” she said.
Robinett says she supports the Legislature finding an immediate fix to the insulin price crisis in Minnesota. She would also back more movement toward universal, affordable health care in Minnesota, with a strong bias toward a single-payer model.
When it comes to education, “I support legislative attention to funding for educational initiatives including addressing racial and socio-economic disparities in educational outcomes; addressing pre-kindergarten education; funding to recruit and retain teachers of color and indigenous teachers; funding to address mental health and safety concerns in education.”
During the St. Anthony mayoral race, Robinett said, “I listened to voters and worked hard to understand their needs and concerns. I have a history of community engagement and being willing to work for good outcomes. This includes working with my neighbors in St. Anthony to assist our neighbors when the Lowry Grove Mobile Home Park was closed, and working to clarify that the Open Meeting Law applied to St. Anthony city council meetings held outside the city.”
State Senate Candidates
Mary Kunesh-Podein is the current State Representative for District 41B. She is running for the Senate seat for District 41, which includes Columbia Heights, Fridley, St. Anthony Village, Hilltop, New Brighton and part of Spring Lake Park.
She said that, over the past three years at the Capitol, “I have worked hard to listen and learn with an open mind, to our communities and diverse stakeholders. I have used those conversations to guide me in decision making and crafting legislation.
“When the magnitude of the historic trauma of missing and murdered indigenous women became more apparent, I helped create a task force to investigate and come up with recommendation for solutions. As a woman of Native American descent, an educator, and parent of children whose father is an immigrant, I feel that I have unique insight into the struggles that our families and community members face. I am dedicated to taking those stories to the Senate to build a stronger coalition in order to remove the roadblocks to high quality education, economic security, and environmental protections.”
She said housing, education and healthcare are important issues to her. “As our elders are aging out of their homes, the cost of downsizing can be daunting as the real estate market remains strong while their income stays stagnant. In comparison, young folks are looking to purchase their first homes but find a tight market with prices outside of their income – especially if they are carrying heavy student loans.” She also noted Minnesota’s high educational disparities, the rising costs of special education and bus transportation, the ever-inflating cost of good quality healthcare and affordable medicines, and the discussion around legalizing marijuana.
Kunesh-Podein said that manufactured home cooperatives are one solution to affordable living communities. “I have supported legislation that invests in these options and will continue to. Student loans can be the biggest deterrent in homeownership, and I will look for ways to provide re-financing loans at a better rate, loan forgiveness grants, and find ways to make post-secondary education more affordable to all.
“Last session I passed key elements of the Teachers of Color Act because we know that when students have teachers who look like them and have similar life experiences, they do better in their studies and life. When teachers have the support systems in place to encourage and build their capacity to be world class educators, they make teaching a lifelong career. This year we will take time to really understand the complexities of meeting the needs and unique learning abilities of our students and craft legislation that will begin to provide a more equitable education for all.”
Asked what would qualify her for the office of senator, Kunesh-Podein responded: “As an educator, parent, community partner, and Minnesotan, I am a proven leader in all those arenas and for the past three years, in the Minnesota House of Representatives. I have championed issues and policies on your behalf by collaborating across the partisan aisle and working with partners in the Senate to support resources and policies that work well in our communities and to address those that do not.”