Rep. Emma Greenman represents District 63B in the Minnesota House of Representatives. She has announced that she’ll be running for the newly redistricted 63B again this year, which will now include Tangletown, Windom, and portions of Armatage. We sat down to talk about what she’s up to at the Capitol this legislative session, her work on voting rights, and where she's focusing her efforts on public safety.
Charlie: What are your priorities for this upcoming session?
Rep. Greenman: This year, coming out of navigating the pandemic, understanding that we have an economy that isn't working for everybody, and having a 9 billion dollar surplus, my priorities and the House’s priorities are ensuring that we are investing in families and kids and workers, in the folks who are driving our economy. What that looks like is helping families afford their lives – thinking about childcare, thinking about wages, and thinking about ensuring that everybody has access to some of the fundamentals.
In the longer-term, I am a voting rights lawyer. That's why I ran. I think we’re looking at a real make-or-break moment for our democracy, both here in Minnesota and across the country. So the other thing that I'm focused on is ensuring that we are strengthening and protecting our democratic institutions. I have an election worker protection bill that addresses the rising fear and threats we’re hearing about from our election judges and our elections administrators. We need to protect the fundamental freedom to vote and the 30 thousand Minnesotans who make our elections run.
This is the year that we have to invest in Minnesota families and kids, and to invest in folks in our district so that they have a stable foundation after a couple of rough years.
What’s a bill that people may not know exists that would positively impact Southwest Minneapolis?
When I think about impacting Southwest Minneapolis, and all of Minneapolis, I think about the fact that we’re in the second day of the teachers strike. I’m thinking about education, and specifically on a bill that I'm carrying. One of the things that the MFT [Minneapolis Federation of Teachers] is on strike about is the wages of our ESPs. I know that at Justice Page and at Washburn and at Winthrop and at Hale, in all of the schools in our district, these are the folks who are supporting our kids, especially those with disabilities or that need extra help. Our hourly school workers are right now at the bottom of the wage scale, and they also don't have access to unemployment insurance.
The reason that I think that matters to our district is that we have a school bus driver shortage. We have a shortage of paras [paraprofessionals]. We have a shortage of food service workers. I know that there are parents in our district that are driving kids to school because we don’t have enough bus drivers. Right now, one of the things that’s likely causing that problem is that, since the New Deal, those folks have been excluded from the economic security of unemployment insurance. When I got to the legislature, I was surprised that we continue to have that exclusion. We are working hard on changing that. We have a lot of folks in our district that are the ones that are driving buses, and we have parents that are the food service workers. We also have a lot of parents and kids that rely on them and our educators. When I think about the impact that could have, it would be huge.
One of the things that I'm really proud of is that I was an MPS kid. I went to Barton Open School and South High. I know that our schools are a deep source of pride and strength in our community. There are a lot of bills that I think could help us, but when I think about how we could stabilize our schools and ensure that the buses are coming to pick up our kids and that there are folks to educate and care for our kids, that’s where I’m focusing.
The other reason I think that’s important is increasing the number of teachers of color, indigenous teachers, and equity in our schools. It’s one of our most diverse workforces, it’s predominantly women of color, and when we think about building leadership in our schools and the educational component, those workers are incredibly important. There are multiple layers, but I know that education equity is a hugely important piece of this conversation.
As we talk, the teachers strike is ongoing. What concrete things would you like the legislature to do this session to address their concerns?
There's this session, and then there's how we got here. Our investments in public education at the state level are not back to where we were in 2001 when you count for inflation. In Minnesota in the past, we have made strong and powerful commitments to public education. Fully-funding our public education system is critical, both to Minneapolis as well as statewide. When we talk about the future of our kids, our economy, and our community, I’m a voting rights lawyer and I know that our public schools are the center of our community and the lifeblood of our democracy.
The long-term fight that we've been fighting is fully-funding public education, and dealing with the cross-subsidy that hits Minneapolis schools particularly hard, but also hits schools all around the state. This year, with a 9 billion dollar surplus, we should actually be looking at what investments we can make with this money and what concrete commitments we can make in the future. We know that this is not going to be solved with a one-time investment. But part of the reason that we have this surplus is because we have not been sustainably funding our schools. This is the time to actually look at what we can do this year, but I think it has to be sustainable.
Going back to my earlier answer, we have to fix the unemployment exclusion of hourly co-workers. One of the biggest demands of our teachers, our ESPs, and our food service workers that are on strike is just a living wage. Getting paras and ESPs up to $35,000 a year. Compound that with the fact that if they don't have a second job over the summer, they lose that contract. They don't have economic security. Those pieces are critical to ensuring the stability of our schools, to ensuring that our workforce, our teachers, our educators, and our bus drivers are all respected and have what they need to take care of their families. We know that they're all residents and constituents and parents of Minneapolis Public Schools, too.
If you could snap your fingers and make one change to our public safety system, what would it be?
I wish we had the power to just snap our fingers. I think that the culture and the structure of the Minneapolis Police Department is the most intractable problem, as we’ve seen with the after-action report that was just released. With the snap of a finger, that’s what I would change. I grew up in Minneapolis. I went to South High School, which was very close with our Precinct. I know that it's been a problem for decades. We had a meeting yesterday with a rundown of the after-action report, and so much of it was about procedures that weren’t followed. Even when we have procedures and even when we have reforms, it’s not being followed. That’s not going to do us any good.
The other intractable problem, and I know you said I only get one, but it’s the issues of gun violence. It’s a national problem, and it’s a problem here in Minnesota that's impacting our kids and our families pretty inequitably. We know that black and brown neighborhoods have been hardest hit.
It’s hard to talk about public safety without addressing the issue of gun violence and changing the culture of MPD. We have to protect our families and our kids from this epidemic.
The other thing I’d say is community violence intervention. I don’t think you can do that with a snap of the fingers, but it’s really important. We’ve been asking the question, what are the disruptions and interventions that can actually work?
You have lots of expertise in voter rights. What changes should Minnesota make to protect our democracy?
We are in a real make-or-break moment. I spent the last decade on the front lines of this fight – Georgia, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin. Here in Minnesota, we have the highest voter turnout in the country. In 2020, we had the most diverse electorate, including a multi-generational electorate. But we are seeing the same kind of real attacks we were seeing everywhere, both on our systems, efforts to bring back the perennial voter IDs, and restricting the freedom to vote on provisional balloting which would functionally end same-day registration. Even more troubling are the attacks on the system itself to undermine people’s confidence in it.
Here in Minnesota, we need to protect and defend our democratic institutions. We also need to do the work of building the inclusive, multi-racial, multi-generational democracy that we are vested in and that we know that we can have. From a policy perspective, we need to meet the moment and ensure that we're protecting our election workers from this rising threat we’re seeing. We’ve seen an exodus of election judges who are concerned about their safety and concerned about being targeted by the Big Lie, and this new focus on election administrators and election workers. Protecting them from harassment, intimidation, and interference, and making sure that our local election administrators feel safe, supported, and uplifted to do the job when they step out and help this robust machinery of our democracy.
Then we need to look at the things we can do to strengthen the freedom and access to vote. We’ve been working really hard on making sure voting registration is a bridge, not a barrier, to participation. Whether that’s finally passing automatic voter registration, or ensuring that 16 and 17 year-olds can register to vote when they're still in high school and doing that voter education when they still live with their families. We know that that's a great way to create a new generation of voters. Finally, restoring the right to vote for the 55 thousands folks living in our communities on probation and parole. We know that by expanding the voices and the power in our communities, those conversations will make our democracy more robust and it'll help us solve problems together.
Then, the last thing is that we need to ensure that our democracy, and our elections, and our representation reflects people and not corporations, dark money, and lobbyists. That is a challenge that I've been working on for a decade. The Supreme Court hasn't made it any easier. But there are things we can do here in Minnesota to require disclosures of dark money, and to ensure that voters are confident that when they elect people, they know who is trying to spend money to influence elections so that they know it's their voices that we’re listening to. When we talk about our biggest challenges right now, whether it’s the climate crisis, or public safety and ensuring that everyone’s safe in our community, the housing crisis we have right now, and our general sense of where our economy is at, it’s really critical that it is Minnesotans and Minnesota voices that we’re listening to. I think that the democracy problem is driving some of our other challenges. We know that seventy percent of Minnesotans want paid family leave, but we can't get it done right now because their voices are not being heard. When it comes to climate change issues, we know that it’s a huge priority across the state, and fossil fuel money is flowing through at least one body of this legislature.
When I think about the work we have to do, it’s about voters, but it’s also about making sure we can solve big problems. That’s where my priorities are.
What do you want your new constituents in your new district to know about you?
I am a child of South Minneapolis. I’m a Southsider. I grew up close to where I live now by Lake Nokomis. I went to Barton Open School, then I went to South High School. I came back to get my start as an organizer on the Wellstone campaign. One of the things I love about the city, the region, and the state is that we have a community that is invested in each other and is his highly engaged. Not just in politics, but in their community, neighbors-helping-neighbors, folks who are engaged in the schools, and community organizations, and advocacy.
I’m excited about expanding the district to communities I’ve spent years in. I’m excited about Tangletown, I’m excited about the whole swath all the way to the border in South and Southwest Minneapolis. I’m excited about working together and committing to the kind of action where we know that we all do better when we all do better. This has been a tough couple of years, but there is real power in community and the power of us that I know people in this community really understand. It's important to me that as my district shifts a little bit that we build relationships and really think about how we can work collectively to improve the lives of everybody in our community.
We are a driver for the state. I think there are lots of folks on the Southside focused on how we expand and increase the opportunities for everyone in Minnesota. I am excited to get to know folks and I am excited to dig in.
I am also excited to represent Washburn – as a proud Minneapolis Public School alum, I will proudly put my Tiger - Miller rivalries aside.