The Accidental Politician
Minnesota’s Ruth Richardson, DFL state representative from Mendota Heights, has a lot on her plate.
In an hour-long span last Wednesday at the capitol, she went from the House floor session to making a brief appearance at her only committee assignment, the Economic Development Finance and Policy Committee, to recording in her office an episode of “Sunday Civics.” The Sunday morning radio and podcast show, produced by three New York City-based Black women, uses the current political landscape to teach civics. Then she met with three constituents.
“Not all work feels like work, especially when you’re doing things that you’re really passionate about,” said Richardson about how she balances all of her commitments. Afterward, she pivoted to a strategy meeting with Jeanne Stuart about one of her bills.
Rep. Richardson, who considers herself an accidental politician, was born in 1976, to parents who relocated from Mississippi about a decade prior. A descendant of enslaved people, sharecroppers, storytellers and a midwife, she was raised in St. Paul’s Frogtown neighborhood. A graduate of Central High School, she says success is when everyone in Minnesota is assured the ability to not just survive but thrive.
Initially, she didn’t see herself as a politician until people kept asking her to become one because of her work in the community. “My path to public service, I really think, is an extension of the work that I have been doing within the community for decades,” said Richardson.
She started her career as a tour guide at the State Capitol in high school, became a lawyer and a lecturer, and subsequently became the executive director of Planned Parenthood North Central States in October 2022.
“The first time I was asked [to run for office], I just sort of dismissed it. And a week later I had another person who was unconnected to [the first] person ask if I had ever thought about it,” added Richardson, who ultimately decided to run. She was elected to the House in 2018 and is serving her third term.
In the words of her sister Linda shortly after Rep. Richardson appeared on “Good Morning America,” she is on fire. “[It] has been really important to bring new conversations to the legislature that were not happening before, [such as] being able to declare racism a public health crisis, and have that passed with bipartisan support; to creating a House Select Committee on Racial Justice and to work with community on developing 83 recommendations for ways that we can change things within the space,” reflected Richardson.
One of her biggest achievements has been to shed light on missing and murdered Black women and girls, who make up seven percent of Minnesota’s population but 40 percent of domestic violence survivors and are three times more likely to be murdered than White women.
She authored a bill that created the first task force in the nation to understand why and how Black women and girls are subjected to violence, and how to address it. The task force published a report that recommended creating spaces for Black women and girls to thrive as well as to hire them and improve training for non-Black professionals who work with them.
The report also recommends improving coordination between agencies, creating a statewide missing persons database, and increasing access to temporary shelter and affordable housing. This session she has a bill, HF 55, which would create an office to implement and lobby for much of the task force’s recommendations.
She credits her success to Brian Pease, who works for the Minnesota Historical Society as the historic site manager for the Minnesota State Capitol, as well as Hope Jensen, director of program oversight at the Federal Transit Administration.
“[Jensen] really instilled in me the value of mentorship and the duty that you have for those coming behind you,” reflected Richardson, who also mentors a number of, in her words, amazing Black women and girls. She also credits her success to her siblings, who she remains close to, as they have regular Sunday dinners and a Soul Train line.
“I’m proud of the work that she’s doing and has done,” said her sister Linda, who accompanied Ruth to New York for her GMA appearance. “And I am just beside myself.”
Next, Richardson wants to address those who experience serious pregnancy-related health complications, considering they are often preventable. “We are doing a disservice to Minnesotans by not establishing a morbidity committee that would not only help you prevent serious complications from occurring, but also to prevent maternal mortality.”
Richardson offers the following for those who may want to follow in her footsteps someday: “A very wise woman once told me if you walk in your purpose, you will collide with destiny,” offered Richardson. “And I think that it’s important that people use their powers and their strength and their voices for the collective good.
“I would just remind people, when they tell you that you’re not qualified, or that you don’t belong, there are so many examples of people who have heard those things that have gone on to change the world.”
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