Lieutenant Governor calls Fulton home

Lt. Gov. Tina Smith at Tettegouche in September. Photo courtesy of Governor's office

Fulton is the home of 20 years for Lt. Gov. Tina Smith.

“The great thing about the Fulton neighborhood is it’s like a small town in a big city,” she said. “I love the sense of neighborhood that we have.”

Congressional Quarterly named Smith among the 25 most influential women in state politics early this year, and she’s often mentioned as a potential gubernatorial candidate.

Prior to working in the Governor’s office, she served as chief of staff for former Mayor R.T. Rybak.

“I will never forget the day that the bridge collapsed,” she said.

Smith was attending a reception at the top of the IDS Center, with poor cell phone reception, when someone told her the I-35W bridge had fallen.

“I couldn’t even process it,” she said. “We looked out the window and could see the helicopters and the dust and the smoke coming up off the river, and I will never forget that.”

She went to the Emergency Operations Center in the basement of City Hall and worked for the next 12 or more hours.

Smith was working as Gov. Mark Dayton’s chief of staff when he asked her to run as Lieutenant Governor. She initially laughed at the idea because she didn’t have a traditional career path for the job, Smith said at a March forum at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University.

“…I literally laughed and walked out of the room, because I thought it was such a ridiculous idea. That’s pretty typical for women who are first approached,” she said. “Women often in elected life — there’s been research on this — women wait to be invited, they wait to be asked, and they don’t apply for things unless they clearly have above and beyond what is needed or required.”

The Governor’s office held a press conference last week to announce the launch of the Young Women’s Initiative of Minnesota. The initiative would form a plan to expand opportunities for young women, particularly women of color.

The press conference fell on a day less busy than most for Smith, who is in the process of visiting 87 Minnesota counties in 86 days. She spent time on “homework” in the office, met with several agencies in a meeting focused on workforce data and early childhood education, and attended a weekly senior staff meeting with Dayton. The night prior, she attended a Planned Parenthood gala celebrating the organization’s 100th year.

“Sometimes things get crazy, but I try to wake up every day with [an] attitude of: ‘I wonder what’s going to happen today?’” she said. “You never know, it could be almost anything. Which is what makes this job so interesting and so rewarding.”

Home life

When Smith does have time to relax in Fulton, she said she frequently orders carryout from Naviya’s, or heads to Tilia for brunch, or stops in at Terzo. She said her husband Archie does much of the household cooking and is a frequent patron of Clancey’s. (A recent tweet said she was enjoying Archie’s tacos and a Lynx game despite running on two hours of sleep.) Smith also enjoys hiking and cross-country skiing, and she’s roughly a third of her way through a goal to visit all 67 Minnesota State Parks.

Lt. Gov. Tina Smith at the State Fair in August. Photo courtesy of the Office of Governor Mark Dayton & Lt. Governor Tina Smith
Lt. Gov. Tina Smith at the State Fair in August. Photo courtesy of the Office of Governor Mark Dayton & Lt. Governor Tina Smith

Smith lives near 44th & Upton, and she moved from St. Louis Park to Minneapolis in 1996. She’s watched the local housing stock change over time, and said she hopes the neighborhood can hold a mix of housing and retain a diversity of families in different life stages.

“On the one hand it’s great that people are investing in the houses in our neighborhood,” she said. “On the other hand I know we all worry about the phenomenon of tearing down houses and building bigger houses. I’m glad that the city has taken some steps to make sure that the bigger houses fit within the neighborhood context.”

Goals for the Governor’s office

Smith said her top priorities at the moment revolve around making the economy work for everyone. She wants to expand access to broadband Internet in rural areas. She’s also working to build the clean energy economy and improve Minnesota’s renewable energy standards.

The state voted to fund all-day kindergarten in 2013. Now, the Governor’s office has shifted focus to pre-k education. The state passed a preschool grant program last year, and Smith said twice as many school districts applied for grants than funding was available.

“I’m looking forward to in 2017 continuing to push on that to try to continue to get preschool available for every four-year-old in every district in the state,” she said.

Early career

When Smith graduated from Dartmouth’s business school in 1984, she also held a political science degree from Stanford and experience at the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline. Smith had never been to Minnesota before a job interview with General Mills, although Archie had spent time backpacking and canoeing near Rainy Lake, and she accepted a position with General Mills as marketing manager.

Smith went on to work at a national strategy and media production company. The firm’s work included an ad campaign for Bill Bradley when he ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in the 2000 election, according to the New York Times. The Times also cited the firm’s advertisement in 2000 portraying then-Gov. George W. Bush as a pawn of the National Rifle Association, an ad completed on behalf of a gun control advocacy group.

Smith began work in 2003 as vice president of external affairs for Planned Parenthood of Minnesota and North and South Dakota. Throughout her career, she’s worked on campaigns for political candidates that include Amy Klobuchar and Walter Mondale.

Governing philosophy

When asked about political polarization evident at the national and state level, Smith said she looks for common ground among all parties.

“I think that the campaign is really polarized, but I talk to people all over the state every day that are rejecting that,” she said. “…Most people in their lives are just busy going to school, going to work, taking care of their families, trying to find a little time to rest and relax.  They’re not really interested in all this political back-and-forth, they’re much more interested in how do their communities work, how do their schools work. I think that’s where we ought to be focusing our attention.”

Lt. Gov. Tina Smith at the State Fair in August. Photo courtesy of the Office of Governor Mark Dayton & Lt. Governor Tina Smith
Photo courtesy of the Office of Governor Mark Dayton & Lt. Governor Tina Smith

Smith noted that she was involved in bringing Allina Health and nurses together in the final weeks of contract negotiations.

“People don’t always agree on everything, but you’ve got to find that place where they can agree,” she said. “…It’s really hard sometimes when you’re negotiating with people who don’t want to find common ground. They are rewarded by stopping things from moving forward. That’s a lot of what we saw last Legislative session, just kind of an unwillingness to find that common ground.”

The state did not provide funding for Southwest Light Rail in the last Legislative session, which prompted Hennepin County and the Metropolitan Council to kick in the state’s share themselves.

Smith said that if the state waits to invest in transportation and transit, costs will rise and the need for it will increase.

“…That’s an area where we haven’t been able to find a lot of common ground but I’m hopeful that next year we’ll be able to move forward on that,” she said.

The Star Tribune quoted GOP House Speaker Kurt Daudt calling Southwest light rail a “boondoggle project” and an “inefficient” way to move people, and he raised concerns about the project costs.

Smith said she thinks there is statewide support for transportation spending.

“It’s not an urban versus rural divide, I don’t think. Politically it might be, but I’ve talked to so many people who live outside of the metro area who are in favor of making these investments,” she said.

Smith said she sees a parallel between the Fulton neighborhood and small towns like Montevideo, which recently hosted the Governor’s office for the pheasant opener. There are quirky restaurants, neighbors who know each other, and lively downtown street scenes, she said.

“We have a lot in common with those little towns all over the state,” she said.