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For Loeffler, the opportunity is in the details

Updated: October 26, 2016 - 2:57 pm

Northeast’s veteran legislator vies for a seventh term

While many politicians say they plan to take on lofty issues once elected, Diane Loeffler says she’s also fine with the nitty gritty.

State Rep. Loeffler (DFL-60A) has led her district covering Northeast and part of Southeast Minneapolis for 12 years in the Legislature, where she has worked on bills both big and small. Now on the senior half of the House, Loeffler, a DFL-endorsed planning analyst with Hennepin County, is looking for another term to get in the weeds of health care, education and environmental policy.

“You can run on ‘I want to address the big issues like racial equity,’ but you can’t introduce a bill that says we need racial equity in Minnesota. You have to say, ‘Well, how would we do that?’” she said.

“So, I always have something that’s going long term and then that’s something ‘OK, what can we do this year that will make a difference?’ That’s just how I balance my agenda.”

60ABefore she ever dared to dream of a career in politics, Loeffler, 63, grew up in Northeast Minneapolis near 27th & Jackson and graduated from Edison High School. She went on to study at Augsburg College, majoring in social science — Loeffler said she wanted to be a social studies teacher — then got an internship in state government putting together Minnesota’s education budget. The work led to several jobs adjacent to politics, from crafting education finances with the state and digging into tax law for the League of Minnesota Cities, to putting together Minneapolis’ budget and, finally, analyzing health and human services policy with Hennepin County.

It’s work that Loeffler said helps prepare her to move from the big picture to laser-focused policymaking.

“My career has given me the ability to see not just how practical things get implemented, and don’t, but also how our state differs from one end of it to another, and our solution for Northeast and Southeast Minneapolis, or Hennepin County, or Minneapolis, is not going to be the same for Koochiching County,” she said.

While her teaching aspirations may have led her to the Legislature’s Education Committee, Loeffler’s unique background in tax policy and health care make her useful on the House’s Health and Human Services committees, she said. Thanks to judicial rulings and orders from the federal government, it’s a constantly changing area of policy, Loeffler said, not to mention “agonizing.” The committee often takes on personal issues like funding childcare programs and healthcare affordability.

“People come to this committee with their hopes and dreams and say please, please, my son or daughter can’t wait any longer. Please, please improve the care in these kind of programs. Please invest money into better programs for people with Alzheimer’s. And we want to respond, but we usually have a budget target where you have to pick and choose,” she said. “A lot of people say they can never serve on this committee because it is so heart-wrenching.

Despite the stress, Loeffler said she’s had successes in health care. She has worked to expand MinnesotaCare, the state’s health care program, and affordable health coverage. About a decade ago, Loeffler helped create the Statewide Health Improvement Program, a program that supports things like bike routes for kids getting to school and workplace wellness programs, which Loeffler credits as helping keep Minnesota’s obesity rate low compared to other states.

Mental health has also been an important topic for Loeffler, who has supported school-linked mental health services funding and putting additional dollars into mental health staffing over the past two sessions.

“In the mental health area we’ve made some real strides on catching people before they hit the bottom,” she said.

Rep. Diane Loeffler talks with a constituent at the Northeast Minneapolis Farmers Market. Submitted photo
Rep. Diane Loeffler talks with a constituent at the Northeast Minneapolis Farmers Market. Submitted photo

Loeffler is looking to the next session to continue her work.

If elected, as a member of the House Taxes Committee, she said the Legislature will need to pass a tax bill. She also plans to continue progress on the Minnesota Working Family Credit, a refundable credit for those working with an income below a certain level, and to find a vehicle to incentivize green redevelopment of the city’s older buildings, among other issues.

Looking to the national election, Loeffler said she’s ready to vote for Hillary Clinton.

“I’m excited about Hillary Clinton and the possibility of having not just the first woman but, more importantly, a woman who is really prepared for the job,” she said. “Having been secretary of state she understands the globe and its complexities and the global economy better than I think anyone who has run in recent time. She is so much more prepared than [Donald] Trump.”

On Sen. Bernie Sanders’ run for the presidency, Loeffler said while she shares his dreams — she helped raise taxes on the state’s top earners, for example — and she wants results.

“I was hesitant of him only because he did not have a record of getting anything done on those things and he had many years in Congress to make a difference. As a legislator, I’ve been able to pass legislation whether I’m in them in the minority or the majority. It’s not as easy. It’s not as flashy, maybe. But I have a record of results, year after year, and I didn’t see the same record of results,” she said.

Looking to her own District 60A race, Loeffler said she hasn’t had the opportunity to talk policy with competitor and independent candidate Gabe Barnett. But after six terms, Loeffler said she still feels at home in the Legislature and won’t be vying for other job titles any time soon.

“I don’t feel at all worn out and I’ve got a lot of long-term goals,” Loeffler said.