A state legislator from St. Paul hoping to make the leap to governor was meeting Brainerd lakes area residents Friday.
DFL Rep. Erin Murphy was the first to announce her 2018 bid, putting her name in last November. Murphy, 57, is on her sixth term as a state representative, and served as the Minnesota House Majority leader during the 2013-2014 legislative session.
Her local stops included a "lively" meet and greet at Mixed Company coffee house in Crosby, she said. She also received a tour of Garfield Elementary in Brainerd from Amy Aho, local teacher, DFL activist and daughter of longtime legislator John Ward.
She spoke of a time in 2015 when she visited a dairy processing plant in Melrose. The manager who gave the tour beamed as he told her about the operations and how it benefitted the community. After the tour was over, Murphy asked him if they could take a picture together-and the request gave the dairy manager pause.
Then, he pointed out that he was wearing all black clothing because he had to spend the whole day with a democrat, Murphy remembered-but he still took the picture.
"'You came here to learn, and I really like that about you,'" Murphy recalled the man saying.
That same spirit of openness and willingness to be exposed to new points of view will break down barriers between people, she said.
While she's been busy campaigning in rural and metro Minnesota, her work as a legislator is her first priority, Murphy said. She was inspired to run for office in the Legislature in the first place when her mother had to fight to get insurance coverage near the end of her life, Murphy said.
Originally a Wisconsinite, Murphy moved to Minnesota in 1988 for a job as a transplant nurse at the University of Minnesota hospital. She now teaches nursing at St. Catherine.
Asked whether her urban background would pose a liability for her when trying to attract rural voters during the governor's race, Murphy pointed out she had a small-town background early in her life. Her hometown of Columbus, Wis., has about 5,000 people in it. But more importantly, she said, her work as a nurse had given her the chance to engage with people from all over the state.
Asked what specific issues she felt impacted rural Minnesota, Murphy named the workforce shortage, an economically depressed Iron Range, education and health care.
Murphy will face off in the DFL primary for governor against U.S. Rep Tim Walz, a Mankato-based congressman who strongly identifies as a rural denizen.
"'How are you going to run in greater Minnesota?' I get this question all the time," Murphy said.
Still though, she has the greater Minnesota chops, with the blue-collar career of nursing and her rural roots in Wisconsin, she said. Her mother worked in a canning factory, she added.
"I bring that, he brings that," she said of Walz.
She welcomed his entry into the primary, she said.
Furthermore, Murphy said she spent time connecting with Minnesota farmers in various parts of the state, hearing their issues. Problems facing family farms like the rise of big ag, a reluctant young generation of would-be farmers as well as property taxes and school referendums, were all on her mind.
However, those problems are not unlike those faced by those confronting residents of the Twin Cities, she said. Health care and education affected everyone.
"If I hear one thing from farmers, it's that health care is getting really, really expensive for them," she said.
Murphy's transportation ideology is also a bridge between rural and urban: she's in favor of both roads and bridges, as well as mass transit like the Southwest Light Rail Transit program. Mass transit alleviates traffic congestion and makes it easier for cars and big semis to transport people and goods, she said.
"I don't like it when we divide ourselves by geography, because it pits us against one another," she said.
On another issue that divides the urban and rural factions of the state-Gov. Mark Dayton's buffer law-Murphy said she stood with the governor in that she felt the law was necessary, but was open to providing financial assistance to help farmers comply with the law. "Bridging" was necessary between the law's proponents and the farmers, she said.
"I am committed, like the governor is, to make sure that our water is clean, and that we're doing all that we can, regardless of where we are in the state, to protect that asset and to make sure that water's clean for swimming and for drinking," she said.