The first few months in the Minnesota House of Representatives were not at all what freshman Rep. Erin Maye Quade (DFL-MN) expected them to be. “The first few weeks were a lot like college,” following a new schedule, moving into a new office, figuring out how the system works. Being in the minority party of the House, many warned her that it would be challenging. But once settled in, Rep. Maye Quade made her presence known. “I don’t think that the legislature and folks who had been there for a while on either side of the aisle were prepared for the voice and vigor that myself and my freshman colleagues were bringing.” From the education budget to protestors’ rights, Rep. Maye Quade has consistently fought hard for her constituents’ voices to be heard.
Rep. Maye Quade became interested in politics as early as her freshmen year of high school, after the 2000 presidential election. “I was mad and I felt like this system was serving very few people.” She got involved right out of college when she worked for then Senator Obama, opening the Denver office for his 2008 presidential campaign. After that, she worked for Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton and U.S. Congressman Keith Ellison. It was during her time with the Congressman that she decided to run for office herself. When attending a Sheridan Story program, an organization that provides weekend meals for students who would otherwise not have access to food, Rep. Maye Quade was astounded to see that childhood hunger went up 380% in her elementary school and no one was talking about it. After lamenting to Congressman Ellison about this, he asked her when she was going to run for office – something she had not considered before. “He asked ‘what’s stopping you? What are you waiting for?’ And I didn’t have a good answer for that. I thought about it more and wondered what was I waiting for? Was it more passion for my community? No. Was it more education and understanding of democracy and government? No. Was it more connection to this community? Certainly not.” So in 2016, she ran for the Minnesota State House of Representatives.
Addressing childhood hunger continued to be one of Rep. Maye Quade’s top priorities in office. She aims to provide schools with the necessary resources to properly and efficiently address the various issues children go to school with. “We have to stop putting all of our issues in our schools and then wondering why our teachers can’t handle all of it,” when we don’t provide them with the tools to address them. Other issues high on her list include smart gun violence prevention measures, women’s health and choice, transparency and accessibility in government, and especially removing systemic barriers to ensure “equal access to the Minnesota Dream.”
When asked what obstacles she believed women face when entering politics, Rep. Maye Quade pointed to the issue of confidence. Women need to be asked numerous times to run for office before they are willing to do so. “I want to somehow make sure women don’t second guess themselves, as if they wouldn’t be good enough or smart enough or capable enough or competent enough to run and win.” She emphasized that you don’t need a law degree or even a college degree to run, “life experience is more than enough to bring to the table.” As her wife, Alyse, once advised her, “You’re the expert. You’re the one who lives here, you’re the one who knows your community. Everyone can give you advice, but you in your gut know the right thing to do. So trust your gut.”
Rep. Maye Quade’s own advice to young women was two-fold. First, “you don’t have to know everything to do something.” This was the biggest fear she saw in people, especially after the most recent presidential election when many wanted to get involved. “They feel like because they don’t know everything, they can’t do anything. And that’s not true.” Second, she advised that getting involved doesn’t have to mean running for office. It can be working for an elected official, lobbying legislators, joining political groups, or talking to neighbors. “We are all policy experts because we live the policies that are enacted every day,” so, “whatever it is that works for your life, do it and you’ll do it well.”
About the Author
Mareena George joined Women in Government as a Legislator Outreach Intern in February 2017. She graduated in May 2017 with a Bachelor of Arts in Government and Women’s & Gender Studies from Georgetown University, Washington DC. Prior to working for WIG, she has interned for both the Queens District Attorney’s Office and Councilmember Mark Weprin in NYC. Mareena will soon return to her hometown of Queens, where she hopes to pursue law school.
About Future WIG
Women In Government supports women of all ages in leadership roles, and is working hard to ensure that young women are given the resources and mentorship they need in order to achieve their goals. This program takes place at WIG Regional conferences, where WIG asks women state legislators and leaders in the private sector to encourage young women across the country to pursue leadership roles. This program is made possible by Southwest Airlines.