Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan: 'You Measure What You Care About'

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Peggy Flanagan, Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota, talks with Rev. Jim Wallis about state and federal responses to the coronavirus.

"We started as part of our overall response to COVID-19, something called our community resiliency and recovery work group, which is really grounded in ensuring that we don't return back to normal and that we are centering people of color, Native Americans, immigrants and refugees, low-income folks, and people experiencing homelessness at the center of our response."

Full transcript below:

Jim Wallis:

Hello, this is Jim Wallis and you're listening to a special edition of the Soul of the Nation, a podcast about how our faith should shape our politics and not the other way around. Today, I'm speaking with Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota Peggy Flanagan about the importance of state-level leadership in the midst of this pandemic crisis. Before serving as Lieutenant Governor, Peggy worked as a Minnesota state representative and a community organizer advocating for her home state’s children and families, communities of color, American Indians and low income and working people. She was an organizer before she was a legislator. And for full transparency, Peggy and I are also like family.

I remember when I first met Peggy, the first time we were doing a bus tour during a presidential campaign to raise up the issue of poverty in key capital key states around the country. We always try to raise up those who Jesus called the ‘least of these,’ who were the least important often in Washington and politics and in the national campaign. So, we run around beforehand to all those states [and] were going to visit the leaders. And often you had activists and black pastors and people who were organizing in the community. So I had this room full of people in Twin Cities, Minnesota, who wanted to hear what we were planning and how they could help and what they could do to how we could help their agenda – how we could push forward their concerns in this presidential campaign. And in the room was this young woman whose eyes told me, well ... whose eyes told me, “What the hell was this white guy [doing] here?" And, “Why is he even here? And she asked me these very tough questions. And so, afterwards, I walked up to her, [and] I said, “Those are really good questions. You want to have dinner and talk about it?” And she said, “Who’s paying?”

Peggy Flanagan

[laughter] I can't believe I said that.

Jim Wallis:

… So I said, “I'm paying.” So, we went out for dinner and that was the beginning of this relationship. You want to pick it up from there?

Peggy Flanagan:

For sure. So, I was a scrappy organizer and I had been working for the Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches, and that moment was really important, and it was important because the conversation at dinner … we had a kind of conversation where I was able to truly talk about my faith being at the center of my organizing work and politics, that my faith was just really central to the work that I was doing and wanted to do in partnership with the people who are most directly affected by the decisions that were being made about their lives without their consent every day. So that really started, I think, our friendship, but also a space where I could talk about my faith and not feel weird about it.

I think for people in progressive politics, too often it's like, “Oh, we don't want to talk about that,” but really, I think we should. We should talk about the values and our faith that underlie the work that we do every single day. So that's how that started and that must have been in 2004. So, I then was able to get more involved with Sojourners and served on the board, and just had a lot of really incredible experiences and looked at organizing and faith communities on a national level and built relationships and friendships that have been incredibly important to my life. But I think about that day a lot and just how different my life would be, Jim, if I hadn't been a scrappy organizer with a chip on my shoulder in that room.

And if you hadn't seen the potential in that scrappy organizer or that person who was suspicious about what you were talking about or where you were from, and really welcomed in a young person who was, I think, also looking for a spiritual home and found it at Sojourners. So, that is our origin story. And I think it's one that I try to remember when I'm working with new organizers to say like, “This is also who you were.” And there's a lot of potential in a lot of our young people who are coming up and we just got to give them a chance, and they can become the Lieutenant Governor. Like, it’s every little girl's dream.

Jim Wallis:

So Peggy, let's start with this. How's your spirit in a time like this? How's your spirit?

 

Peggy Flanagan:

Hmm, that's such a good question. And I prefer that question right now to the question (I think we all are just asking each other cause it's what we normally ask), which is, “How are you?” And that's hard to answer cause we're in the middle of a pandemic. But my spirit is a little weary, my spirit is determined, and my spirit is grounded in the fight, I think, and survival of those who came before. And so I think as we look at these issues taking them one day at a time, but that is how my spirit is. We cannot, we cannot rest. Not yet.

Jim Wallis:

Indeed. So, Minnesota has experienced and continues to experience rising reports of discrimination against Asian American community members. You recently made a statement (it was picked up by the local Minnesota press) that reads, “There is a distinct pattern in our nation's history of increased discrimination during uncertain and trying times of needing someone to blame.” As a response to this, you established a hotline in your state to allow victims to report incidences. What are the steps that local governments must take to protect our Asian American neighbors and other vulnerable community members? Is there a geography of race in this crisis? And how is this playing out in Minnesota?

Peggy Flanagan:

So that is a really important question, and I'm glad that you saw that and you read that, because I feel like, while this pandemic is certainly something that we are experiencing for the first time, our reaction to it, in many ways, is sort of the ‘tale as old as time’ or a ‘tale as old as this country,’ that our society oftentimes looks for scapegoats or looks for someone to blame and reacts from a position and a place of fear. And so I think that we are finding ourselves in that similar position, but we now have an opportunity to make a choice. And that choice is that we can either respond from a place of fear or we can respond from a place of solidarity and a real knowledge that our future is intertwined with those around us.

So, you know, we established this hotline because we heard consistently from community members in the Asian American community that they were being targeted. Just today. I heard from a teacher who was outside playing with her kids and someone said, “What kind of Asian are you to her?” And here she is, you know, just outside trying to enjoy some time with her children in-between also needing to educate the children that she works with from a distance every single day. So the hotline was established so that we can start to, to map this out, you measure what you care about. And so we want to really know where are these incidents occurring and how can we be more supportive of the community. I think it's important for people who are not Asian descent or are not from the Asian community to call it out so we can stand in solidarity with each other.

The hotline was also established so that people don't just have to call 911, and that we can truly be able to track and then pass things along when it rises to truly a level of concern to the Minnesota Department of Human Rights so that they can respond appropriately. But Jim, I also say this: I've heard some people who have said that COVID-19 is the great equalizer because anyone can contract the virus. But to be honest, I can't think of a statement that is further from the truth. What this pandemic has done has truly laid bare the racial and social inequities that plague our country and our state. I think as we hear folks say, “Oh, we want to return to normal; we want to get back to normal.” Normal wasn't working. Normal wasn't working for communities of color, for Native Americans, for folks in rural communities, for people in poverty. So I hope that we do not get back to normal. My hope is that we truly can figure out a way to center those who are most deeply impacted as we look to solutions to rebuild and to recover.

Jim Wallis:

So you're talking about what the COVID-19 crisis has laid bare things that were already true, already normal, [and] already going on. I would say racism and poverty have become preconditions for getting this disease. The African American rate to whites is like 3-to-1 more get the disease — six times [more to] die. For Native people, I don't know what the numbers are, but I'm almost afraid to hear. So it lays this bare – normal wasn't working for us. It's interesting, you're a person of faith like I am. How Easter was put forward by this administration as a time to go back to normal – Easter was never a time to go back to normal; It was to change all things. So what's been laid bare that you see in Minnesota that needs to not go back to normal as we go forward?

 

Peggy Flanagan:

Oh, I think there’s a tremendous amount of things that we simply can't afford to go back to normal. But I do think as you talk about Easter, I think the thing that I think about so often is how we were waiting in a time of fear and darkness, but also had faith that a better day could come. And I think it is faith, but it is also making sure that we are putting plans and a vision, and what we want for all people into action. And so truly what that means for me, and I think also for our administration – for the governor and me, is to make sure that we are able to keep people in safe, affordable housing that our children and our seniors don't go without meals, don't miss meals. And that our children are able to have an educational experience that is not determined by their race or their zip code, and can be connected to technology and other things, regardless of who they are or where they live. And we also find ourselves in a time where access to health care, if it has ever been more clear, that health care shouldn't be attached to your job, and we need to figure out a different way to do that, as it is right now. So those are the things that I am focused on in this moment, and frankly we were focused on those things before. But my hope is that people are beginning to truly see the reality of what this is. That when we experience a crisis, those who are already in crisis are the ones who suffer the most, and we have an opportunity to rebuild in a new way.

Jim Wallis:

Speaking of health care and housing, I've often heard you speak about the wages of people, who are now called ‘essential’ workers — people who provide the food and supplies we need every day, which are overwhelmingly disproportionately people of color, often women of color. And yet we can’t pay them a living wage.

Peggy Flanagan:

And I think as we hear the rhetoric around reopening, I think the fear is that now that the narrative is changing, and that we're seeing that it is mostly black and brown people who are being impacted more so than other communities — both by getting COVID-19 but also experiencing an increase in the severity of the virus, some losing their lives and also being frontline workers – essential workers, that folks are feeling like, “Oh, now is when the narrative is changing that we gotta reopen, we gotta get back to it.” And I think that's a really valid and fair thing to say. Or this notion that we're calling people who are essential worker workers “heroes.” I think the better way to reward that behavior is to make sure that people can earn a living wage, can have earned sick and safe time, paid leave, that those are the things that truly reward work, and I hope that that we can learn from that. The very core things that we, I believe, people of faith, people who believe in work, that work should pay – these are things that we've been saying for generations, and now I think people can see that we were fighting the right fights, and [that] we need to make it happen.

 

Jim Wallis:

You said a moment ago, a line that strikes me, “We measure what we care about,” instead of just saying these things, we're concerned about these things theoretically. You put together a hotline for people who don't have to call 911 and figure out how to explain to the 911 person what they're experiencing in terms of their discrimination. So measuring what we care about, that strikes me as important in dealing with it by intervening in situations instead of just leaving people on their own. It’s really important.

Peggy Flanagan:

That's right. We also started just last week as part of our overall response to COVID-19, something called Community Resiliency and Recovery Work Group, which is really grounded in ensuring that we don't return back to normal, and that we are centering people of color, Native Americans, immigrants and refugees, low-income folks, [and] people experiencing homelessness at the center of our response. That work is being led by our commissioner, Rebecca Lucero, in the Department of Human Rights.

And we are really looking at these issues and asking for that dis-aggregated data so that we can see which communities are applying for unemployment at the highest rate, and you probably won't be surprised to know that for Native Americans, it's 1-in-3 of us. And so, when we talk about the fact that ‘you measure what you care about,’ it's also that data shines a light on things that we could gloss over, or when we say, “All people should” or “Everybody,” that we can start to be more targeted in our response. And sometimes that makes people uncomfortable, but boy … we‘ve got to get uncomfortable if we're going to move forward and figure out how to get through this.

And we also have a dashboard for the overall and specifically overall our response to COVID, But we also have a dashboard that specifically tracks COVID-19 infections testing and death rates by race, because we want to know so that we can be really specific and work in partnership with the community to respond in a way that is tailored and fit to each community [that’s] being impacted.

Jim Wallis:

You know, Freddie Haynes, the wonderful revival preacher, a black revival preacher – I did a podcast with him just this week, and he quoted Dr. King (something that I've heard you preach) that, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” And he recorded that now for COVID-19, [saying] that, “Infection anywhere is a threat to infection everywhere,” which is a way of saying what you're just now saying, indeed. So you're even applying that to testing … like I'm reading that this week, the Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota announced [that] a breakthrough increased capacity of testing maybe on the way, especially for vulnerable people. Now you said, as I read here, “This expanded testing capacity will be transformative to our COVID-19 response, especially for vulnerable populations, individuals living in congregate care settings or experiencing homelessness, who is of color, American Indians and critical workers.” Can you say more about this announcement?

Peggy Flanagan:

Absolutely. So, we have been fortunate to be able to partner with folks like the Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota to come up with a solution. And we can't have any kind of strategy where we are looking to really reopen on any kind of large scale until we are able to increase our testing capacity. So, we're at the point now, because of this partnership, where we will be able to test up to 20,000 people per day, and I think that's critically important as we look to our response and towards our recovery. But [I] would also say that the governor has committed to ensuring that everyone who needs a test can get one, and regardless of your ability to pay. And I think that that is incredibly important, as we are making sure that people can get tested, but also to have access to the care that they need.

I think we are seeing an increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness, who are in shelter or who are unsheltered who are living outside, who are also contracting COVID. We know, anecdotally here and there, that people have tested positive, but we do need this full-scale testing so that we can determine how we can really make sure that people get the kind of care that they need.

And one last thing that I would say as well is that we know that implicit bias and racism exists within medical care and within those systems, and so it's been important to us, even as we just look at studies and maternal health or other things around African American women not being believed when they come in with symptoms and pain in the same way that white women would be, for example. And the expansion of testing allows us to say, “Everyone should get a test,” and will then allow us to be able to remove some of those barriers, including some of that bias that may exist within the healthcare system to get people the care that they need.

Jim Wallis:

So “unity,” using that word, is so important in a time such as this. And as you know, unity is, for many of us, a religious word, a faith word, a biblical word, [and] it's also a word critical to democracy. Now you and Gov. Walz have campaigned on the promise of representing the different interests that make up what you call, “One Minnesota.” So, what does “One Minnesota” mean in a crisis like this? And there is a geography to Minnesota and to this crisis, which you know well – you've won statewide – how are you addressing the unique needs of urban, suburban and rural communities, and how can that be brought together at a time like this?

 

Peggy Flanagan:

So that's a great question. I think when we talk about “One Minnesota,” it doesn't mean that everyone is exactly the same or that we're homogenous. What it means is that we work together across lines of difference to do good for people. And I would say that that is how we have tried to govern, and that is certainly how we've tried to respond to COVID-19 and to this pandemic – talking with leaders all across the state, making sure that we're hearing directly from folks on the ground regarding their needs, when it comes to issues like food security, helping respond to the needs of our farmers and agriculture, but also medical centers that are in the urban core, who are seeing an uptick in people of color who are coming in with COVID-like symptoms.

We have an entire team of folks who are working across state government to listen to folks, and then to be responsive. Now, it's important to remember that not everyone is going to agree with the decisions that we make, and there may be some folks who want to rush to reopen, but at the end of the day, the responsibility of the Governor and myself is to ensure the health and safety of Minnesotans. So that is what we're going to do, that is what we have been doing, and I think that is truly what it means to be One Minnesota. Also, knowing that if there are communities where they are saying, “Well, COVID doesn't exist here yet; no one has the virus up where I live.” That's probably not actually the case, and that we have seen in rural communities that if a handful of people are exposed that those numbers increase very, very quickly. So we want to make sure that people across the state have what they need and have had a regional response with our hospitals and medical centers – keeping track of how many hospital beds are available. ICU beds, ventilators, PPE across the state and not wanting hotspots to develop and then not having the capacity to be able to respond and give people the care that they need. So it's a lot of conversations – a lot of meetings, so that we're hearing from folks all across the state.

Jim Wallis:

So, some states bordering Minnesota are adhering to strict stay at home orders and many others are not. How do you think Minnesota is? Leadership on these matters could speed up or facilitate the important reopening of the state and its economy. And what states are you working with? Are you having conversations with fellow lieutenant governors from other states about all this?

Peggy Flanagan:

Yes, actually. I happen to be good friends with Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes of Wisconsin, with Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist of Michigan and Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton of Illinois. And in fact, we just did a Zoom call together last week to check in on each other. We all are youngish lieutenant governors of color who are navigating through this pandemic, and it's been really helpful and to have other folks who are entering in the same kind of leadership roles, that we are just being able to connect and talk together has been incredibly important around some of these issues of disparities in particular. So, our governors are talking, and we know that when we are facing a global pandemic, we need partnership and collaboration on every front.

While our federal government has stepped up in some ways in others, their responses have been at best slow to arrive, and at worst deeply, deeply troubling. And one of the things that … we literally have a slogan around our office, which is, “If Washington won't lead, Minnesota will,” and I think that truly is the spirit of our administration, but also just of our state, because throwing our hands up is not an option. We have an obligation really to protect the health and wellbeing off Minnesotans and folks, regardless of what happens on the federal level. So where we're working in partnership with the states around us, and I would say we are lucky that we have in Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky to work in close coordination to reopen the economy in the Midwest region, but I also have to say that it has been troubling to see leaders and other states be slow to react to this crisis because it truly is a crisis, but we have to be focused. I think on our state and the folks who are willing to partner with us, and just keep doing the work and leading and using our platforms to protect the health and safety of as many folks as we can.

Jim Wallis:

Of course, that points to a very controversial question. Governors are reporting back from calls with President Trump in very different ways, and sometimes, White House press conferences report on those governor conversations in different ways than governors do. Have you and Gov. Walz found them helpful or is sometimes this another way the administration has propped up misinformation? I mean, how helpful have they been and, and what goes on in those calls? A lot of us would love to hear the audio transcripts of those calls.

Peggy Flanagan:

Well, I can tell you this: I am not on those calls, but what I can tell you is that the governor and our administration are in almost daily communication with folks at the White House, as well as with our federal delegation, and we are laser-focused on making sure that Minnesota has what we need to be able to protect our people. And that going back and forth with the president or the administration doesn't help anyone, frankly, and we need to really focus on what we can do here in the state. Vice President Pence will be coming to Minnesota next week, and we'll be doing a tour of the Mayo Clinic and their response, as well, to testing. We welcome that because we want to highlight the good work that is happening in Minnesota.

But we are concerned about …I think as I mentioned before, we're concerned about the slow to start, and sometimes the responses that just haven't been helpful to states, but we're going to keep on doing what we need to do here, And highlight … you know … Minnesotans — we are very humble, so we're not going to brag on ourselves at all, but we are going to stand up when we think that have something to advocate for that's going to protect the health and safety of more people. So that's what you can expect from us. Weirdly, there's not [been] a call with the president or the vice president and lieutenant governors, so I could report back on that one, but we haven't had that call yet.

Jim Wallis:

Well, we’ll suggest that here in Washington. Minnesotans are also very nice, as we all know, and need to be nice to each other as you reopen. Especially, it's over to the governors – now it's over to the states. There's guidelines, federal guidelines, but decisions are over to the governors. Now, we will see how that goes, especially in instances where governors are telling businesses they can reopen stores. And in Georgia, bowling alleys, nail salons, tattoo parlors, and the rest. Often the political leaders don't seem to have vulnerable people in mind; they seem not to be thinking of all the folks that cannot afford to stay home when their employer tells them to return to work. So, what kind of perspective do you bring to this conversation, which will be our conversation over these next several weeks and months? As lieutenant governor, how do we return to business and school and work safely for everyone?

Peggy Flanagan:

Well, I think, you know, we're all looking at places like Georgia right now as they are looking to reopen businesses [that] frankly, that are impossible to conduct while social distancing. You know, we have recently developed our sort of system for talking about how we're going to reopen, and where we are as we look to turn up the dial as folks can participate in more businesses or in more activities where they will have contact with other people, the last sort of part of that dialogue [is] we're looking to turn up the loosening of the restrictions are things, the very things that, that Georgia is saying is appropriate right now with tattoo parlors or massages or bowling alleys, where you're literally putting your hands in bowling balls, where other people's hands have been.

I'm deeply troubled by it. And so, we are trying to do things in a very thoughtful, intentional way with the reopening of businesses. So, we're offering guidance or our Department of Employment and Economic Development to say, “These are the things that need to be in place in a workplace. If you're going to open up, the ability to social distance, the ability to have deep, deep cleaning and sanitization — that folks will not be reprimanded if they need to call in sick, temperature checks …” those kinds of things. So we're looking to some businesses that can be able to reopen, but really, through the lens of worker-safety, and with the overall health and wellbeing of Minnesota. So, it will be a while before we will all attend sporting events or cultural events with large groups of people or be reopening those businesses that require a lot of like that are customer facing or require a lot of direct human-to-human contact. Because I think what we're learning is that it's just not safe. So, we're going to be very thoughtful and very intentional.

But as we're reopening or we're looking to reopen or ‘turn up that dial,’ if you will, there will be times when we may need to ‘turn down’ that dial. When we see an increase in infection and in pockets across the state or we see what's happening isn't working, I think what is required of leadership is to say, “Okay, this isn't working; we need to try something else.” And be willing to turn it up or turn it down based on what you're seeing in real time with data and testing.

Jim Wallis:

Well, we did hear yesterday from the White House that if you shine sun on those bowling balls and the sun gets down into those holes, that they might be in fact safer. But we'll go on from there. Peggy has a wonderful singing voice, and she has sung The Star Spangled Banner at five Kings games. So, it may be a while before you're back singing the National Anthem at Twins or Vikings games.

Peggy Flanagan:

Yeah that’s true! It will be a while. Thank you for that; I appreciate that. But those are the things, right? I think it's so important for people to know – I miss those things, right? As we're making decisions to keep people safe, missing the Twins’ home opener is difficult; not being able to visit the zoo, and I think the biggest thing right now for so many folks is having our kids not being able to go to school and be in community every day with their teachers and their friends, and trying to somehow learn and connect over a screen if you actually have access to both wi-fi and the technology to do so. These are things that we certainly would like to be able to do ourselves as the governor and lieutenant governor, but we're making these difficult choices to keep people safe.

Jim Wallis:

Advocacy for Indigenous families. I know, and I know even more because of being close to you, that even without a global pandemic, there are unique health and operational challenges in both rural and urban Native communities. COVID is not making this any better. What is your work with tribal nations in Minnesota look like at this time? How can our listeners understand and contribute to that effort, that relief funding as soon as possible? And how do we bring marginalized voices to the decision making table, which you always insist upon?

Peggy Flanagan:

Well, thank you so much for that, that question. I think ... I can tell you a little bit about the work that we've been doing here, but I think it's important to start out by saying that building strong relationships and a government-to-government manner with our tribal nations in Minnesota has been a top priority for Gov. Walz and I.

I am a member of the wider span of Ojibwe, and so clearly, personally, it's important to me, but this has been something where Gov. Walz was leading on these issues during his time in Congress as well. So we've spent a lot of time building relationships with tribal leaders – traveling to every reservation multiple times throughout the course of our campaign, and then of course during our first year in office, as well as making sure that we're meeting with regularity and our administration is connected to the urban American Indian community here in in Minnesota where, for your listeners, more than 50 percent of Native Americans don't live on reservations, and most of us live in an urban communities. And too often I think we're not seen within those environments.

So saying all that, we have an executive order that the governor signed last year calling for meaningful consultation between every state agency in Minnesota and the tribal nations in our state, requiring a tribal liaison to be at each state agency. And then when we created our Office of Tribal-State Relations, that is essentially helping our agencies through that consultation, and making sure that the work we're doing in partnership with tribes in a government-to-government way will last long after our administration – that you don't have to have a Native American lieutenant governor to do this work and do it in the right way.

So, I say all that because having that foundation has been really essential to the way that we've responded and partnered with the tribes with regards to the pandemic, because we had those relationships, because we had that trust. Even though we're dealing with incredibly difficult issues it was easier in some ways to be able to navigate through some of these things. When the COVID-19 pandemic reached Minnesota, we began holding daily conference calls with tribal leaders and weekly calls with urban Indian leaders to make sure that we are aligned in distributing the most up-to-date information, including having our federal partners from Sen. Tina Smith's office on those calls and from Congresswoman Betty McCollum's office as well. And as the state moved with closures, our tribal nations have really moved with us and we're grateful for that partnership.

They decided to close their gaming enterprises, which is the only source of revenue for many of our tribes. They don't have a tax base to draw from, to provide care and services for their for their people, and so that was an incredibly difficult decision that they made on their own. As a state government, we can't tell sovereign nations what to do, [but] they did it to protect the health and wellbeing of their people and also the surrounding area. And it's important to note that that native nations also are a place of economic opportunity and employment for non-native folks all across the state and are critical to the economy in greater Minnesota, so I share that because it is just important to know that we're still here and we exist.

There was an article in The Guardian just today that talked about nationally, when they're looking at data as far as who is being identified as contracting COVID-19, that oftentimes Native Americans are categorized as a quote unquote ‘other,’ and so you can't even actually see the impact that COVID-19 is having on our communities. If you don't count us in, during the best of times, I think at best, native people are invisible; and at worst, we are disposable. So, during a pandemic, that is amplified. And so we're working with folks in Minnesota, with our partnering with our incredible tribal leaders, but also with our delegation in Washington and national native organizations across the country to make sure that Indian country does not get lost in this pandemic, and that we receive the help and support for native nations that is so critical because, in exchange for all of this, this meaning the United States that was built on tribal lands. We were guaranteed two things: and that was access to health care and education; the federal government has never lived up to their trust responsibilities, and we need to make sure that we're that we're advocating in partnership with the tribes to make sure that they do.

We passed an $11 million tribal assistance fund with, with the legislature that we were able to quickly get to tribes because frankly, the federal government … the funding that was allocated has been delayed and is not coming fast enough. So, things were difficult for native people before the pandemic, this again is one of those areas where the pandemic is shining a light on the inequities, but the governor and I … and personally I know that our people, we are resilient and despite everything we've been through, we are still here. And that that is the spirit and the heart that I try to bring into this work, especially as we advocate in partnership with our tribal nations in this state that we are worth investing in.

Jim Wallis:

I think the example of how you've done that and how you've advocated for that could be an important part of, really, what a new agenda we need about going forward past this and in post-COVID time, how we deal with tribal nations differently and a post-COVID time, when you're showing the example of how to do it.

Let's get personal if I may. You have a lovely daughter who I love being around and comes to watch my son's baseball games and we'd think I saw her when she first splashed in the ocean. And you're a mom taking care of a daughter and all the parents around the country who are working, trying to work, you got a job, pretty busy job, and yet you have to take care of your daughter at home and sometimes homeschool her. So, you're experiencing what a lot of parents who are listening are going through right now. How have you done that in the middle of being Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota?

Peggy Flanagan:

Well there are some days during distance learning that go well, and there are some days that are really, really hard. I think for many of us, I don't know that I've actually talked to any parent who is like, “I'm nailing this, getting it right,” I think it is so clear to me just of course it was before, but even more now, just how important educators are and just school communities in the life of a child, of knowing that our children don't come in pieces, and they need lots of people around them to be connected to and love them up. And so that is apparent that right now that is missing in my little girl's life.

I'll tell you that my husband is amazing and he has taken on a lot of the homeschooling and helping her access her lessons online. And you know, she measured him using paperclips the other day for a project. So, we're trying to make it happen, but it's really hard and I can't tell you how many times I have to say, “Just wait a second till I'm done with this call,” or “I'll be right there.” And I think we're all feeling that, and it's hard. I don't feel like a great parent right now, but I know that the advice that I would give other parents is that like, “You are doing great, hang in there; we've never experienced this before.”

And my hope is that my daughter knows that her mommy, like even just last night … I will get very personal with you … I was tucking her in, and she was all snuggled in, and she just said, “Mommy, your job makes you so busy sometimes. I wish you had another job.” And that's hard. Right? That's hard for anybody to hear. But I said, “You know, right now, mommy's job is to make sure that other mommies and other daddies who are worried about making sure that their kids have a place to live and have food in their bellies and that they are healthy. My job is to make sure that all those mommys and daddys can take care of their little kids, which is why I'm working so hard every day. And I know that it's hard.” And she said, “OK.” And so, my hope is that that will stay with her. And that mom is doing the best that she can right now to provide for you and lift you up and snuggle you when you need them.

And I do want to acknowledge that it is so hard and that … I’m of course the Lieutenant Governor and I take my job and responsibility to the people of Minnesota seriously. It is the honor of my lifetime to be in this role and to be able to do this work every day. And while this is not what I signed up for, this is what I've been called to, and I am honored to do it, but I do have to say that my most important job is as a mom and making sure that the 7-year-old who lives in my house isn't afraid and doesn't hear the kind of conversations that I need to have on the phone every day, and is still somewhat protected as she goes out and rides her scooter or chases the dog around the house, that she still has space and time to be a kid, and that we're able to figure out, as a family, ways to just stay connected and care about each other and protect one another during this time, which is just so difficult for everyone.

Jim Wallis:

Well, sitting at the same table with that 7-year-old at your inauguration, I saw the look on her face when she looked at her mom and how proud she was of her mom's new job. So she's very proud of you.

A more personal, painfully, COVID-19 is becoming personal for more and more people. Many of us, we have our little notes by our computers on our desks about who we're praying for every day. We have this faith-table call every week, and two people — faith leaders on that call week after week, they emailed us either this week and one just lost her mother and one's just lost her father. And we were so sorry to hear of the death of your brother Ron due to complications from COVID-19. And if I may quote you in an article, you were quoted in the Post Bulletin; you said, “It's hard, but in some ways, [if] I can just be really honest. It's better to keep busy, be busy if I had to just sit and just dwell on things. It's also just not who my brother was. He was a fixer. He took care of things. And so I think the best way I can respond to his death in this moment is to use the platform I have to honor his legacy by encouraging people to do what they need to do to be safe.” In the middle of all of this, you lost your brother. What did that mean to you?

Peggy Flanagan:

So this year has been really hard for our family. I lost my dad at the end of January, and my brother almost two weeks to the day after losing my dad. And my brother dropped everything once my dad was hospitalized. He lived in Tennessee, so he drove up from Tennessee, [and] was by my dad's side in the hospital. And when my dad made the decision to move to hospice care, my brother was with him at home and he didn't leave his side. He was in the room, [and] we all were together when my dad took his last breath, and my brother was the first to see that he was gone and he said that it was his duty and that has the honor of his life to make sure that he was with my dad until he was buried, and he kept that promise.

He returned home to Tennessee, and a couple weeks later called and said, “I think I had a stroke. I'm not feeling very good.” He went to the doctor, they ran a whole bunch of tests. And what they figured out is that he had cancer through his whole body. And so, he started treatment. He went home from the hospital after that treatment and shortly thereafter was back in the hospital because he was having a difficult time breathing. A few days later, they tested him for COVID, and he tested positive. My sister-in-law Josee was with him, thank God. And because she had already been exposed to him, she was able to stay with him. So, they put him on a ventilator and put him in a medically induced coma, and then put them on a ventilator. And a couple of days later he died, and my sister-in-law said, “I want people to know how he passed away because some good should come out of his death.” And it's my sister-in-law Josee also has experienced a lot of tragedy. She lost her daughter to a drunk driver and she said, “Peggy, I don't need to do anymore media interviews about a loved one who died tragically.” So she asked me to share Ron’s story, and we just want to make sure that the loss is not in vain because he was a man who was a Marine, he was proud to be a Marine, he was proud to be Ojibwe — to be Native American, and he cared tremendously about his family. And people who have compromised immune systems. Like, my brother are worst protecting.

So I would have fought with every fiber of my being to make sure that we were able to overcome this pandemic, but having it be so personal has just ignited that fire, made it even stronger. And I don't want people to think that these numbers that they're seeing are just facts or statistics or figures. They're Ron’s, they’re big brothers, they’re husbands, they’re dads and they all have a story and are worth honoring and lifting up. And the worst part is that we haven't been able to have a memorial service in Tennessee. You know, eventually his ashes will be scattered next to my dad up in the wider reservation and my family will be able to come together again, but right now it's just… it's hard. And so, when folks are in a rush to open up or are in a rush to say, “What does it matter if a certain percentage of the population dies?” Well, it matters when it's someone that you love and you care about, and I don't want more people to have to endure the pain and the loss that my family has experienced. I don't wish that for anybody

Jim Wallis:

Standing around our kitchen more nights than I can count, you would always say, “The political is personal. The political is personal. It's about people and kids and families. The political is never just political, It's always personal.” I also know your dad was very proud of his daughter before he died, his daughter becoming a Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota. We often end these in a prayer and I just feel like I like to pray for my dear friend and sister, Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota, and let me just say a prayer for you, Peggy, if I might.

Peggy Flanagan:

Yes, please.

Jim Wallis:

We pray for parents like Peggy and their kids as they try and ‘love up’ their kids, as she just said. And yet, [they] know their kids need the time and the attention that kids always need. We pray for Peggy as a parent with her wonderful husband. We pray for her as Lieutenant Governor, who is trying to make life better for other mommies and daddies, [as] she told her daughter last night. Give her wisdom and courage and boldness to act on her convictions, which is why she's in public office. We pray for her as a woman and a woman of color, indigenous woman, who knows [that it’s] not enough just to care for people who’ve been marginalized, but to bring them to the table where decisions are being made. We thank you that she's doing that in Minnesota. We pray for all those Minnesotans, who’s she's trying to take care of, and may they all learn through this what it means to be One Minnesota. We pray for Peggy and her personal and her public vocation, and I pray in Jesus name. Amen. Thank you, dear heart, for spending time with us.

Peggy Flanagan:

Thank you. I appreciate it. I say this was nice. It's not too often that we get to have real conversations about, about this stuff. So I, I appreciate it. And you know, I think all politics is personal, but there's a lot of people think politics is politics. So those are the folks who you gotta worry about. [laughter]

Jim Wallis:

Indeed. Well, to hear more from Peggy, follow her on Twitter @LtGovFlanagan. For news resources and reflections about our current public health crisis, visit sojo.net/coronavirus. If you enjoyed this podcast, please share this episode with your friends and family, and even your enemies as Jesus calls us to love them too. And what better way to love someone than to share conversation you think is important. We're available in iTunes, Google play or wherever you listen to your podcasts. After you listened, don't forget to subscribe, rate and review and follow me on Twitter @JimWallis. Blessings to all of you for The Soul of the Nation.