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Molnau reflects on women in politics

December 4, 2009
By Kremena Spengler Staff Writer

NEW ULM - During an informal meeting with the New Ulm League of Women Voters Thursday night, Minnesota Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau discussed her path to office, challenges to women in office, and ups and downs in her career.

Molnau's political career began as a Chaska city councilor, then state legislator.

Rather than being her life's big ambition, serving in public office "just kind of happened" for Molnau.

Article Photos

Staff photo by Steve Muscatello
Minnesota Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau speaks to members of the League of Women Voters Thursday at the Rhein River Art Center in New Ulm.

"It was being in the right place at the right time," she said.

Molnau recalled, among other things, some of her early experiences as a state legislator. She remembered being ignored by a committee chairman; later, her inquiries in the same committee were being referred to as her question," rather than "representative so and so's question." The latter was reserved for male colleagues.

Molnau simply tried to remain focused on the job at hand, doing her homework, focusing on issues she cared about.

"There are no women's issues; discrimination against women affects the whole family," she said.

Molnau, a Republican, recalled her efforts during her years as legislator to be part of the political process and to make herself "available and approachable" to constituents. She showed up at both Republican and Democratic caucuses; visited an Eagle Scout event on her parents 50th anniversary (she had promised); had weekends that included five church dinners and three parades.

Molnau described circumstances leading to her election as a lieutenant governor. When approached about "having dinner to talk about a Pawlenty-Molnau ticket," she quipped, "Why not a Molnau-Pawlenty ticket?"

While she didn't get her dinner, she ended up running - on condition she would be "more than a knick-knack," won't do "busy work" but "something solid."

She and Gov. Tim Pawlenty ended up "working well together," complementing each other, with their specific backgrounds and strengths.

Molnau talked about the trappings that come with political power.

She recalled rushing, after a late session, to get to an event - where she was to be the keynote speaker. She worried about arriving late and not finding a parking spot - only to see a spot reserved in her name.

"When you start expecting that reserved spot, you've been there too long," Molnau said. "I've seen people do that..."

Molnau was asked to reflect on her best and worst moments in office.

The first lieutenant governor in the state to also take up a cabinet post - as transportation commissioner - Molnau easily named the collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis as the worst moment in her life.

The fateful call came when she had just arrived in China - so she flew right back to face devastating, draining fallout.

The events, she said, "were used politically" by those wanting "to embarrass the governor."

This situation cost her the commissioner's job.

"There's deer hunting season, pheasant hunting season, and Molnau hunting season," Molnau said.

"Never mind, I signed up for most of it... I'm a better person for it..."

On the flip side, Molnau quoted bright spots in her record managing the state's transportation - she talked of safer roads, a reduced death toll (the lowest since 1945), cutting waste at MnDOT.

She cited her role in promoting long-overlooked women managers, in a field still considered a man's world - not because they were women, but because they "had done the work, and were the best in their fields."

Molnau discussed her ideas about a mileage -versus a gas - tax (she feels strongly it's the better way, and provides an argument for it).

She shared humorous anecdotes about people and situations, including security (she usually doesn't have any).

Molnau noted that while many say women have "come a long way" in politics, "it actually ain't that far."

Many legislators continue to look at women as "tokens" - for example, when someone says "we need a woman on such and such committee, we are not 'balanced'."

It shouldn't matter whether you are a man or woman - but whether you "can you focus and get it done," Molnau said.

"Wasting half of our potential, some of our most talented people - what a waste," she said.

 
 

 

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