When Sen. Patricia Torres Ray initially suggested to Melisa Franzen that she should run for office, now Sen. Melisa Franzen “thought she was crazy!” Upon reflection and further consideration, Franzen decided that she was ready to represent her community at the Capitol.
She was elected to represent District 49 in the Minnesota Senate in 2012 and was re-elected to the chamber in 2016. We spoke with Sen. Franzen about what she’s most proud of during her time in the Senate, what’s on the horizon in 2020, and the impact of electing more pro-choice women to the legislature.
Women Winning: Senator Franzen, you’re halfway through your second term in the Minnesota Senate and have been a strong leader on many issues during your time at the Capitol, from early childhood education to transportation and infrastructure. Of all this work, is there something of which you are most proud?
Sen. Melisa Franzen: I am very proud of Sophia’s Law, the first legislation of its kind in the country, that requires certain boats to have carbon monoxide detectors on board. It came from a place of tragedy, when a constituent’s daughter, 7-year-old Sophia, died from carbon monoxide poisoning on her family’s boat. Her parents wanted to make sure that never happened again and we worked with the industry, the DNR, and other stakeholders to pass this law. It’s a testament to Sophia’s life and it will save lives. It was a powerful experience to carry forward that testimony with Sophia’s parents behind me.
And then there are things that don’t always hit the news. As a Senator, when you’re able to help a constituent navigate a precarious situation – when it comes to their housing or their healthcare, something that impacts their lives and their families – that’s always incredibly rewarding.
WW: You are one of ten pro-choice women currently part of the 67-member Minnesota Senate. What would it mean to elect more pro-choice women to the Senate in 2020?
Sen. Franzen: It would make a tremendous difference. I remember just last session, being one of two Senators, or maybe the only one, speaking on the Senate floor in opposition to a bill that would have restricted women’s reproductive freedom. And it wasn’t just about being against it, it was about having thoughtful discussion and perspective. Pro-choice women bring that perspective.
Health care decisions are very personal, and we all have them or know someone with a personal story about choice. We must be free to make the decisions that are best for ourselves and our families. And the ability to have a thoughtful, informed debate — with pro-choice women at the table — would serve us better as a body, as a state, and as a country.
WW: In 2018, we saw some exciting wins for pro-choice women in Minnesota and the Minnesota House flipped to a pro-choice majority. What kinds of progress do you think we could make if the Senate also flips to a pro-choice majority in 2020?
Sen Franzen: Having a pro-choice majority would validate the fact that choice is not a taboo issue — it’s settled law. We should move forward to advance women’s health, access to care, and the ability for families to make informed decisions.
Having a pro-choice majority in the Senate would make a critical difference in the way we govern. We could actually focus on governing and the bigger issues facing our state.
WW: With that in mind and 2020 just around the corner, is there any advice you’d give to a pro-choice woman considering running for office — perhaps for Minnesota Senate?
Sen Franzen: I always thought I would work behind the scenes for an elected official or for the government, in some capacity. When Sen. Torres Ray approached me in 2011 to run for office, at first I thought she was crazy! But I had been very engaged, on local boards and working with nonprofits, and I had a “bug” to serve my community. I consulted with my family and friends, and realized that running for office was the right step.
When I made the decision to run, Women Winning was there from the inception — literally setting up our website, our remit envelopes, our lawn signs that we used for precinct caucus. Women Winning helped me build a foundation and get started. If you’re considering running for office, there’s a great group of pro-choice people who will stand behind you if you are willing to put your name out there. We need more pro-choice women at the table. Running for office is not a crazy idea! It’s possible, and we’ll help you get there.