Minnesota lawmaker to soon end her long legislative tenure

Published 10:18 am Friday, August 12, 2016

MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota Rep. Phyllis Kahn’s primary loss means the end of an extraordinary 44-year career at the Statehouse marked by landmark achievements, sometimes out-there ideas and irrepressible energy.

Kahn has represented her Minneapolis district since 1973 and finished last in a three-way Tuesday primary, MPR News reported.

Minnesota voters first sent women to the Legislature in 1922, but they were woefully under-represented for much of the next 50 years. There was just one woman among more than 200 lawmakers in the House and Senate by 1972.

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A major grassroots effort called the Minnesota Women’s Political Caucus helped elect five more women, including Kahn, to the Statehouse that year.

“It was historic when we were elected,” Khan said. “That was the headline in the newspaper in 1972: the women are taking over. And we looked at it and we were stunned, because there were a total of six of us. And we thought, how can we take over we don’t even know each other?”

Men still made up the majority of the Minnesota House, but Kahn told MPR in 1973 that she and the other women won their male colleague’s respect.

“I think we’ve found that we are for the most part treated seriously,” the new legislator said. “We’re given good assignments, we’re listened to to some extent, as much as anyone else is when we get up to speak. And we’ve found it’s a very pleasant place to be.”

University of Minnesota political science professor Larry Jacobs said Kahn was a trailblazer in a variety of other areas as well — from consolidating the state’s information technology services to promoting bicycles as a mode of transportation.

“Here you had a liberal, who’s been consistently thinking about how government can perform better, suspicious that there was too much waste and inefficiency in the government,” Jacobs said.

Ilhan Omar, who will replace Kahn on the general election ballot, could also make history in November as the first Somali-American woman elected to a legislature in the United States.