Three Central Minnesota women running for office in District 13 have one thing in common: None of them planned to get involved in politics until about a month ago.
Democratic-Farmer-Labor candidates Alissa Brickman, Andrea Robinson and Melissa Bromenschenkel are making history this election. For the first time in Minnesota's 164-year history, a major political party has endorsed female candidates for all three seats in a legislative district in the St. Cloud area.
Brickman, a Sauk Rapids special educator in the St. Cloud school district, is running for the Senate seat in District 13. Robinson, a Cold Spring small business contracting supervisor, is running for the state House of Representatives District 13A seat. And Bromenschenkel, a Sartell resident, is running for state House of Representatives District 13B seat.
The seats are currently held by Sen. Jeff Howe, R-Rockville, District 13; Rep. Lisa Demuth, R-Cold Spring, District 13A; and Rep. Tim O'Driscoll, R-Sartell, District 13B.
Although none of the women have run for office before, they say a drive to fight for the disenfranchised and build community has pushed them to campaign.
"I'm all about empowering all marginalized voices, but women especially," said Robinson. "The makeup of our Legislature and our Senate does not represent women to the same degree as our population. And I think women have a lot to offer."
Historically, women haven't been afforded the opportunity to run for office or even been seen as capable, she said.
"Where I am in life, I'm making time for it," Robinson said. "I think just the current environment of our communities, the time is there and the doors are opening for women. Just to really reinforce that and to show our younger generation it's possible, there's just a world of opportunity if you're willing to go get it. I think it's really great that regardless who wins the seat for 13A, that person will be a woman."
Inequity, racism inspired bids for office
Recent pushes for gender, racial and social equality have inspired Brickman, Robinson and Bromenschenkel to run for office, the women said.
"I really have never been political," said Brickman, who grew up in Iowa and moved to Central Minnesota six years ago. "This was never on my radar."
After the 2020 election, Brickman started a Benton/Stearns County Progressives Facebook group and has been active in the community building relationships, volunteering at diaper drives and local charities and helped put up a Black Lives Matter billboard in town following the murder of George Floyd.
It was at a Women's March rally where Brickman said she gave her first speech. Last fall she attended her first city council meeting in Cold Spring to support Robinson, who was pushing for accountability from the ROCORI School District after her biracial children were bullied.
Now with both of them running for office, "it's a kind of amazing, crazy ride at the moment," Brickman said with a laugh. "We all felt like we needed to do something and especially acknowledge the marginalized members of our community who have been feeling very ignored I think lately."
Last November Robinson ran unsuccessfully for a Cold Spring city council seat, a role she initially didn't even see as an option as part of a multiracial family in Cold Spring, she said.
Since then, Robinson, who holds a master's degree in public administration, said the question of if she would run for another office was posed to her numerous times and the answer had always been a hard no — until recently.
"Part of that, you know, is my reluctance to remain in the public light for the sake of my family and my children, and in keeping our life normal," she said. Robinson is suing the ROCORI School district on her children's behalf, alleging the district violated her children's civil rights.
But after support from her husband, Robinson decided to go for it. As someone who served as a treasurer on a campaign last election, "I knew some of the ins and outs."
Her great grandmother, Grace McDowall, helped shape the development of St. Cloud as a city councilor and president in the 1960s, so it only felt right to carry on that tradition, Robinson said.
"A year ago I was just a mom on a mission to create a better community. A year later, I'm still just a mom on a mission to create a better community. But along the way I found my voice," she said. "One of the biggest things is I don't consider myself political, because the word 'political' is so dividing. But rather, I remind everyone that you might vote red or blue, but in the end, a representative serves all people. And so I am really interested in hearing not just the people that support me, but hearing from the people that don't support me, because those are some of the most important voices to hear because we might not share the same view."
Bromenschenkel has spent most of her life in St. Cloud. She was born at St. Cloud Hospital, graduated from Apollo High School and studied at St. Cloud State University. She moved back to the area about a decade ago to care for her grandparents and has been working side jobs in town while planning to open a bakery and helping her husband develop a video game business.
With undergraduate degrees in English and creative writing, and a master's degree in business, she started questioning what it would take to bring about change as a politician. A week later, she was endorsed by the DFL.
"It's always just kind of been there in the back of my mind. And then the seed kind of started growing and growing" after the murder of George Floyd and other "racially motivated killings" in Minnesota, Bromenschenkel said.
As someone who struggled with fertility issues, medical privacy and pro-choice legislation are important topics for her. Bromenschenkel said her mother and grandfather are veterans, and other family work in the St. Cloud VA Medical Center, so seeing homeless veterans on the street hits hard.
At one point this year her sister, who works as a special education teacher in St. Cloud, told her she had to teach 16 kids at once, with little to no assistance.
"There's all these issues... because of my roots to the community and the people around me, kind of pushed me in this direction," Bromenschenkel said. "Because I want to do what I can do to help them. And without a platform, like running for office, nobody's going to listen to what you have to say. Otherwise, you're just another talking head on social media."
Becca Most is a cities reporter with the St. Cloud Times. Reach her at 320-241-8213 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @becca_most.
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This article originally appeared on St. Cloud Times: Meet the DFL women making history in Central Minnesota's District 13