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Tuesday October 23rd 2018

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Representative Karen Clark, Dist. 62A: 38 years! A job well done

MINNESOTA HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Karen Clark, Phillips resident and Minnesota State Representative of District 62A since 1980 WILL retire from that elected office in January 2019.

By VERNON WETTERNACH
Alley Editor 1979-1980

“There is still much work to be done.”

She is known as a progressive fighter for equality, affordable housing, economic and social justice and as an unrelenting advocate for her low income constituents, communities of color, Native American and neighborhood concerns. Her advocacy, coalition building and ability to find innovative solutions are not only known in her district but also state-wide and nationally.

I am speaking of State Representative Karen Clark, District 62A, who announced this year that she is retiring from the state legislature at the end of 2018 after 38 years of service. Karen has consistently been re-elected over these years receiving 75 to 89% of the votes from her constituents.

Karen was born in an Oklahoma army hospital and raised in Rock County in southwestern Minnesota from the age of nine months. She attended Edgerton Public High School for 12 years, graduating in 1967 as valedictorian. Edgerton is a small rural community with a population of approximately 2,000 residents today. Her parents, Joseph and Mildred, were tenant farmers who eventually moved to the village of Kenneth, MN. They strongly encouraged education, hard work and community service for Karen and her three brothers and sister. Karen attended the College of St. Teresa in Winona, earning a B.S. degree in Nursing. She began her career as a public health nurse working in migrant worker camps in western MN and then on St. Paul’s West Side as a VISTA nurse-organizer who helped found what became “La Clinica.” Karen also became one of the first OB-GYN Nurse Practitioners at Hennepin County Hospital and then the Red Door Clinic. Later, during her legislative career, Karen was awarded a Bush Fellowship and earned her Master’s in Public Administration from the JFK School of Government at Harvard University.

Karen was first elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives in 1980, the same day ironically that Ronald Regan was elected president. Since her years in office Karen has been recognized with over 100 awards recognizing her hard work and success. To mention just a few they include awards such as: Minneapolis Human Rights Commission first Martin Luther King Award; Little Earth of United Tribe’s Community Advocacy Award; OUTFRONT MN’s Community Activist Award; Harvey Milk Award from President Obama; MN Coalition for the Homeless Advocacy Award; MN Nurse’s Association Legislator of the Year Award; Voices for Racial Justice A+ Report Card Ratings; Voice of East African Women’s Appreciation Award; Asian Women United Appreciation Award; Outstanding Achievement from Mesa Latina MN; MN AIDS Project’s Paul and Sheila Wellstone Award; Runaway and Homeless Advocate Award; MN YouthBuild’s Advocacy Award; Legislative Champion of Minority Economic Development Association; MN Interfaith Coalition on Affordable Housing’s Community Hero Award; and the Job’s Now Coalition Award.

MINNESOTA HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Rep. Karen Clark celebrated passage of the Marriage Equality Act by the MN House of Representatives in 2013 with Jacquelyn and the community at the House Chamber of Minnesota State Capitol.

What can one say about Representative Karen Clark’s legislative record as she has passed over 150 significant legislative bills into law while in the legislature? It would be difficult to pin Karen down to chose a few of these as the most memorable, but she said the following would be included: MN’s Worker Right-to-Know Exposure to Toxic Substances; MN Dislocated Workers Act; Sexual Harassment protections; Cancer Registry; Early Childhood Care and Education; Sexual Orientation added to the MN Human Rights Act; Dakota and Ojibwe Language Preservation; Domestic Violence Shelters for Asian, Native American, Latina and East African Women; Housing for Homeless Youth, Families and Mentally Ill; Environmental Justice protections such as the Cumulative Health Impact Analysis for East Phillips Neighborhood; State Bonding to finance the Minneapolis American Indian Center Renovation, to save and expand the Phillips Swimming Pool and creating the East Phillips Park Community Cultural Center; outlawing BPA in baby bottles; stronger Renter’s Rights and Responsibilities; Childhood Lead Poisoning; and Racial Disparities in Home Ownership. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. One cannot forget also the strong battle Karen fought to help defeat the MN Same-Sex Marriage Constitutional Amendment in 2012 and then her success in 2013 to chief author and pass the Marriage Equality Act signed into law by Governor Dayton.

Although Karen will be leaving the legislature at the end of 2018 there is still much work to be done. She will continue to advocate for progressive legislation and to help push forward innovative ideas and solutions. Among the unfinished legislative issues she feels most passionate about include: State Reparations for African American and Native American Minnesotans; Renters and School Children’s Right to Know Toxic Lead Exposure; Free College Tuition; Single-Payer Health Care; MN Cancer Registry expanded to include Occupational, Residential, and Military History; Somali women and youth programming; expanded Chemical Dependency Wrap-Around Services (including opioid addiction) and Affordable Housing for all Minnesotans.

BRAD PASS
A strong fighter for environmental justice, Rep. Clark joined with neighbors to protest toxic air pollution and advocate instead for the East Phillips Indoor Urban Farm at the former Roof Depot site at 28th St. and Longfellow Av. and bordering the Midtown Greenway near the Sabo Bridge.

MURPHY BYRNE PHOTOGRAPHY.COM, COURTESY MPLS. PARK AND RECREATION BOARD
Rep. Karen Clark and twenty-four other Phillips residents, public officials joined in cutting The Ribbon of the Grand Re-Opening of the Phillips Pool and Gym now after its 3rd Grand Opening called the Phillips Aquatic Center April 21, 2018. This group represents the work and coalescing of thousands of people since original construction in 1972 and hundreds of people in the last decade. Karen Clark’s support and work at the MN Legislature and in the community for this project as with scores of others has been incredible for 38 years.

Karen will not be fading into the sunset. Karen will continue her passion for equality, justice and disadvantaged communities. She has her passion for the Women’s Environmental Institute (WEI) non-profit to look forward to as its volunteer Executive Director and one of its founders, along with her spouse Jacquelyn Zita. WEI’s mission is to be “a place for women and allies to renew, learn and organize for environmental justice” using agricultural, racial and food justice strategies to promote social and economic change and opportunities. Another big priority for Karen will be spending more time with Jacquelyn and her family. Also, to continue her passion for hiking and growing vibrant flowers as well as organic apples, herbs and vegetables.

I have known Karen for over 40 years and have been her campaign treasurer for 31 years. She has always kept the hearts, souls and minds of her constituents as part of her legislative work. I can speak to the tireless hours she has put into her work. In asking Karen about her legislative journey she said, “It has been an honor to represent this wonderful district of people who I’ve grown with over the years. They kept their promise to ‘stay with me’ that was made when I accepted their invitation to serve them in the legislature in 1980, and I’ve loved keeping my promise to build bridges to their real empowerment for economic and social justice every day. I am grateful.”

If you happen to run into Karen on the street be sure to stop and thank her for her tireless work for all of us in this community. Karen has been a faithful and trusted servant who has served us well.

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