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Duluth's Liz Olson elected Minnesota majority whip

Rep. Liz Olson, DFL-Duluth. (file / News Tribune)

After just one term in office, District 7B Rep. Liz Olson will return to St. Paul as one of the key leaders in the Minnesota Legislature.

Olson, DFL-Duluth, was elected House majority whip at her party’s Thursday night caucus. She figures to play a central role in prioritizing and guiding legislation through what will be the nation’s only divided statehouse come January.

“I’m happy to have the support of my colleagues,” Olson told the News Tribune. “I have leadership experience and I did a lot of work during my time in the minority to be effective and build relationships, and I think that proves I can be a strong leader.”

Olson, a 37-year-old community organizer and advocate, was easily re-elected Tuesday to a second two-year term, capturing 72 percent of the vote in her western and central Duluth district.

As a freshman lawmaker, Olson helped secure funding for the Duluth Steam Plant conversion project, a new science building at the University of Minnesota Duluth, the St. Louis River clean-up and Lake Superior Zoo reconstruction.

“I think I did a lot in my first two years, despite being in the minority, to deliver legislation for my district,” she said.

Olson was among three House leaders elected by DFLers, who also picked Brooklyn Park Rep. Melissa Hortman as speaker and Golden Valley Rep.-elect Ryan Winkler, who is returning after a four-year absence, as majority leader.

Tuesday saw major victories for Democrats, who maintained control of the governor’s mansion with the election of Tim Walz and flipped 18 House seats to take a 75-59 edge in the lower chamber.

Minnesota, however, will be the only state in the nation to have a split Legislature, with Republicans holding just a one-seat advantage in the Senate.

Olson said she views that slim divide as an opportunity for bipartisanship. In her first term, she pushed for “penny-a-pill” legislation to provide treatment and recovery services in response to the opioid epidemic — a proposal that has yet to come to fruition. And she said the Legislature needs to continue its efforts to state elder abuse investigations.

“I think those are two issues that had some bipartisan support and now with a DFL majority in the House and the leadership that the Senate took on those issues, I think we can cross the finish line,” she said.

“In terms of bigger issues to tackle, we’ve heard loud and clear that we need to do something about health care. And then I think we still have a lot of priorities to set as a caucus. We just elected our leadership, so now we get a chance to really dive into what are going to be the first bills that we do and make sure we work with the Senate leaders and work with the governor closely to ensure that we have a productive session.”