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RELEASE: State Rep. Karen Clark of Minneapolis, Longtime Advocate for Social and Economic Justice, Announces Her Retirement

Friday, December 8, 2017

SAINT PAUL, MN—Today, State Representative Karen Clark (DFL-Minneapolis) announced she will not seek reelection to the Minnesota House in 2018. She is the longest-serving openly lesbian state legislator in the nation. Rep. Clark was first elected to serve residents of four core-city south Minneapolis neighborhoods in 1980. She has been reelected in every general election since, and will conclude her nineteenth term in January of 2019. For the last 37 years, she has been a fixture at the Minnesota State Capitol, having chaired several versions of the House committees on Housing Finance and Policy, Jobs and Economic Development Finance, and Public Health Finance. She is the third longest-serving current member of the state House of Representatives.

“I have had a legislative career full of so many different experiences over the last 37 years,” said Rep. Clark. “I have mixed feelings about leaving, but I’m really looking forward to enjoying more time with my family, especially my spouse Jacquelyn, and also focusing more on the environmental justice non-profit I help direct. However, I do want my neighbors to know that I’m not done yet and I expect 2018 to be another productive session. I will be working hard on a number of fronts, including fighting for drivers’ licenses for all, renters’ rights issues, more affordable housing, and comprehensive chemical dependency treatment.”

She continued, “My bill to begin reparations for African American descendants of slavery and Native American Indian survivors of genocide in Minnesota is still waiting for a hearing, as is my bill to develop a cancer registry that includes occupational and residential history. I have loved serving the residents of our neighborhoods, and I plan to be an active legislator for them until the very last moment of this final term.”

Karen Clark was a Public Health Nurse and an OB/GYN Nurse Practitioner before she ran for State Representative in 1980, and she has been a strong advocate for underserved and underrepresented communities at the Capitol ever since. She was notably the first member of the Minnesota legislature to openly run as a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person and be elected to office.

In 1993, Rep. Clark played a critical role alongside State Senator Allan Spear in passing an amendment to the Minnesota Human Rights Act that banned LGBT discrimination in housing, employment, public services, credit and education. In 2012, Rep. Clark helped lead a first-in-the-nation statewide effort to defeat a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. The next year, she was the chief author of legislation legalizing same-sex marriage equality for LGBT Minnesotans that passed with bipartisan support and was signed into law by Governor Mark Dayton. In 2013, she was recognized by President Barack Obama as a “Harvey Milk Champion of Change” at a White House ceremony.

Though Rep. Clark is well known for advocacy on LGBT issues, her other legislative accomplishments are numerous and often bold.

“Some of the legislative accomplishments I’m most proud of, are things that I think most Minnesotans now take for granted,” said Clark. “For example, I was the chief author of the legislation that provides workers compensation for sexual harassment in Minnesota. My Worker’s Right-to-Know bill in the early 1980’s made it our right to be notified and protected when we’re exposed to toxic chemicals at a worksite. I was the author of three of the four bills that created culturally specific shelters for persons experiencing domestic violence (Asian, Latina, and American Indian), and two years ago for East African women as well. Another legislative first was successfully authoring the BPA-free baby bottle bill, to reduce toxins in consumer products. One of my early bills, which most Minnesotans have probably not heard of, was the ‘economic conversion’ or ‘peace dividend’ bill I passed with former Economic Development Commissioner Mark Dayton, to convert military industrial jobs to more peaceful and socially responsible manufacturing jobs.”

“When I chief authored the dislocated workers training fund, I included living wage requirements for publicly subsidized jobs,” said Clark. “The childcare apprenticeship and career ladder legislation that I passed is still an important model for expanding opportunities for low-wage workers. I’m also the original author of the YouthBuild pre-apprenticeship program that continues to this day.”

Rep. Clark’s work to stop the expansion of polluting businesses in the East Phillips Neighborhood of Minneapolis is part of a decades-long environmental justice legacy at the Capitol. Her landmark environmental justice legislation that requires a cumulative health impact analysis in specific low-income communities where the majority of the population are Native American, Black, Asian American or Latino residents is unique in the United States.

In the face of opposition from lobbyists and other legislators, Rep. Clark has also spearheaded the earliest efforts to protect children from toxic lead poisoning in their homes and yards, and is still fighting to get a hearing for this bill in 2018.

During the most recent legislative session, Rep. Clark was the chief author of urban agriculture legislation that received bipartisan support to provide $500,000 in competitive grants to urban farmers statewide, prioritizing low-income communities of color and Native American Indian communities.

“Without a doubt, I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish anything without the loving support of my partner Jacquelyn, the wonderful alliances I’ve had with my many legislative colleagues of both parties, the support of the legislative assistants and committee administrators who have helped me through the years, and the support of the thousands of neighbors and friends from South Minneapolis who have joined me in this journey for greater justice and equality for all Minnesotans,” said Rep. Clark.

Rep. Karen Clark is the DFL-Lead for Housing on the Jobs Growth and Energy Affordability Policy and Finance Committee, and also serves on the Agriculture Finance and Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committees. She can be reached at or by phone at (651) 296-0294.