Literally eight hours after the birth of her son, Leah Solo had heard that her friend, State Rep. Jon Applebaum, was not going to run for State Senate. So instead of settling in for 12 weeks of maternity leave with newborn Calvin, 8-year-old daughter Samantha and husband Brian Bender, Solo decided to run for office.
Solo is one of five known DFL candidates running for the Senate District 44 endorsement. The seat will be open in November’s general election with current State Sen. Terri Bonoff’s decision to challenge Congressman Erik Paulsen in the Minnesota 3rd District. It means a short campaign to convince delegates to endorse one of the candidates on May 19 at the Medina Entertainment Center.
Do you feel like you were in a place to make the decision to run?
It was certainly a tougher decision to make in that moment than just about any other moment because my heart was so full with Calvin, who at that point didn’t have a name yet. But yes, it was a little more difficult than at any other time. I had also known for a long time that if there was an open seat here that I would want to run and I would want to serve in that way. I love this community and want to give back. I want to be the kind of leader that this community is looking for. Even though I was a little sleepless and quite solidly in our post-partum cocoon of amazement in our little creation, I was fairly certain, fairly quickly that I still wanted to run.
You’ve been involved in politics for a long time; why run for office as opposed to help people run for office?
I did do campaigns [for candidates] for about 10 years. Then I had this wonderful transition to Minnesotans United, where I got to work on an issue which was of course defeating the amendment that would have banned same-sex couples from getting married. That work motivates me at such a deeper level than just campaign work. Which is not to say that I didn’t love the people that I worked for, because I very much did and was passionate about seeing them get elected, but working on issues motivates me at a deeper level. That’s what I feel I’ve gotten to do with Minnesotans United and since, I’ve worked at Service Employees International Union working on lots of issues at the Capitol: Minimum wage, paid family leave, earned sick time, those kinds of issues that are really important to working families. I’ve gotten to do that, and this is just a more intense, even deeper way, for me to work on issues.
Having worked on campaigns for people and issues, what do you take away from those experiences that help in this run?
I think that I’ve gotten to work with people who are very responsive to their constituencies. Not only do they lead and have a point of view, but they take the time to listen. That’s a huge lesson for me that I would very much carry forward both in my campaign and as an elected official. As smart as anyone is, there’s always room to learn more and there’s always a different perspective to be taken into account.
It’s a short campaign window to May 19. What do you do in these few weeks to get there?
I’ve been talking to delegates, which is the most important thing. These are the people that are going to be making a decision on this race. Then it’s setting up basic campaign infrastructure. It’s going to be intense and targeted. Whoever moves past the endorsing convention needs to have a team, they need to have fundraising infrastructure and they need to be out talking to people. That’s what I’ve been doing the last couple weeks. And taking care of my little guy.
How excited is Samantha that’s you that’s doing this rather than working for someone else?
She was actually very excited. When we told, she said: “Mom! You know what I could do? I could come to the convention and maybe I could tell people why they should vote for you. Maybe I could give a little speech.” She is on board and it warms my heart the amount of exposure she has gotten to political things.
If the nominating convention weren’t to go your way, will you abide by the decision and not move on to a primary?
I’m never going to say never, but I think for this race, we need to have a candidate and we need to move forward after the convention. It’s going to be a very tough race to win against whomever the Republicans put up. (After publication, Solo decided that she would indeed abide by the decision of the delegates).
How are you balancing the sleeplessness of a 3-week old along with a campaign? People traditionally like to relax on maternity leave and settle in with a newborn, right?
I think I had been planning on doing that. People that know me aren’t at all surprised that this is what I’d choose to do with a little extra time. I find hours during the day when he’s sleeping which he thankfully does quite a bit. I have answered e-mails while breastfeeding. There are periods of time where I’m just sitting. Multi-tasking is my friend.
What do you tell delegates as your main selling point?
I feel I have the combination skills and background that people are going to want to see from this community. I have a solid campaign background, where people can trust that I’m going to put together a smart, sophisticated and very hard-working campaign and campaign team. People can count on me putting up a really good fight in this district and putting together a winning campaign. I think with my issue background, I have a lot the same values that people are looking for and the knowledge to hit the ground running at the Capitol and be ready to be an advocate for this community and the values we want to put forward. Beyond that, I hope people will see I’m a good listener and someone who’s going to take seriously what constituents want to see and want to talk about.
Favorite Jewish holiday?
Meaningful-wise, certainly Passover. The journey to freedom is one that has always moved me. Fun-wise, Purim.
Favorite Jewish food?
Hamentashen. They are a delicious cookie. You can put anything in them. I like the fruit kind, the Nutella kind. And latkes. They’re fried potatoes. What could be bad?
Editor’s note: Solo and one of her opponents, Deb Calvert are both Jewish. While TC Jewfolk will not be endorsing in this or any race, we will profile both of them to introduce them to the community in Who The Folk?! We’ll meet Calvert next week. If you’re a Jewish candidate for statewide office and would like to be profiled, let us know!Click here to nominate your favorite TC Jew to be featured on our weekly Who the Folk?! series!