When Minnesota House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin was growing up on her family’s farm in Randall, Minnesota, she didn’t know that a childhood of gathering eggs, milking cows and baling hay was preparing her for the Minnesota Legislature.
“Growing up on a farm instilled a strong work ethic in me,” Peppin ’07 M.B.A. said. “It also gave me an appreciation for the struggles that small businesses go through to thrive and succeed.”
Even at a young age she was interested in the inner workings and ramifications of politics. She followed news of the Iranian hostage crisis in the early 1980s, when a group of Iranian students stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took more than 50 Americans hostage, and she was intrigued by Ronald Reagan’s presidency. After graduating from Little Falls High School, she became the first person in her family to attend college, enrolling at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Peppin majored in political science and speech communications, and joined the College Republicans group, eventually becoming chapter chair.
After graduating in 1992, she was hired as a GOP field coordinator for five legislative campaigns, and then served as communications specialist in the Minnesota House of Representatives. Eventually, she left and entered the business world, becoming communications manager and vice president of public relations for U.S. Bank. It was at this point that she first pursued an M.B.A.
“I started and came very close to completing my M.B.A. in the late ’90s while working at U.S. Bank,” she said. “I thought it was important to have a better understanding of how businesses were run and managed.”
Despite her successes in the private sector, she remained drawn to politics. While working at U.S. Bank, she served as Republican chair of her local Senate district. Finally, in 2004, she saw an opportunity and decided to challenge Rep. Arlon Lindner for the Republican Party endorsement. She not only won the endorsement, but also the election. Shortly after, she decided to finish her master’s degree and enrolled in the MBA program at the University of St. Thomas’ Opus College of Business, graduating in 2007.
“Much of what we do at the Capitol impacts the business climate in our state,” Peppin said. “With an M.B.A., I feel I have meaningful insight into the challenges facing businesses and job creators.” The formal and technical knowledge she gained while enrolled in the MBA program complements the work ethic and small-business sense she cultivated growing up on a farm.
As she continued to be re-elected to the House (she’s now serving her sixth term), she also continued on her quest for higher education, earning a law degree from William Mitchell College of Law in 2013. For a little over a year, she was the only attorney among her Republican colleagues in the House. Peppin said her degrees are big assets when making decisions in the House. Her unique perspective allows her to see how managing successful businesses can inform how to effectively run the state, including promoting an agenda that prioritizes needs over wants.
“As we debate the legal ramifications of various pieces of legislation, I feel I’m able to add value to the discussion on the floor,” she said. “As it relates to my M.B.A., I like to look at the economic impact of legislation from the perspective of whether it will help create and grow jobs in our state or whether it will stifle that growth. I consider what the state’s return on investment is for each proposal and think about if the Legislature is being a good steward of taxpayer dollars just as a business must consider if a proposal will result in a good return for its shareholders.”
Peppin believes a greater level of business knowledge and financial literacy among state legislators would benefit Minnesota. “It certainly helps if legislators have an understanding of the issues facing businesses when individuals from the business community come before committees to testify about proposals moving through the Legislature,” she said.
Majority leader responsibilities
In November 2014, Republicans won 10 rural Minnesota House seats, regaining control of the chamber after losing it to Democrats in 2012. Peppin recognized early on that this represented an opportunity for her to take a greater leadership role in the House.
“In the months leading up to the election, I had the sense that Republicans might win the majority in the Minnesota House,” she said. “I went out on the campaign trail with candidates across the state – both in the metro area and greater Minnesota – to talk to voters and listen to their concerns. On the day after the election, I announced I would be running for majority leader and was honored to be elected by my colleagues on the following Friday.”
As majority leader, Peppin is second-in-command of the 72-member House Republican caucus and is charged with scheduling legislation for the House floor and leading floor debate. As in any legislative session, a long list of concerns must be addressed – including the economy, transportation and education – and Peppin has stressed that bringing balance to the House agenda through her new role is a top priority for her. She’s aware of the existing tensions between rural Minnesota and the Twin Cities metropolitan area. Her district, 34A, includes the city of Rogers, which sits directly on the cusp of this divide and has residents who live a more rural lifestyle with those who commute daily to the Twin Cities. In addition, for the first time in state history, the last census revealed that the majority of Minnesota’s population now lives in the 11-county metro area.
Peppin sees it as her duty to consider legislation from a statewide perspective, asking if a piece of legislation will benefit the state overall, rather than strengthen the metro area while rural communities struggle. To her, this means more attention needs to be given to the lagging economy in greater Minnesota and the rebuilding of deteriorating roads and bridges that are vital to the state’s infrastructure. She also wants to allocate more resources to education to end the shortage of skilled workers, especially professionals who can work in the state’s all-important food industry, such as farmers, veterinarians, food scientists and ecologists, or fill the growing need for workers in nursing homes and long-term care facilities as baby boomers age.
“I hope to define success in this job by being able to represent the priorities and concerns of my colleagues in a meaningful way, as well as making sure our caucus continues to act as good stewards of taxpayer dollars,” she explained. “Being effective as a leader starts with listening and then acting in a deliberate way in accordance with the views of your colleagues.”
When asked if she’s ever considered her gender to be an obstacle to pursuing her goals, Peppin said being a woman was never a deterrent to any of her dreams. “I’ve never let that be a barrier to my career path,” she said. She added that it helps to have a supportive family (her husband is political strategist Gregg Peppin and the couple has two teenage daughters). “I think it begins with family,” Peppin said. “I’m blessed to have a supportive family who encouraged me as I pursued a role in the Legislature as well as my M.B.A. and law degree.”
Obtaining these degrees meant the prospect of greater opportunities in the future, which she stressed should be an option for all students, no matter where they happen to live.
“We need higher education in order to teach the necessary skills to students so they can be successful in their jobs,” Peppin said. This may mean expanding vocational education to focus on applied skills that lead to high-paying jobs. “I think we need to continue to promote a variety of different avenues to higher education, so students can find a career path they enjoy with an education that prepares them for it,” she said.
Pairing her education with an intense focus on a career for which she has a passion has served as a winning combination for Peppin.
“For now, my focus is on my legislative work in St. Paul,” Peppin said. “My educational background continues to serve as an asset as we put forward legislation to make our state a better place to live, raise a family and retire.”
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