McCollum hasn't lost a race since 1985
Betty McCollum talks politics with her children as much as any mother.
"We just agree to disagree, just like any family should," said the U.S. representative, who lives in St. Paul, was born in South St. Paul and raised her family in North St. Paul.
During the campaign this fall, she became a grandmother when her son, who teaches at a university in Japan, had his first baby. Her daughter has a career in Minnesota.
They were raised near Hause Park, where a 16-foot-high metal slide drew concern for children's safety among the mothers in the neighborhood. One day, while McCollum was working at Sears, her daughter was knocked from the top of the slide and the fall fractured the girl's skull.
McCollum's accidental political campaign launched. The moms walked to city hall and heard the North St. Paul City Council's answer to their pleas for more sand at the bottom of the slide: no, the next item to be purchased for the park would be hockey boards.
That was not the answer McCollum—a retail manager who put herself through school—wanted to hear. Neighborhood parents listed many other issues that needed to be addressed, as McCollum was encouraged to run for council.
"Everyone came out of the woodwork," she said during an interview in her campaign office in St. Paul. "I came in dead-dog last."
The 1985 election was the last election loss she has suffered.
She joined the city park and recreation commission and was handily elected to council in 1987.
"I did better than Sandberg," McCollum said, referring to the beloved Bill Sandberg, a mentor of hers who served 30 years as mayor of North St. Paul.
One of the difficult issues she faced while on city council was a proposal for an incoming video store with an X-rated movie section, which she didn't think was a great idea, she said. While a group of churches wanted to ban the store, the council upheld constitutional rights, McCollum said, and restricted but didn't deny the business from coming to town. She was subject to personal attacks after her vote on the issue, but said: "You need to stand up for all people in your community, and you might not be popular doing that. All politics is very local and very personal."
McCollum fended off a primary opponent and an incumbent in the 1992 Minnesota House of Representatives election, and then succeeded Bruce Vento who retired from the U.S. House of Representatives in 2000. Her closest race was a 17 percent margin of victory against Linda Runbeck in her initial three-way campaign for Congress.
All the while, McCollum advocated for good schools and street repairs, and eventually ascended to a senior whip and member of both the House Appropriations and Budget committees.
"The decisions you make in government are on a much different scale now. The decisions affect people in Azerbaijan or Malawi, Africa," McCollum said.
Her children grew up looking for the facts, talking about what needs to be done, standing up for the causes they represent, listening, keeping in mind people's different experiences, respecting others' views, and each amassing an eclectic groups of friends.
"The kids were raised in an environment that respected diversity," McCollum said.
McCollum, while a longtime incumbent, hasn't represented Woodbury, Newport and Afton forever.
In 2013, redistricting went into effect and Congressional District 4 added the Woodbury area.
"It was never a stranger," McCollum said. "It was always a close cousin, and now it's family—immediate family, not a cousin."
Her family unsuccessfully farmed in Woodbury before making the move to South St. Paul, her brother lived in south Maplewood, and Woodbury students have long been a part of School District 622, where her children attended public school, she said. During her time on the North St. Paul City Council, the city partnered with Washington County and neighboring cities on a regular basis for a variety of reasons. As a Minnesota state representative and U.S. Congresswoman, she has witnessed the local partnerships continue.
"Some people go for headlines, I like to go for coalitions," McCollum said, citing her support for funding of the Gold Line bus-rapid transit project.
McCollum has been impressed by the businesses and current and past city councils in Woodbury, as well as the staff at Woodbury City Hall, she said. "We all work for the same people."