Erin Murphy: A Lifelong Advocate for Minnesota
I grew up in Janesville, WI. My mom, Kas, raised my brothers, sister, and me. She worked at the canning factory, Sentry Foods, and she cleaned houses. My dad worked for General Motors building cars. We weren’t well off, but the stability of my dad’s union contract, along with a lot of hard work, meant we had what we needed. In the end, my parents raised five kids who became nurses, a carpenter, a lawyer and a radiation technician.
I remember my parents and how they thought about work and about how work impacted their lives. My parents worked hard and made a good life. What stands out is how different it feels from today. There were good jobs available, even for people without college degrees. Those jobs came with good health insurance and a pension. They didn’t spend all day in traffic and didn’t have to work multiple jobs just to make ends meet. And in the end they didn’t hate their work. That meant that at the end of our day, we could have fun together. And we did.
It wasn’t perfect, there were good days and bad, but it was a good life. I waitressed my way through college, knowing it was a path to opportunity. And like my parents did for me, I’ve made a good life for my kids.
It worries me to see that too many families aren’t getting ahead despite their hard work. They don’t have the time with their kids, don’t have retirement or health security and college is unaffordable. For too many, hard work isn’t enough to support their families and have a good life. And in Minnesota, it should be.
I met Joe Faust in 1980 in Oshkosh. He had already graduated college and was starting his business in St. Paul. I got to know him years later, when I moved to his hometown, Marshfield, to practice nursing at St. Joseph’s Hospital. We got married in 1989 and our twin daughters, Bridget and Anna, were born in 1991.
Joe owns and runs a painting business. As a small business owner, he works hard, managing the books after long days in whatever location his office ends up being that week. It means that our dining room table is usually covered in either campaign thank you notes and literature or receipts and paperwork. When he’s not working Joe does some gardening, fishing and hunting. He makes a mean salsa verde.
As my name suggests, I come from an Irish family that isn’t afraid to let you know just how proud they are of that. After seeing the dancers at the Irish Fair in St. Paul, the girls pursued Irish dance and loved it. We traveled, hard shoes in tow, all over the country as the girls competed and made friends. While the girls have moved on from Irish dance, the friendships we made along the way remain.
They are close, as twins tend to be, and are able to get under each other’s skin when they want to. Bridget is at the University of Wisconsin-Madison studying water resource management. Anna is a pediatric float pool nurse at Masonic Children’s Hospital, in her first year of practice. Loving and determined, they put their sassy pants on one leg at a time.
Our girls grew up in our home in St. Paul. We are proud to see them in the world. They are grounded and work hard. They care about their communities and their passions. We think we did pretty well.
One of the things you learn right away as a nurse is that every problem, big or small, matters. You can’t brush the big ones off and wait for another nurse to handle them, you can’t cut corners and you can’t just deal with the easy stuff. People’s lives depend on your work and your decisions. Your patients need you to dig in, to make tough calls and grind out challenging work.
I went into nursing to help people. I became a surgical nurse and worked at a big hospital in rural Wisconsin. I moved to St. Paul to work at the University of Minnesota Hospital as a part of a transplant team. At our core, nurses work to care for people, without judgement, until they can care for themselves again. I experienced things that challenged me, seeing the hardness of disease. I learned to manage a crisis and to work through conflict while keeping a cool head.
I eventually went to work for my union, the Minnesota Nurses Association, and worked for them in a variety of capacities, including as Executive Director. As the chief executive, I managed our budget, engaged in difficult negotiations and ultimately made decisions about how to move our organization forward, no matter how difficult.
While I’m no longer in surgery I’m still a licensed nurse, and I’m still good in a crisis, ready to help if any of my colleagues in the House feels short of breath after a long-winded speech.
In addition to my work at the Capitol I also teach a nursing class at St. Kate’s, helping the next generation of nurses and caregivers prepare for their important work ahead. Reminding them that their work to bring care to those who need it extends outside the hospital doors.
At the end of the day the work we do, all of us, matters. It’s part of who we are and what we bring to the world. It may sound cliché but too often I feel like the leaders in our state are willing to leave the problem for the next session or the next generation. It hurts us as a state and it is time we do better. The opportunity and decision to become a nurse had a huge impact on my life and on the work I do now. It’s one of the best decisions I ever made.
+ RUNNING FOR HOUSE
My mom Kas was diagnosed with cancer in 2004. She decided to fight so she could have one more summer in her garden and more time with her family. I spent a lot of time with her in the eleven months before she died. Some of that time was good but too much of it was spent trying to help her navigate the health system to get the care she needed. We had real advantages – I’m a nurse and my mom had good insurance – but we still had to fight with the insurance company so she could get the treatment she needed.
My experience with my mom is a big part of why I decided to run for the Minnesota House of Representatives in 2005. I had started thinking about a run for office when Kas got sick and set that idea aside. As you may know they say it takes most women several “asks” before they say yes to running for office. After helping my mom, and with a nudge from my Aunts Patsy and Twink, I realized that people like me need to run for office and need to fight for change.
When I ran, I entered behind a strong candidate who had been running for months and many candidates joined the race. I started by calling delegates, but soon found my preference for knocking on doors, having conversations face-to-face. I learned a lot from those conversations about what people hoped for and what they worried about. It has informed my way of doing this work ever since.
After spending months talking to delegates, I eventually won a tough DFL convention endorsement against a number of good candidates, won a DFL primary and I went on to win in November. I’ve been serving in the House since 2007.