Meet Rebecca Otto
A Governor for our times
Rebecca Otto announced her campaign for governor in January of 2017. Rather than telling voters about her policy positions, Otto began by meeting with voters around the state in dozens of open listening sessions. She worked to understand people’s hopes and dreams for our future, but also to understand their struggles and concerns, especially after the last election. She heard from some that didn't vote, and learned why. She met those that voted differently than in the past and understands why. Rebecca has always approached leadership this way: start with listening and understanding.
A challenging childhood
Rebecca always says you can't choose where you were born, but you can choose your home, and her home is Minnesota. But she wasn't born here.
Rebecca was born in southern California, the second oldest of four siblings. Her mother was a musician and her father a public school teacher. But Rebecca's father suffered from chemical dependency. He left when she was about 6 years old.
Rebecca's mother had to manage keeping a roof over their heads, food on the table and clothes on their backs. And she did. Rebecca learned that while we all may run into bumps in life, you can also be resilient.
Losses and new beginnings
Chicago and the BWCA
When Rebecca was 11, her mother remarried and they moved to the Chicago area. Rebecca’s mother and stepfather were both musicians and members of the musicians union.
When Rebecca was 13, her father died. He had continued to suffer from chemical dependency. Rebecca knows first hand the effects of chemical dependency and its impact on a family. When she turned 14, Rebecca's mother, in her infinite wisdom, sent her away to a camp in northern Minnesota. The camp took kids on 10 and 21-day trips into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA).
In order to go on the trip, Rebecca was required to carry a 75 lb. Grumman canoe for 100 yards, which she did. The trip was a pivotal point in her young life; she learned that she was stronger physically than she ever knew. She also learned that she needed wild wide-open space to process her life and work through struggles. Rebecca returned for more trips in subsequent summers, and eventually went on a 21-day trip up into Quetico with a day of fasting and a day of soloing.
Starting a life informed by values
Rebecca already knew she loved Minnesota, so when it came time for college, she chose to attend Macalester College in Saint Paul. Mac was a very international college, and Rebecca got to know students from many countries. She heard what their families were going through back home, some in warn-torn countries. It developed her understanding that we all want similar things, despite our differences. It was a lesson she would use to solve conflicts and bring differing people together for the rest of her life: start from our shared values.
Macalester encouraged community and civic engagement, a value Rebecca adopted as her own; tutoring elementary school kids in a local elementary school to help them pass their reading and math tests; volunteering with children ages 2-4 years old with autism and teaching them basic life skills; and volunteering in a hospital maternity ward and a pediatric ward.
In December of 1987, Rebecca and Shawn were married at the Saint James Hotel in Red Wing. They used the local bakery for their cake, the local florist for their flowers, and Rebecca’s Mother and Stepfather (who adopted her) performed Vivaldi’s Four Seasons – Winter and were accompanied by a harpist, as Rebecca descended the Grand Staircase.
Building a life guided by values
After many years, Rebecca and Shawn sold the business.
Rebecca wanted to give back in a meaningful way and obtained a Master's of Education from the University of Minnesota, and taught 7th grade Life Science for five years in the Mounds View Schools. Shawn began his writing career.
In 1995, their son was born and they moved into their renewable energy home. Due to cost effectiveness and improved technology, they have since added solar panels and geothermal heating and cooling. They both also drive EV cars in an effort to reduce emissions and save money over time.
Public leadership based on values
When their son entered kindergarten, Rebecca got involved in the local PTO. She learned that the Forest Lake Area school district was going into statutory operating debt. Understanding finance from her years running a mid-sized business, she was asked to serve on the school district's ad hoc finance committee, where it became apparent that a school operating levy was needed. There was also a lack of trust within the community, so it needed to be rebuilt through greater transparency.
Rebecca chaired the $52 million school levy campaign and focused on starting the discussion by listening, then building from shared values. In this way, all the differing community members could start with what they could agree on and build from there.
The levy passed by a substantial margin in a community that had rejected past referenda, even in the face of a strong anti-levy campaign. In the same election, Rebecca was elected to the school board and was the highest vote getter.
The double victory turned heads in Saint Paul, and Rebecca was recruited to run for the Minnesota House of Representatives. Rebecca had always thought of politics as dirty and mean, and was hesitant to say yes. Her son, still in kindergarten, said, “Mom, if you can make it better for the kids, you should run."
Rebecca did, and was elected State Representative in the Stillwater area in the same year that Michele Bachmann took office as the area's State Senator. In the House, Rebecca served on the Agriculture and Rural Development Finance and Agriculture Policy committees, Environment and Natural Resources Policy, and Local Government and Metropolitan Affairs. Her work on these committees prepared her well for her future service as State Auditor.
Agriculture knowledge is important in a Minnesota Governor, since Ag is a big part of the economy. Living in a township on the edge of the Metro and Rural areas, Rebecca serves as the bridge between Metro and rural areas. Rebecca is the only candidate for governor who lives on a farm. Shawn's Great Aunt Ann Gilfillan's farm is the site of Minnesota Farm Fest, and Rebecca has served for a decade on the Rural Finance Authority Board, so farming is nothing new to the Ottos.
In 2004, building on her idea of bridging divides, Rebecca brought Arne Carlson and Walter Mondale together for the first time in a famous "One Minnesota Get Together" event at the farm to talk about the importance of being united statewide and that government needed to get back to work for the People’s interests.
This period was known as the “no-new-tax” era. Rebecca wanted to cut through the rhetoric, so she brought former Republican and Democratic State Finance Commissioners John Gunyou and Jay Kiedrowski together for the first time to talk about what a truly balanced state budget was. Regardless of party, they agreed on what a balanced budget looked like. The two later toured the state with their talk and educated both the media and public, which changed the statewide conversation.
Rebecca lost her re-election bid in the conservative district in 2004, which had the highest voter turnout in 44 years, driven by the the re-election campaign of President Bush. Former Governor and State Auditor Arne Carlson recruited her to run for State Auditor. He told her it would be an excellent preparation for becoming Governor because she could learn the intricacies of state finances. On the down side, the office had been occupied by the GOP for 134 of the 148 years it had been in existence. The data also showed that it is very difficult to beat an incumbent.
Doing her due diligence, Rebecca discovered hundreds of millions of dollars in errors in summary finance reports issued under the incumbent. She ran on making sure the numbers added up in government. In 2006, Rebecca won the State Auditor race by the largest margin in 112 years. In 2010, she defeated the incumbent again in a rematch, during the largest Republican wave in 70 years, to become the only Democrat ever to be re-elected State Auditor. In 2014, she defeated a primary opponent who outspent her 4 to 1. She defeated him 4 to 1 and won in the general election by her largest margin yet - 12%. In every race, she has outperformed the Governor candidate's margin, by running with a strong message built on shared values.
Are you ready to take charge of our future?
The Hearts of Minnesotans
As State Auditor, Rebecca watches over tens of billions of dollars in state finances and investments on behalf of taxpayers so that people can trust their government. Rebecca has been a standout. She is the most nationally recognized leader in the office in state history. She is the only Minnesota State Auditor to become president of the National State Auditors Association (NSAA), and to receive the National Excellence in Accountability Award. She was named one of the 15 most influential government auditors in America by the Institute of Internal Auditors.
She received the League of Minnesota Cities President's Award and the State Fire Chief's Golden Axe Award; she was honored along with Hillary Clinton, Sally Ride and Jane Goodall as a "Woman taking the lead to save our planet," a National Women's History Month theme; and this year she received the NSAA William Snodgrass Distinguished Leadership Award, the highest honor possible for a State Auditor, recognizing her years of sustained and innovative leadership both in the state and nationally.
Rebecca Otto is not only a strong, innovative leader and an experienced executive at the Minnesota State level, she has always worked to protect her integrity. The nature of auditing requires one to be a truth teller, which at times can ruffle feathers. Rebecca has carried out her work without fear or favor and has taken difficult stances to protect the People’s interests over big industry’s bottom line. Rebecca works to do what is right, not what is politically expedient. As your Governor, you will always know where she stands because she leads with principle.
The time is right for Rebecca’s leadership and the philosophy that has guided all of her work – to end the politics of greed and return us to the politics that serves the People and their shared interests and values; government that is of the People, by the People, for the People.
By starting with listening and building from shared values, Rebecca has consistently defied the odds, winning one historic victory after another by bringing people back together on the most basic fundamental level of what we have in common, and that's exactly the kind of leadership we need to win and to govern in these most divided times.
It's time to imagine a new Minnesota - and make it happen. Are you ready?
Rebecca meets with small business owners.