Q&A with Rep. Cedrick Frazier, labor lawyer who replaced longest serving legislator in state history

Rep. Cedrick Frazier, DFL-New Hope. Courtesy photo.

Rep. Cedrick Frazier, DFL-New Hope, grew up in a low-income neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago, where gun violence and drug trafficking were a frequent presence near his home. At the University of Minnesota Morris, he founded and was president of the only collegiate NAACP chapter in Minnesota. After law school, he became a Hennepin County public defender.

Frazier would turn to education, first as director of equity and diversity for the Minneapolis Public School District before joining the legal team of the district and later the state teachers union, Education Minnesota. He filled a vacancy on the New Hope City Council and then was was elected in 2020 to fill the 45A district vacated by Rep. Lyndon Carlson, the longest serving lawmaker in Minnesota history.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity. 

Being the only divided Legislature in the country, how do you plan to reach across the aisle in order to pass legislation?

As a new legislator, I’ve been intentional about reaching out to my colleagues on the other side. I think we have to get past our differences, produce legislation and policy that is going to benefit everybody in Minnesota. That is needed, even more so now. I am really intentional about reaching out and trying to find common ground for residents and our community.

What are your top priorities heading into this session?

Education: Distance learning hasn’t worked well for everyone. I want to make sure that we’re putting things in place for us to come out of this pandemic and give students the resources they need so that they can catch up and make sure students don’t fall further behind and come out better than before the pandemic. We need the resources so that there’s no correlation between your zip code, your skin color and your academic outcomes. 

Public safety: Minnesota is still in the spotlight after the murder of George Floyd. I’m the vice-chair of the Public Safety Committee, focusing on accountability. I heard from all of my constituents — Black, white, brown, Indigenous — that they wanted more accountability in law enforcement, because they wanted to know that all community members are going to be safe.

What should we do with the budget surplus?

The surplus is certainly welcome news. But the projected surplus does not change the immediate needs of Minnesotans. The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the structural inequities of our political and economic systems. Billionaires and corporations are getting richer, but many Minnesota families are living paycheck to paycheck. We need to make sure our families are healthy, our schools are funded and all Minnesotans have basic needs met like food and shelter. 

There is now some light at the end of the tunnel on vaccines, and we have two choices. We can choose to support the working families who have been hardest hit by the pandemic, or we can prioritize corporations, the rich, and the well-connected. I’ll take the first option.

How will you meet challenges that arise from the ongoing pandemic?

Right now, we’re still working hard just on the vaccine rollout, and the governor’s administration has hit some roadblocks. A big part of that has been the fact that at the federal level there wasn’t initially a plan. Now that we have one, the vaccine is going to help us as we move forward to open things up a little bit more than they are now, especially in schools. It’s important to make sure that we support those individuals that have lost jobs, and the impending eviction tsunami. We have to figure out ways to get landlords paid while keeping people sheltered. And finally, how do we as quickly as possible, get our economy back up and running and produce jobs? 

What about your background gives you a unique perspective that supports your constituents? 

Regarding public safety, I used to be a public defender, so I’m very familiar with the criminal justice system, and some of the negative interactions community members have had with law enforcement. I was also a city council member and had very good relationships with my police chief and peace officers. Since I’ve worked with those different stakeholders, hopefully, we can come together and coalesce around common sense and move forward to better the community as a whole.

I’m also thinking about my role as a laborer and how policy will impact workers. I’m carrying a bill about emergency leave to capture workers that were not captured during the pandemic. It will ensure that they’re taken care of and don’t lose income if they have to quarantine or take time off to take care of family members of children who were impacted by COVID-19. 

I’m also a Black man, and so I understand what it’s like to deal with systemic racism. That’s exactly the perspective that I bring with me. And I’ve brought a bill about anti-white supremacy in law enforcement because we have to root out extremist groups like that in our law enforcement.

This is part of an ongoing series of Reformer interviews with lawmakers of both parties. You can find the others here