A passionate advocate is leaving state capitol
A stirring farewell from State Rep. Shelley Madore was an emotional highlight of the Minnesota State Council on Disability’s annual awards luncheon in St. Paul last month.
Madore, a DFLer from Apple Valley, had been a major ally of the disability community in the Minnesota Legislature, but two days before the Nov. 6 luncheon she was defeated in the state’s general election.
Also speaking at the MSCOD luncheon was Andrew Impar-ato, the president of the Washington-D.C. based American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD). He gave highlights of President-elect Barack Obama’s agenda for people with disabilities.
The luncheon also celebrated the 35th anniversary of the Minnesota State Council on Disability.
Madore was introduced as an advocate for persons with disabilities whose passionate voice will be missed in the Legislature. She told how she became involved in politics after learning that her son had autism and her daughter was diagnosed with spina bifida. She saw the state budget problems in 2003 cut deep into school and disability services, leaving many parents unable to afford many programs.
That inspired her to seek office and she was elected to the House in 2006. She’s been a strong ally of many groups in the disability community and her first-hand knowledge has helped educate other legislators.
Madore told the MSCOD luncheon guests that she appreciated the opportunity to make a difference.
“This is the work I feel in my heart I was meant to do,” she said. And she urged audience members to stay politically involved. “It’s time we make our voices heard,” she said.
With more state budget cuts in the works, “we need to pull ourselves together and make it stop, make them stop balancing the budget on the backs of our families,” Madore said.
Washington speaker Imparato, who says his “perspective is informed by personal experience with bipolar disorder,” told luncheon guests that the Obama administration has made support for Americans with disabilities a high priority.
On the Obama agenda are more educational opportunities, an end to workplace discrimination and support for independent, community-based living.
Imparato also said the AAPD is gathering resumes of qualified people looking for jobs in the new administration at all levels. He urged people to forward their resumes to [email protected], where they’ll be accepted through March.
Serving Minnesotans since 1973
MSCOD Executive Director, Joan Willshire noted that the council was founded 35 years ago and has continued through often-difficult fiscal times to be a trusted resource and advocate for Minnesotans with disabilities.
The council’s roots trace directly to a Governor’s Conference in 1972, where participants agreed to ask the Legislature to form a new agency to advocate for people with disabilities and serve as a clearing-house for information. Gov. Wendell Anderson named the first council of 30 members.
The first chairperson was John Myers, then-CEO of Hoerner-Waldorf Corp., the St. Paul paper and cardboard box company now known as Rock-Tenn. Cliff Miller, a veteran DFL labor leader, was the first executive director. His tiny staff worked in a small office on the fourth floor of the Metro Square building in downtown St. Paul. (Thirty-five years later, the council remains in Metro Square, but on the first floor.)
The council’s founding in 1973 came as the disability community throughout the nation was making great strides. The Civil Rights movement of the previous decade energized those involved in the movement.
State budget problems in 1983 led some legislators to look for savings by eliminating the council—along with 77 other small agencies and councils. But legislative advocates, led by Rep. Karen Clark, recognized the council’s important work with persons with disabilities and the agency was saved.
Another legislative advocate in those days was then-State Sen. Mike Freeman, now the Hennepin County Attorney. He supported efforts to get massive funding for state building accessibility projects, which were championed by then-Gov. Rudy Perpich.
“Perpich wanted to fix the whole world in one shot, but we realized we had to do it a little at a time,” Freeman said.
Willshire, the council’s executive director since 2003, said budget cuts mean her staff now works with other agencies and advocacy groups to accomplish its wide-ranging mission. In that vein, the council helped form the Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, a group of 100 organizations that advocate together at the Legislature.
David Schwartzkopf of Rochester, chair of the MSCOD board, praised the commitment and dedication of MSCOD staff and council members, as well as the citizens of Minnesota, for helping to assure that the council’s maintains its key role in the disability community.
Schwartzkopf also praised the council’s efforts to support the Help American Vote Act (HAVA), which were particularly meaningful to him. “I’m in my 60s, and for the first time ever I voted totally independently, thanks to the act,” he wrote in the luncheon brochure.