Sen. Bev Scalze: leaves legacy of clean water, art & improved infrastructure

Scalze in 1985.

Bev Scalze over the years, in undated file photos.

Scalze, center, with Little Canada City Administrator Joel Hanson to her left, along with the rest of the Little Canada City Council in 1989.

Bev Scalze, at left, at the 1989 dedication of Pioneer Park in Little Canada. She says one of her proudest accomplishments as a Little Canada City Council member was guiding the development of the city’s parks system.

Scalze’s painting of a brook trout was the winner of the Minnesota DNR’s 1991 trout stamp contest.

During her 38-year political career, state Sen. Bev Scalze still found time for one of her passions — painting wildlife art

Some 25 years ago, she won the Minnesota Department of Natural Resource’s 1991 trout stamp contest, and her subject, a brook trout, needs a clean environment to survive, something Scalze championed during her time in government.

“They need cold, clean water to persevere,” she says of the fish, which swim in creeks and brooks in the Duluth area. It’s only appropriate Scalze’s work was on the stamp — money raised through stamp sales to anglers is used to protect trout habitats.

The DFLer, a longtime Little Canada resident and former city councilwoman, will now have more time for her art, with her retirement from public service at the end of the year. 

“I’ve [painted] most of my life so I’d like to go back to it a little bit,” says Scalze, 74, who, with her husband Bob, has two adult daughters. 

She adds she’d like to enjoy other perks of retirement, too.

“I have granddaughters in Florida; they’re 10 and 12, and I’d like to spend a little time with them when it’s cold here.”


Baudette to Little Canada

Raised outside Baudette in the far northern reaches of the state, Scalze says her early years helped instill in her what others say are her defining traits: toughness and a sense of fair play.

“When I grew up, we learned kindness and perseverance — life is hard out there” in the northern counties, she says. “You persevere and you take care of yourself.”

Scalze came to the Twin Cities and studied wildlife art at the former College of Visual Arts in St. Paul, and ended up settling in Little Canada.

The construction of the Maplewood Mall in the mid-1970s propmpted her to run for elected office — the Little Canada City Council — for the first time. 

She says the Maplewood Planning Commission was looking at roads to ease congestion at the new mall, and one of them would have ended up running through a natural area behind her home in Little Canada.

“A road through that would have been devastating for that area and for the people of Little Canada, who didn’t need to carry the burden of Maplewood Mall traffic,” Scalze says.

She lost her first campaign in 1976, but ran again in ‘78, and won.

“Those years were growing years in Little Canada,” Scalze says of her early time on the council. “We were installing citywide water mains, so it was a very emotional time for longtime residents.”


‘Ruled the roost’

By the time former Roseville legislator Mindy Greiling met Scalze, Greiling says she was a fixture on the council. 

“She ruled the roost on the Little Canada City Council,” recalls Greiling, who was a member of the Roseville School Board while Scalze served on the council. “She had the smarts, the institutional memory and the background. She just plain always had a good response for what she was doing.”

Little Canada City Administrator Joel Hanson, who came onto the job in 1989, echoes Greiling. He says Scalze was a leader on the council, a fair voice who was “very consistent in her approach.”

“She was definitely forward thinking,” Hanson says. “[She] helped the city develop, redevelop, and had a good vision for what the community could be.”

Scalze points towards Little Canada’s parks system as something she’s proud of from her time on the council. She says when she began, the city owned no parkland; through the 1980s and 90s it put together a parks system, and now has 100 acres of parkland.

Scalze says she never ran for mayor of Little Canada, but was designated as acting mayor, second in command, for all her years with the city. “I could accomplish as much being a city council member.”

“My favorite vote on the city council was to deny SuperAmerica a conditional use permit, for where Porterhouse now sits,” she says, noting that folks she meets at the Capitol always speak well of the steak and seafood restaurant, located on Little Canada Road near Interstate 35E. She adds the area didn’t need a third gas station.

“I made the motion,” she says. “It was a 3-2 vote [to deny the permit]; we knew that [SuperAmerica] would sue us and they did and we won.”

“Now we have Porterhouse in Little Canada, which is a wonderful addition to our city.”


For clean water

By the early 2000s, Greiling served in the Minnesota Legislature and says she tapped Scalze to run for a House of Representatives seat.

Greiling says Scalze initially thought she’d waited too long to run for the Legislature, that she was too old for the post, though Greiling brushed the concerns aside. 

“Heck, there are plenty of middle-aged men around [the Capitol], let alone old men,” Greiling says.

Scalze ran against an incumbent in 2002, a year she says “a lot of Democrats lost,” and she did too, by 320 votes. She says she kept her campaign going following the defeat, and two years later she was elected to represent the since-redrawn House District 54B.

“She went to the House and brought those same qualities that I’d seen in her, to the Legislature,” Greiling says.

“That’s not a place for the faint of heart and she was tough there too, and nobody pushed her around,” Greiling says, describing Scalze as petite, with “not an extra pound on her.”

“Tom Baak,” Greiling says of the DFL legislative leader from Virginia, “who is three times her size, couldn’t push her around.”

District 66A Rep. Alice Hausman recalls Scalze’s “tenacious fights on a couple of environmental issues” on the House floor, saying her determination to protect natural resources began with her love of wildlife painting.

“She wasn’t always treated well,” Hausman says, “including by some members of her own party, because she never gave up.”

Scalze says she worked hard in the House on the state’s Clean Water and Legacy Amendment, which was passed by voters in 2008, though she says it’s still a “heavy lift.”

“We’re doing our best to clean up the waters, but there’s plenty of resistance from people who are heavily polluting,” she says.


Rice Street bridges

Beyond the environment, Scalze was a voice for the suburbs when it came to state support for infrastructure, her colleagues say.

“Because she had been such a solid [city council] official, she brought skills of knowing what to, and how to spend on infrastructure,” Hausman says.

Greiling adds, “When I was first at the Legislature, I also, like everybody else in the suburbs, didn’t think to ask for anything in the bonding bill. She opened my eyes and I went after some projects, too.”

Serving on the Capital Investment Committee, Scalze says she worked closely with then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty and St. Jude Medical to fund the rebuilding of the Rice Street bridge over Highway 36, which was completed in 2011. “It was my bill,” she says.

She won her District 42 Senate seat in 2012 and worked to fund the Corridors of Commerce project that is currently adding lanes to Interstate 694 through Shoreview. She says she got very close to securing funding to replace another Rice Street span over a highway, the antiquated Rice bridge at I-694.

“I was able to get that in the bonding bill this year but the bonding bill didn’t pass,” she laments, saying that bridge project is a bit of unfinished business.

Scalze says she’s confident Senator-elect Jason Isaacson, a DFLer from Shoreview who will represent District 42 for the next four years, will carry on her work.

“He will be excellent for the district,” she says. “He’s a hard worker and he’s very bright.”

Through the end of the year Isaacson is the District 42B representative, and he says Scalze tapped him to take over her Senate seat. 

He says he’ll do his best to follow in her footsteps and “toe the line for my district even if the party doesn’t like it.”

He says he’d be hard-pressed to find a better role model than Scalze, whose bipartisan approach he’ll try to maintain. 

“She was just so good at threading the line between where we need to work together, and where to make sure to represent our people, to not get locked into the partisan gridlock,” he says. 

“I’ve always worked well with both sides — the Republicans and the Democrats,” Scalze says. “You can’t be on the outside fringes, of both parties, and accomplish much.”


‘She should be famous’

“I had two times to grieve — once when she left the House and now that she leaves the Senate,” says Hausman. “The Legislature would be a better place if we had more Bev Scalzes.”

“People come and go; there’s a lot of turnover in the Legislature, but once in a while there are people I just vow to stay in touch with,” Hausman adds, naming Scalze and Greiling as two such people.

The three of them have lunch together, once every Legislative session, Greiling says, adding she was looking forward to a late-December meal that Scalze was to host. 

Greiling says beyond her accomplished painting skills and legislative know-how, Scalze is a real good cook, with a knack for making her own fresh noodles. “I don’t know what we’re having ... but I hope it’s pasta,” she says with a laugh.

Though she’s retiring from politics, Scalze will continue to run her family’s heating and air conditioning company, which she says she’s done for the last 12 years. 

Greiling says she has well wishes for Scalze’s post-Senate years. “I hope she does some painting when she retires ... she should be famous for her art, let alone her public service.”

It’s also no surprise, she says, that Scalze is exiting the Capitol, now.

“She probably thinks it should be a citizens’ Legislature,” Greiling says. “I don’t think she ever planned to stay forever.”


Mike Munzenrider can be reached at or 651-748-7813. Follow him on Twitter @mmunzenrider.


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