Meet the for­mer Com­mer­cial Ap­peal re­porter who’s now part of Congress

The Commercial Appeal - - Front Page - John Bei­fuss Mem­phis Com­mer­cial Ap­peal USA TO­DAY NET­WORK - TEN­NESSEE

When Angie Craig worked in Mem­phis jour­nal­ism, she asked ques­tions about real es­tate de­vel­op­ments in Olive Branch, bud­get cuts at Shelby County Schools, bill­board bans on High­way 61, and on and on. You know, news­pa­per stuff. But this week, speak­ing on the phone to an old col­league (I would say “for­mer,” but since that col­league was me, “old” also works), Craig had a very dif­fer­ent ques­tion:

“You mean I may be the first Com­mer­cial Ap­peal re­porter to serve in the United States Congress?” Hmmm... Could be! Tues­day, Angie Craig — prod­uct of a ru­ral Arkansas trailer court, for­mer ed­i­tor of The Daily Helms­man at the Univer­sity of Mem­phis, for­mer re­porter with The Com­mer­cial Ap­peal — was elected to Congress in Min­nesota.

More specif­i­cally, she was among the 30 Demo­cratic can­di­dates for the U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives who flipped a dis­trict held by a Repub­li­can.

“I also won a dis­trict that Trump won in 2016,” she said. “This dis­trict leans Repub­li­can. A Demo­crat has only held this seat twice since the 1940s.”

In the process of win­ning an elec­tion, Craig es­tab­lished sev­eral firsts, in ad­di­tion to “first Com­mer­cial Ap­peal re­porter to serve in the United States Congress” (a mile­stone that is hard to cer­tify, con­sid­er­ing the age of this news­pa­per and the hun­dreds of re­porters who have slouched through its doors).

She is likely the first Min­nesota mem­ber of Congress with a South­ern ac­cent. (”You grow up in Arkansas, you can’t get it out of you,” she said. “Ap­par­ently, Min­nesotans like it.”)

She is the first Min­nesota mem­ber of Congress to be en­dorsed by Sa­muel L. Jack­son. (The movie ac­tor ap­pears in a hu­mor­ous video for Craig, cre­ated by a po­lit­i­cal ac­tion group, Swing Left. Celebrity videos pro­mot­ing pro­gres­sive causes have be­come some­thing of a trend lately: see also the lo­cal videos with Jen­nifer Lawrence and Ed Helms, in op­po­si­tion to City Coun­cil ref­er­enda.)

More im­por­tant, Craig is “the first openly les­bian mother to be elected to Congress, and the first openly gay per­son elected to Congress from Min­nesota,” ac­cord­ing to her Wikipedia bi­og­ra­phy. (Ap­par­ently, when you get elected to Congress, you get a Wikipedia bi­og­ra­phy.)

Af­ter all those firsts, here’s some sec­onds: Tues­day’s vote rep­re­sented Craig’s sec­ond at­tempt to be elected to Min­nesota’s 2nd Con­gres­sional Dis­trict.

In 2016, when the seat be­came open thanks to the re­tire­ment of the Repub­li­can in­cum­bent, Craig lost to con­ser­va­tive Repub­li­can Ja­son Lewis in the gen­eral elec­tion. She lost by 7,724 votes; but the third can­di­date in the race, an in­de­pen­dent, col­lected 28,500 votes, so Craig had no rea­son to be dis­cour­aged.

She wasn’t. Tues­day, Craig re­ceived 177,971 votes, while Lewis earned 159,373 — or, 12,972 votes fewer than he col­lected in 2016. There was no third­party can­di­date in the dis­trict, which ex­tends from the south­ern edge of St. Paul, Min­nesota, into farm­land.

Craig, 46, was born in West He­lena, Arkansas, but spent most of her child­hood in trailer homes in Gos­nell and Jones­boro, where she was a grad­u­ate of Net­tle­ton High School.

Mov­ing across the river to the big city, she earned a jour­nal­ism de­gree and a served as ed­i­tor of the cam­pus news­pa­per, The Daily Helms­man, at what was then known as Mem­phis State Univer­sity. (She cred­its for­mer jour­nal­ism pro­fes­sor Eli­nor Grusin with be­ing a key men­tor.)

In to­tal, Craig spent 11 years in Mem­phis, work­ing for much of that time as an in­tern, part-time re­porter and fi­nally full-time new­shound at The Com­mer­cial Ap­peal. Her beats in­cluded DeSoto County and the Mem­phis and Shelby County school sys­tems, be­fore they con­sol­i­dated.

“I spend plenty of time driv­ing around DeSoto County, just get­ting to know char­ac­ters and writ­ing about them,” she said. “And that’s pretty much what I did run­ning for Congress. I met peo­ple and tried to lis­ten to them.”

Craig left the news­pa­per to take a job in com­mu­ni­ca­tions and pub­lic af­fairs with the Mem­phis divi­sion of the med­i­cal tech­nol­ogy com­pany, Smith & Nephew. That led to sim­i­lar jobs that took her to Lon­don, and, fi­nally, in 2005, to St. Paul, where Craig worked in cor­po­rate re­la­tions for St. Jude Med­i­cal (no re­la­tion to the Mem­phis chil­dren’s hos­pi­tal).

Soon, she’ll be a full-time mem­ber of Congress — “a so­cial pro­gres­sive and a fis­cal moder­ate,” she said, but one with Mid-South roots. (Her fa­ther and step­mother, Roger and Brenda Craig, now live in Bartlett.)

“On the stump, I talk about grow­ing up in a mo­bile home court in Arkansas,” Craig said. “I talk about work­ing a cou­ple of jobs to help put my­self through a state col­lege.” She said her per­sonal life wasn’t an is­sue or a con­tro­versy. “Min­nesota is very open and ac­cept­ing,” said Craig, who has raised four chil­dren with wife Ch­eryl Greene.

In any case, Congress could use in­no­va­tive ideas, and Craig clearly is an in­no­va­tor. In a 1993 story in The Com­mer­cial Ap­peal, while cov­er­ing an event at Club Ob­ses­sion on East Brooks Road, she even in­no­vated her own past tense of a verb when she wrote that “a young Elvis Pres­ley im­per­son­ator from Mas­sachusetts shaked, rat­tled and rolled” his way to vic­tory. The gram­mar may not have been pre­cise, but the mu­sic of the fa­mous phrase re­mained in­tact.

CRAIG LASSIG, EPA-EFE

Demo­crat Angie Craig de­clares vic­tory over Repub­li­can Ja­son Lewis for U.S. House Dis­trict 2 in the 2018 mid-term gen­eral elec­tion at the Lone Oak Grill in Ea­gan, Min­nesota

ANGIE CRAIG FOR CONGRESS

Tues­day’s vote rep­re­sented Angie Craig’s sec­ond at­tempt to be elected to Min­nesota’s 2nd Con­gres­sional Dis­trict.

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