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BEST POLITICIAN Minneapolis 2008 - Neva Walker

Readers' Choice: Al Franken

Most politicians don't know when to exit the stage. They've spent so much time in front of fawning crowds that they lose all perspective on their place in the political universe. Hence you get delusional jackasses like Rod Grams running for office long after their political viability has wilted. Or the spectacle of Sen. Larry Craig engaging in a fruitless attempt to convince the public that he wasn't seeking sexual gratification in a bathroom stall at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. That's why Rep. Neva Walker's announcement that she would not be seeking re-election was such a refreshing political curveball. The south Minneapolis legislator certainly could have logged as many terms as she wished in the overwhelmingly Democratic district. Even as we admire Walker's willingness to walk away from the political spotlight, her perspective at the state Capitol will be sorely missed. She is the only African American woman ever to be elected to the state Legislature in Minnesota. This embarrassing truth is compounded by the fact that when she leaves office there won't be a single black legislator—male or female—in the state. But Walker will also be missed for reasons larger than race. Throughout her four terms she was a champion of causes that don't often attract the klieg lights. Walker fought for the reinstatement of an ombudsman for the state's prisons, lobbied for comprehensive sex education in schools, and sought greater funding for AIDS prevention programs. "It just felt like the right time," she says of the decision to step down. It's a fitting capstone to a laudable career in public service.

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