Rep. Ruth Richardson will lead Planned Parenthood, says she won't lobby

State Rep. Ruth Richardson on Thursday said she can handle her dual roles as the newly named chief executive of Planned Parenthood North Central States and as a state lawmaker.

This fall, Richardson will replace Sarah Stoesz, who has been Planned Parenthood's CEO for the past 21 years. Richardson will be the first Black woman to lead the organization. She's also running for re-election to her Minnesota House seat and said she plans to serve her term if elected.

Republicans have been critical of Richardson's dual role. Nick Majerus, a spokesman for the Minnesota GOP, called it "a clear conflict of interest and a disservice to her constituents."

Richardson said there would be a "firewall" because she would not lobby or do political work on behalf of Planned Parenthood. Stoesz is a registered lobbyist in Minnesota and will stay on to lead the organization's political arm, she said.

She said she would recuse herself from votes that would directly benefit Planned Parenthood, but not from more general health care and abortion policy votes.

"For example, I would recuse myself if there was a bill to directly give money to Planned Parenthood," Richardson, DFL-Mendota Heights, told reporters on a virtual news conference.

Richardson, who is currently in her second term, said she's been able to balance her legislative work with leading a nonprofit mental health and substance abuse center. She recused herself from one vote over an extension of state funding for the center, she said.

State Rep. Ruth Richardson

State Rep. Ruth Richardson (FOX 9)

"We have a citizens' legislature," Richardson said. "It is a citizens' legislature by design, not by accident, and we have a variety of professions that are represented within the Legislature."

Recusals happen, but they are infrequent. The Legislature has numerous teachers who vote on education bills, real estate agents who vote on housing policy, and farmers who serve on the agriculture committees. 

Many lawmakers hold second jobs because the Minnesota Legislature is designed to be part-time, one where lawmakers bring their outside experiences to the state Capitol. Some outside work has been the subject of scrutiny.

Planned Parenthood is in the process of adding abortion services in Minnesota in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, leaving abortion rights up to the states.

South Dakota has banned abortions, while providers have stopped performing procedures in Wisconsin and North Dakota as laws in those states face court challenges.

Planned Parenthood North Central States has 28 clinics in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Nebraska.

"Right now, the focus is really on ensuring there is access to abortion care," Richardson said.