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Minnesota Legislature

Public service is all in the family for O’Neill, Daniels

Reps. Marion O’Neill and Brian Daniels are the first brother and sister to serve in the House at the same time. Photo by Paul Battaglia

They finish each other’s sentences and their offices are next to one another. Rep. Marion O'Neill (R-Maple Lake) and Rep. Brian Daniels (R-Faribault) share more than election certificates. They share DNA as the first and only brother and sister to serve together in the House.

Not bad for two people who nearly lost their lives.

O’Neill survived a terrible car crash as a teenager in which she was ejected from the vehicle and landed in a pasture with fractured and dislocated vertebrae. About 10 years ago, Daniels had surgery for a brain tumor which left him partially paralyzed, making walking difficult at times.

“We’re here for a reason,” began Daniels, “to serve a purpose for the greater good,” ended O’Neill.

They attribute their success to hard work, family stamina and strong faith.

“I really think God had a hand in it,” Daniels said.

As siblings, they are not the first to serve together in the Legislature. Former Sen. Ted Lillie (R-Lake Elmo) and Rep. Leon Lillie (DFL-North St. Paul) preceded them in 2011-12, but that doesn’t take away from the specialness of the moment.

[Learn more about other legislative family ties via the Legislative Reference Library]

“I’m so proud and excited to make history because I’m the woman. I mean, to be that kind of driving force and inspiration to other women,” said O’Neill.

When preparing for her second term, O’Neill asked Daniels, who is ingrained in the Faribault community, to look for a potential candidate in his district.

“I told her, ‘What about me?’” he said

O’Neill said her brother was the perfect candidate. He is a small-business owner and married with four adult children, one of whom is deaf. Faribault is home to the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf. He also served on the school board there from 1985-1988.

“When I looked at the bio, regardless of him being my brother, I said, ‘This is a great representation of this district. They’re hard-working, middle-class people who live there. They work really hard and that’s what Brian has done his entire life. He took over the family business at 19 and raised a family on it.”

Because she ran unopposed, she had time to campaign for him. They loaded up materials and a golf cart he used as his “magic legs” to door knock.

Public service runs in the family. Their father also served on the school board in Bagley where their family of six children was raised. Their brother, Gary, served on the Warroad School Board.

From the time they were pre-teens they developed a good work ethic on the family farm, driving tractors down the rows of trees. “I was never bored,” O’Neill said.

Both serve on the House Higher Education Policy and Finance Committee, where O’Neill is vice chair. He went to community college; she has a master’s degree.

Each is entitled to reside near the Capitol during session due to the distances they must travel. O’Neill chooses to drive 53 miles each way to her district because she has a daughter who lives at home. Daniels is adjusting to living in St. Paul and uses FaceTime to stay in touch with his wife, Liz, who works full-time in Faribault but never missed a day on the campaign trail.

“She told me, ‘I’m learning to adjust,’” he said about their new lives apart during session. “With my jobs, I’ve never been gone for more than two nights so this is a little different.”

He’s offered a couch to his sister if the nights on the House floor get too long. The sisterly and brotherly love goes both ways. Their adjacent offices were by design.

“She’s very mindful of me being physically exhausted at times,” Daniels said. “She’s been very supportive and very protective, which I appreciate.”

“I just wanted to make sure that if he needed me, he could get to me quickly and easily,” O’Neill countered. “I just wanted to make sure that whatever he needed, I was here for him.”

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