Debra was born and raised in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. She is the daughter of a former 49er, the granddaughter of a Teamster and dairy farmers, and the wife of a union carpenter. She was the first in her family to graduate from a four-year college (University of Minnesota), and she put herself through law school at William Mitchell College of Law.
Debra has served in the Minnesota House of Representatives since 2001. During her tenure, Debra has held various leadership roles such as the DFL Deputy Minority Leader and as the Chair of the Public Safety and Judiciary committees. Prior to serving in the Legislature Debra served on the City Council in Brooklyn Center for six years.
Outside of the Legislature Debra worked as an Assistant County Attorney for Anoka County, where she fought to protect the public and victims of crime from those who steal from vulnerable adults, commit domestic violence, and sell illegal firearms. She has argued criminal cases in front of the Minnesota Supreme Court, trained officers on how to investigate elder abuse, fraud, and financial exploitation, and educated prosecutors on how to bring justice to those victims.
Debra and Joel, a union carpenter, have been married for over 30 years. They are proud parents of Jeremy, Stephanie and their son-in-law Taylor.