By Charles Hallman
When Rena Moran was elected last November to the Minnesota State House of Representatives, she became only the second Black woman to serve in the Minnesota Legislature. She joins second-term state lawmakers Jeff Hayden and Bobby Champion, along with first-term State Senator John Harrington, as one-fourth of an historical Minnesota “Black caucus.”
Rep. Moran is one of three new DFL House members and one of 11 women elected last fall. She represents District 65A, which is located in St. Paul’s Midway area.
“My district is highly diverse,” she said in an interview with the MSR shortly after she took office earlier this month. “[It] is a district of people who want the opportunity to be supportive of their kids, and [who are] working toward having a safe community.”
Her experience as a parent leader coordinator and community organizer has helped prepare her for her new career as a legislator, Moran believes. “I have been doing a lot of community organizing around issues that are impacting our community, including the [Central Corridor] light rail and the impact it can have on residents, homeowners and businesses,” she explained. “As a community organizer, I just see the work that I have done so much entails what a legislator could do and should do.”
In her State Office Building office, located across the street from the State Capitol, Moran said, “I have not yet felt overwhelmed.” Behind her small office desk, which as yet isn’t cluttered with legislative paperwork, sit prominent family photos — Moran is married and a mother of seven children.
Each office wall is adored with selected artwork. “All the artwork here comes from the community,” she said, adding that each piece was loaned to her. “It is a way of bringing the community here to the Capitol.”
Since the Republicans now control the Minnesota House, their leaders reduced the number of committees, divisions and subdivisions from last year’s 36, when the Democrats had the majority, to 24 this year.
Moran is a member of three committees: Education Reform, Health and Human Services Reform, and Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance. Being a member of these committees fits nicely with Moran’s overall legislative goal, she said: “I am a very strong advocate for strengthening families. I am a strong advocate for [crime] prevention.”
She also wants the various issues that her constituents told her were important to them during her campaign to be heard and addressed. “I knocked on thousands of doors, and regardless of the door I knocked on, the color of the skin or the age [of the person], everyone said, ‘We need jobs. We need to bring jobs into our community and our state,” the state representative recalled.
Her constituents also “want a strong educational system so that every child is graduating and is successful in school and in life. We all want safe communities, but we want safe communities not at [the cost of] having our young men incarcerated in such large numbers. Part of having safe communities to me is how we keep our libraries and parks open, how we create jobs for our young people.”
And despite the state legislature’s number-one priority of solving the state’s $6.2 billion budget deficit, Moran said, “I think there are alternative ways to do that and be able to save money and still support families. We just have to do it in a new and different way, and [we] have to be more innovators. We have to look at how we can best utilize the resources that we have that are going to continue to support families. I am hopeful that we can do that.”
Although she’s yet to feel overwhelmed, Moran admitted that the experience thus far has been breathtaking. “There was nothing more rewarding than to have [her children] sitting on the floor with me on the day of the swearing-in,” which took place January 4.
Her 17-year-old daughter constantly asked questions about what was happening, which her mother opined “would never have happened if I hadn’t run [for office]. It has been really fulfilling to not only see my family but many of their friends become part of this process, [especially] participating in the primary.”
Nonetheless, her family is still adjusting “to what this means or looks like,” she admitted. “I could not have done this — could not have run or put so much energy in this — without their support.”
Moran also said that her successful election campaign proved to her that Blacks and other people of color should fully understand the importance of being involved in the political process from start to finish, no matter the final outcome. “I thought it would be a great opportunity to get our whole community and people involved in that whole process, what it’s looks like and what that means; why it is important for us to participate, not only in the general election, but [also in] the primary.”
As the only female member of the otherwise male “Black caucus,” Moran said, “Jeff [Hayden] and Bobby Joe [Champion] have been hugely supportive, informative, and very engaging in helping me through this process. We all came together and said what committees we are looking to represent and join, so that we can really spread ourselves out and really be a voice for many different committees, and not find ourselves all sitting on the same committee.”
Barely a month into this year’s legislative session, Moran realizes that “There is much to learn sitting on this side of the desk. I am still excited, and still looking forward to the challenges.
“It is not just about me, but about us.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.