The race is on for greater equity in governance

Will representation from communities of color keep growing in 2018 midterms?

Cheniqua Johnson, Keith Ellison, Rep. Ilhan Omar, Ruth Richardson, Jamal Abdi Abdulahi and Rena Moran
(l-r) Cheniqua Johnson, Rena Moran, Keith Ellison, Ilhan Omar, Ruth Richardson and Jamal Abdi Abdulahi (Photos courtesy of candidates)

In the last election, Minnesota saw a significant increase in the representation of Africans and African Americans in several branches of government. This included the election of St. Paul’s first Black mayor, as well as three new Black members of the Minneapolis City Council and strong representation on school and park boards.

As the next election approaches in November, last week’s filing deadline revealed a broad range of candidates who, if elected, could continue changing the face of Minnesota’s governance. Seats up for election this year include U.S. senators (including one special Senate election resulting from former Sen. Al Franken’s resignation), state representatives, governor and lieutenant governor, state attorney general and county commissioners.


“We don’t need to just elevate marginalized communities. We need to actually elect our voices to the decision-making table.”


This story focuses on current Black candidates for U.S. Congress, state representatives, and the state attorney general. Future stories will feature Black candidates running for other open positions.

With more than 20 African and African American candidates filing to run for office, Corey Day, executive director of the Minnesota DFL, said, “If there is one thing that last week shows, it’s that the Minnesota DFL has a deep bench — and a diverse one at that.”

Incumbent DFL House Rep. Rena Moran said that Minnesota already has its most diverse legislature in history. She added that diversity is “important for bringing underrepresented communities’ perspectives and voices to their government.”

“Black legislatures, policymakers, and attorneys can play a vital role in the fight for justice,” said Leslie Badue, president of the Minneapolis NAACP chapter. She said the number of candidates of color running for office shows a shift in politics, not only in recent history but long-term, as well.

“Black people were intentionally excluded from the political landscape of America during its creation…and I think that there is a desire to help to right some of the past wrongs,” Badue said.

Leslie Badue, new NAACP Minneapolis president Keith Schubert/MSR News

However, the filing didn’t go as smoothly as some in the DFL would have hoped, with last-minute dropouts and filings. Now the party is set up for busier primary elections than they were anticipating.

The biggest shakeup in the political landscape came with U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison filing to run for attorney general after Lori Swanson pulled out of the race to make a run for governor. A source close to Ellison told the MSR that during the “Trump era” of politics, Ellison wants to play a more direct role in protecting consumers and fighting for equity for all Minnesotans.

After his filing, Ellison’s Fifth Congressional District seat (CD5) became a hotbed for candidates looking to advance their political careers. Black candidates who filed include DFLers Rep. Ilhan Omar, the nation’s first Somali American legislator; Kim Ellison, school board member; State Sen. Bobby Joe Champion; and Somali American Jamal Abdi Abdulahi.

Champion and Kim Ellison have since withdrawn from the race.

Because of the high interest in Ellison’s seat, the DFL has announced it will be holding a special endorsement convention on June 17. Gov. Mark Dayton has already endorsed Ellison for attorney general and Omar for Ellison’s congressional seat.

Similar to the chain reaction following Ellison’s decision, Rep. Omar’s run for CD5 has led to a more competitive race in her district, where three of the nine candidates vying for her seat are Somali Americans.

In an email to the MSR, Omar said, “I’m ecstatic more people of color are running for office in Minnesota and around the country.” She added that it is an important step for equity and that to “combat systematic disparities, we don’t need to just elevate marginalized communities. We need to actually elect our voices to the decision-making table.”

At the DFL Endorsement Convention early this month, the party endorsed two Black candidates: Cheniqua Johnson, who is running for the District 22b State House seat, and Ruth Richardson, who is running for the District 52b House seat.

“This is an encouraging sign that we not only have momentum going into the fall, but we are also building a party that is more reflective of Minnesota’s emerging communities and values we believe in,” said Day.

Badue added that, while more Black people may have filed to run, it does not mean that “all of a sudden we have such brilliant Black people that we have never had before. We have had them, but they have not gotten [an equal] opportunity.

“We are asking to acknowledge that race and White supremacy has played a critical role in prohibiting people of African descent [from holding elected office], and that is significant because this country was built on the backs of Black people.”