Make “politics work” for the people

Rena Moran on her run for house reelection

Rep. Rena Moran Courtesy of subject

This article is the second in an occasional series profiling candidates running for various offices and how their election might impact our communities.

In 2010, Rep. Rena Moran (DFL) became the first African American woman to be elected to the State House of Representatives. Representing District 65A, which includes portions of St. Paul, she now serves as the House Deputy Minority Leader.

In November, Moran will be on the ballot seeking to win her fifth consecutive term.

“My goal is to continue to be a part of leadership so that my voice – and the voice of my community – is part of the decision-making process in order to bring more equitable support to district 65A,” said Moran. “What keeps me up is working hard to make sure people know how politics impacts their lives. We have to use the power we have in our vote and our voice.”

The following are Moran’s responses to the MSR’s questions.

What is the most important thing you want to accomplish if you get elected into office?

There [are] a couple of things I am working on – the African American Preservation Act, which is looking at out-of-home placement within the child protective system and getting some oversight from the moment a family [is] being investigated through going through the process. We are creating accounts of African Americans to look at whether or not it needs to go down our investigation track or give the family some support services and keep the children in the home. So, I really want to move that forward.

Also, I had a bill that looked at trauma-informed policies and practices and I think it would be awesome to have our legislative body to begin to look at policies through that lens. So, getting a group of private community members who have experienced trauma…to look at trauma-informed best practices and to move legislation around that viewpoint. I think would be really helpful for families around Minnesota.

What is the most controversial issue you think you will have to deal with if you get elected and how will you deal with it?

I would not be surprised if – depending what the legislative body and the governor’s office look like – the Republicans try to bring back that protester bill. Having that battle to really stop increasing penalties for protesters was a huge part of my work during this past legislative session. So, I think that will be a huge battle. First Amendment rights for people to protest around injustices, which is what was happening, is a really important process that needs to happen without the fear of people trying to intimidate – especially communities of color.

How do we get money out of politics?

The one thing I would like to say about Minnesota is that we have some really strict campaign finance laws. We have really strict, as legislatures, we are not able to take any gift from lobbyists of $5 or more. But, in saying that, it seems hard to get the influence of lobbyist like big tobacco companies and others influencing the decision-making over these last couple of years at the legislature – where we have given big tax cuts to tobacco companies, where we have given huge tax breaks to top one percent. Those things have been very difficult under our Republican leadership. In 2017, we just gave big tax cuts to tobacco companies which impacts how we do funding for other things like education because that money has to come from somewhere.

What do you say to people who say they don’t like politics or politicians?

What I say to people – specifically to African Americans, but in general to all – is that one, everything is political and decisions that we make as elected officials, as politicians, impact our lives back at home. It impacts our schools. It impacts our everyday living.

So, politics have a place in our lives and people have the greatest opportunity to make politics work for them. But, in order to do that, you have to be a part of the process.

What’s your favorite thing about your district?

I love St. Paul. I love the people, the diversity, the activism, strong community-oriented neighborhoods. And, the relationship building that happens in St. Paul is like no other. It is absolutely a great city to live in. I love that families are working hard to take care of their families to be self-sufficient, to be the first teachers of their kids.

But, I also know we are a district that lacks the resources that need to come directly into this community to make sure that we have great schools; that we are not just creating jobs, that we are also training and preparing our community members to be ready and prepared for those jobs.

What is the greatest impact your position will have on the African American community?

I don’t know if you know, but I was the first African American person elected in 2010 to represent St. Paul. From being the first to now being the deputy minority leader in the house has been a journey. What, I believe has helped being African American is that my journey from homelessness to homeownership to the House of Representatives speaks volume to many of the struggles that families back in my district are facing.

Having my voice and working with the community has always been a goal of mine. To not just being a representative bringing the voices to the community, but to bring my community with me into that capitol. Because I’m comfortable to get uncomfortable until other legislatures see us, hear us and know what it is we need in this district to make the families in this community the best they can be and that’s important.

What elected officials past or present in the state do you admire?

I am always so impressed with Congressman Keith Ellison, who was a state representative before he moved onto Congress. I’ve learned a lot of great lessons from Commissioner Tony Carter. I knew Mayor Melvin Carter, who has really been like a mentor to me, who was really able to see something in me and connected me to the whole politics part of the process and that is what me being in this role [has] helped other Black individuals see all of their possibilities.

Interview conducted by Keith Schubert.