First former refugee sent to Congress. First openly gay U.S. House member from Minnesota. First Muslim elected to a statewide office in Minnesota. First American Indian elected lieutenant governor nationwide.
Minnesota voters ushered in a wave of firsts Tuesday as the Democratic Farmer-Labor Party enjoyed broad statewide victories, fueled by success in the suburbs and featuring an increasingly diverse set of candidates. The Republican Party did best in the state’s more rural areas, mirroring nationwide electoral shifts.
“We have a party based on values of love, respect, transparency, accountability — basic ideas all wrapped up in the simple idea that everybody counts and everybody matters,” U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, the Democrat elected attorney general, said in his victory speech Tuesday night. Ellison, who was the first Muslim elected to Congress, in 2006, now boasts that same distinction for a statewide political office in Minnesota.
In at least one area, Minnesota politics did not conform to national trends: The DFL took control of the state House but the Republicans still lead the state Senate, making Minnesota the only state in the country with different parties controlling its two legislative chambers. It’s the first time that only one state nationwide has held that distinction in more than a century.
Here’s a look at some of the history made on Election Day in Minnesota.
A first in the Fifth, again
Just two years after Ilhan Omar made national waves by becoming the country’s first Somali-American elected to a state legislature, the 36-year-old Minneapolis Democrat danced with family and supporters on Tuesday as she notched yet another historic win.
“I stand here before you tonight as your congresswoman-elect with many firsts behind my name,” Omar told supporters at a victory party in Minneapolis.
Omar will be the first former refugee elected to Congress, the state’s first female congresswoman of color and the first U.S. representative to wear a hijab on Capitol Hill. She will join Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib as the first two Muslim women to serve in Congress. Omar won the safely Democratic Fifth Congressional District after serving one term in the Legislature.
Omar will replace Ellison, who defeated Republican Doug Wardlow in a hotly contested and oftentimes bitter race. Ellison becomes Minnesota’s first person of color and its first Muslim to serve as state attorney general. An Ellison spokesman noted that, outside of the state Supreme Court, Ellison is also the first black Minnesotan elected statewide.
Minnesota also elected its first openly gay member of Congress when voters in the Second Congressional District chose Democrat Angie Craig over Republican U.S. Rep. Jason Lewis. Craig ran among a record 391 openly LGBTQ candidates on ballots nationwide this year, according to data compiled by the LGBTQ Victory Fund, a political action committee that dubbed the movement a “rainbow wave.”
In Hennepin County, Metro Transit Sgt. Dave “Hutch” Hutchinson was presumed to have unseated Sheriff Rich Stanek and will likely become the first openly gay sheriff in the Midwest. Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Margaret Chutich, the first openly gay justice to serve on the court, also easily weathered a challenge from West St. Paul attorney Michelle MacDonald, a controversial perennial candidate who previously told the Star Tribune that she chose to run against Chutich because of her sexual orientation.
Entering Tuesday, Minnesota was one of four states whose two senators were women. With Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith cruising to victory and the addition of Craig and Omar, Minnesota’s full congressional delegation is now evenly split between five male and five female elected officials for the first time in state history. Democratic U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum also sailed to a 10th term in the Fourth Congressional District, held by the DFL since 1949.
Lt. Gov.-elect Peggy Flanagan became the first indigenous woman elected to the office in the country’s history. She is a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe.
Diversity in Minn. House
The DFL Party also took the state House behind a series of victories by women, while two Somali-Americans and four new Hmong candidates were elected.
By winning the state House, Democrats also earned the state a distinction more than a century in the making: According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Minnesota emerged from the midterms as the only state with a divided legislature — the first time just one state had two parties in charge of its chambers since 1914. Minnesota’s House was one of five legislative chambers that flipped from Republican to Democratic this election, joining both chambers in New Hampshire, Colorado’s Senate and Maine’s Senate.
Making local history
The Hennepin County Board will have its first two commissioners of color since it was formed in 1852 with the election of two political newcomers. Angela Conley defeated veteran Peter McLaughlin to represent the county’s Fourth District, and Irene Fernando defeated former Minneapolis City Council Member Blong Yang to win the open Second District seat.
Also Tuesday, Maria Regan Gonzalez, who ran unopposed to be mayor of Richfield, became the first Latina mayor in state history. Rochester voters elected Kim Norton, a former state representative, as the city’s first female mayor.
Mankato also elected its first female mayor, Najwa Massad, a Lebanese-American immigrant and longtime restaurant owner. Moorhead elected its first black mayor, attorney Johnathan Judd, and Liberian-American Mike Elliott became Brooklyn Center’s first mayor of color.
Stephen Montemayor • 612-673-1755