Get ready to fall in love.
With few exceptions, Minnesota went deep blue in the 2018 elections, chipping in two new U.S. House members and 18 DFLers in the statehouse.
Get to know them, and you’ll find Minnesota’s incoming crop of freshman is about as impressive as any single class in recent memory. Doctors, scientists, social workers, attorneys, people who’ve lived interesting and at times difficult lives. Adults who’ve overcome something.
Here are four. Be sure to keep track of their careers. They’re going places.
Ruth Richardson, Inver Grove Heights:
She’s been hustling behind the scenes for decades, fighting to get benefits for homeless veterans, fetal alcohol syndrome survivors, and people with disabilities.
She’s also a lawyer, and vice-chair of the Minnesota Board of Social Work. Her work took her to the Capitol on many occasions, and it was working across party lines that convinced her she could become a “professional problem-solver.”
She didn’t make up her mind about running in this election until two weeks before her district’s DFL convention; she won the endorsement anyway.
Her constituents are concerned about America’s messy and costly health care systems, and they want their schools not only safer from gun violence, but fully funded. So does Richardson, a mother of two teens.
Her father was a Met Transit employee who was badly hurt at work. His union protected his job and helped protect his medical benefits. Minnesota House members aren’t organized in a union (they’re barely organized as a caucus), but you’d better believe Richardson will be standing with poor workers over their rich employers.
Alice Mann, Lakeville:
Some people pronounce her name wrong upon introduction. They use the American pronunciation, but she’s actually Brazilian (so it’s ah-LEES, not AL-iss). As a girl, Mann emigrated to America with her parents and wound up in Richfield. Alice got interested in medicine, and has worked as a family care physician for more than a decade. In her spare time, she does volunteer medical care in poor or disaster-stricken foreign countries.
At home, she got fed up hearing from too many patients, people in pain or danger who couldn’t afford treatment—or even understand how the whole jerry-rigged medical system works. (Answer: It often doesn’t.)
“I’d get calls from insurance companies telling me that they weren’t going to cover what I’d prescribed,” Mann says, audibly frustrated.
She can recite our ranking for health outcomes off the top of her head (“the World Health Organization has us 36th”), and can shred conservative arguments about a “total takeover” of a person’s health care decisions. There’s “a lot of misinformation” out there, Mann observes, and people are rightly afraid of illness or a rough diagnosis. In Alice Mann, the freshman class is ready to give patients a second opinion.
Hodan Hassan, Minneapolis:
She survived a grueling primary against four Democrats in a progressive south Minneapolis neighborhood. How’d she manage to win? She got on her feet and didn’t stop moving, campaigning tirelessly until people started recognizing her on return trips to their doorsteps. “I even had a couple people put up signs saying, ‘Please don’t knock on our door again, Hodan, you already have our vote,’” Hassan says, laughing.
The neighborhood’s a blended one, and African and Latino immigrants make up a big chunk of its population.
Hassan understands what those people are going through: She works in mental health and social work, and has struggled some herself. In 2017, she stopped watching TV news; what she was seeing every day was simply too upsetting, and she needed to shield herself from it to protect her psyche.
Now Hassan is the news, and happy to be serving with a big group of female lawmakers. She recently visited Rwanda’s parliament and learned it’s 64 percent female. She knows her seat’s been held by a woman for 38 years (most recently by the groundbreaking lesbian Karen Clark) and is happy to carry that tradition on into 2019... and beyond.
Aisha Gomez, Minneapolis:
She doesn’t talk like most legislators—be warned, old-timers, she knows how to use slang! Then again, her background is different from most legislators’.
Gomez’s mom moved her three kids many times over, from Boston to Vermont, then to Minneapolis, where the family lived in Riverside Plaza, a poverty-stricken and, in the 1990s, drug-addled part of town.
Gomez had close friends in the building involved in drugs and violence. “It was some shit,” she recalls. “It was wild.” She also saw abuse (drug and physical) at home, as her mom, a public school teacher, cycled through a run of less-worthy boyfriends before finding a second husband.
Growing up in the places she did exposed her to the sorts of people who need government services most, and are often hardest to serve. “Some of the people at the homeless encampment, I’ve known them half my life,” she says. “I don’t see any separation from them and myself. I’m not going to judge where someone ended up.”
Gomez’s proximity to poverty shaped her thinking as an activist and policy aide to Minneapolis Council Member Alondra Cano, who had Gomez putting her environmental science degree to work on lead paint and city sites damaged by pollution.
When she’s not cracking wise, Gomez slips in lines like “Having access to this position, I know I have an obligation to do absolutely everything to show up for people in need in our world. Racial and economic and social justice is about healing, and restoration.” About time, isn’t it?