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Minnesota Women and the GLBT Community Score Electoral Victories

Susan Allen Minnesota State Legislature E1326467953149

One of two Minnesota women who won seats at a special election last week, Susan Allen becomes the first openly lesbian Native American to be elected to a state legislature.

Political women in Minnesota made history January 10 in special elections to replace retired state legislators. Democratic Farmer Labor candidate Susan Allen is going to the Minnesota House of Representatives as the first openly lesbian Native American to be elected to a state legislature. And Kari Dziedzic, also DFL, won election to the Minnesota Senate. Together they raise the number of women holding legislative seats in the state from 65 to 67—a number that is, however, still below the high of 70 of 201 seats held by women from 2006 to 2010.

Both elected from districts considered Democratic strongholds, they begin to reverse a trend whereby the number of women elected to DFL seats in 2011 decreased by 15 from 2009 while the number of women elected to Republican seats rose by 10. Dziedzic won with 80 percent of the vote over the Republican candidate and Allen with 55 percent of the vote over a progressive who ran as an Independent candidate. Both Dziedzic and Allen were endorsed and supported by Womenwinning/Minnesota Women’s Campaign Fund, and both noted on their campaign websites and literature the importance of the financial and volunteer support that resulted from the Womenwinning endorsement. “With tonight’s election of Susan Allen and Kari Dziedzic, womenwinning-endorsed candidates are 5 for 5 in legislative special elections!” was the post the organization’s Facebook page the night of the election.

In an interview with MPR’s Sasha Aslanian, Allen, a 48-year old attorney, said of her district, “It reminds me of a lot of the places I grew up; it’s 62 percent minority.” The district borders one represented since 1980 by Karen Clark, who is also openly lesbian. As noted by MPR’s Aslanian, Allen sees her experience as a single mother reliant on public transportation and assistance as an important perspective to bring to the legislature. Speaking to Indian Country Today Media Network, Allen said “This is a big win as an LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) candidate, for communities of color and especially for the American Indian community. I felt that this is important to be running as an out lesbian, Native American. It is interesting that some publications for Native Americans they are reluctant to print that. I think that this is something that we’re struggling with in minority communities. I think it is really important to start talking about that and to have some sort of healing process.”

Allen’s election is particularly poignant in light of a measure that will be on the 2012 general election ballot in Minnesota. Republicans, who had gained control of both legislative houses in 2010 for the first time in 40 years, passed legislation in the 2011 session to put an amendment on the ballot banning gay marriage. They resorted to a ballot question in order to bypass DFL Governor Mark Dayton, a long-time supporter of GLBT rights who indicated he would veto any legislation seeking to limit rights for GLBT citizens of Minnesota.

Dziedzic’s election means that for the first time in more than four decades, the central Minneapolis district that includes the University of Minnesota will be represented by a woman. Dziedzic was born, raised, and lived most of her adult life in the district, and although this is her first elective office, she is no stranger to government and politics—her father was a long-time Minneapolis councilman. Shortly after earning her degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Minnesota, Dziedzic took a job as an assistant to Senator Paul Wellstone when he was newly elected to the U.S. Senate in 1990. In addition to work in the private sector, she ran several campaigns for Democratic candidates for state office. She currently works as a policy aide to a Hennepin County Commissioner.

Dziedzic survived a hard fought primary among five Democratic candidates, which saw a large turnout from the Somali community in support of Mohamud Noor who finished second to Dziedzic in the primary. Noor did support Dziedzic and campaigned for her within the Somali community for the general election. Many political observers in Minnesota credit her win to Dziedzic’s ability to rapidly establish a highly organized campaign effort. On her campaign website Dziedzic said she would be both gracious and relentless in representing her constituents.

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