Voters elect first U.S. Hmong legislator

Elizabeth Putnam

With 51 percent of the vote, DFL-endorsed Mee Moua became the first Hmong-American state legislator in the nation Tuesday, filling the Senate District 67 seat left by St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly.

“I am at a loss for words and am honored by your trust and vote,” a teary Moua told supporters. “Tonight we must celebrate, but tomorrow, we have a lot of work to do.”

Garnering 3,056 of the 5,969 votes cast, Moua won by a landslide. Republican candidate Greg Copeland attracted 29 percent, while the Independent Jack Tomczak and Green Party-endorsed Jeff Davis received 18 percent and 2 percent, respectively.

Moua is the second woman to win the district and joins the 67-member Senate as one of only two Asian-Americans.

“The victory shows the large heart of the East Side,” said Rep. Tim Mahoney, DFL-St. Paul, who lost to Moua in the DFL primary earlier this month. “With a difficult legislative session ahead, tonight we’ve welcomed someone to help.”

Along with neighborhood safety, affordable housing and economic development, Moua said she will concentrate on higher education’s costs.

“I’m concerned that if tuition continues to get higher, it will cease to be affordable,” Moua said.

Moua was born in Laos in 1969. When she was 5, her family escaped to Thailand, living in a refugee camp before moving Providence, R.I., in 1978. Ten years later, the family moved to St. Paul.

Moua received a law degree from the University Law School in May 1997 and is a practicing lawyer representing small businesses.

She said she respects her opponents’ dedication.

“People like Jack (Tomczak) bring hope to an older generation of politicians,” Moua said. “He’s young and draws interest for the younger generation.”

Tomczak, a recent University graduate, said he knew his campaign was a long shot.

But he said that while Moua had many more volunteers and utilized the full support of St. Paul’s DFL party, his campaign brought out as many voters as it could.

“If this was winnable, we did everything we could have,” he said.

Copeland said his loss could be partly attributed to a lack of strong support from conservative organizations and individuals.

He was critical of Moua, citing her position on taxes as particularly problematic.

“There’s nothing in (Moua’s platform) that gives the taxpayer any hope at all,” he said. “I will remain her opponent.”

Davis said he would consider running again but not for another four years.

“I’ve chewed up so much of my vacation time already,” he said. “I can’t give up my regular job.”

Minnesota has the country’s second-largest Hmong population. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, almost 10,000 Hmong live in District 67. There are 24,389 Hmong residents in St. Paul and 41,800 in Minnesota.

LaMee Vang, president of the Hmong Minnesota Student Association, said the victory is an important step forward, especially for Hmong-American women.

“She is stepping outside of the traditional boundaries for Hmong women,” Vang said. “I can’t think of a Hmong female who has challenged the male authority like this. I am proud.”

 

– Staff reporters Tom Ford, Robyn Repya and Latasha Webb contributed to this report.

Elizabeth Putnam welcomes comments at [email protected]