Minorities are growing in politics

The population in Minnesota has also grown more diverse recently.

Kevin Karner

Minnesota’s political sphere is facing analysis as its population continues to diversify.

The University of Minnesota’s Center for the Study of Politics and Governance hosted a forum Wednesday on diversity in state politics. The event, which featured Minneapolis City Council members and political experts, explored how a diversifying electorate influences campaigns and who runs for local offices.

“The City Council races last year and their results were eye-opening,” said Humphrey School of Public Affairs professor Larry Jacobs, who moderated the event. “We saw the first Latino, Hmong and Somalis elected to the City Council in its history, and I think it reflects a broader change.”

Minnesota’s population is aging and diversifying, both racially and ethnically.

In the latest recent report from the Minnesota State Demographic Center, the office projects that Minnesota’s “nonwhite or Latino” population will grow to 25 percent by 2035, compared to 14 percent of the population in this category in 2005.

Ward 5 City Councilman Blong Yang and Ward 6 City Councilman Abdi Warsame, the first Hmong-American and Somali-American Minneapolis City Council members, respectively, spoke at the event. They said it’s important to remove institutional barriers that come with running for office.

“It’s very difficult for minority candidates to just come in and run. Fundraising takes a lot of time, as a candidate and official,” Warsame said. “You can’t just follow the [former mayoral candidate] Mark Andrew or [Minneapolis Mayor] Betsy Hodges route. They have a list of ready-made donors that Blong and I don’t have.”

Over the next 30 years, the populations of Latino, black and Asian Minnesotans are expected to more than double. This growth is compared to an expected increase of only 9 percent of whites, according to the state demographer report.

The reversal is because there are fewer whites moving to the state than a century ago, according to the report.

“I would say people of color are going to be able to decide elections. Whether [it’s] a Caucasian politician or someone on a bigger ticket, they’ll have to recognize and campaign towards people of color in a different way,” Yang said, noting that minority groups can swing an election.

As an example, he pointed to the election he ran in last fall as a Hmong-American candidate in a predominately African-American neighborhood.

“People have that sense that the party doesn’t care that much about them if they don’t need their votes,” he said. “I think that’ll need to change.”

The conversation comes in the wake of the Brooklyn Park City Council race, in which the first African-American candidate is running for a seat on the all-white council, despite the fact that less than half the city is white.