Hmong American Representative-Elects Affirm Commitment To Community
By Aarohi Narain
The Hmong community saw landmark victories this midterm election season. Hmong American candidates notched admirable wins – nine out of 11 candidates advanced through the primary, and seven eventually won political seats.
As the Pioneer Press reported, DFL-endorsed Hmong American legislators defeated Republican challengers with impressive margins. Meanwhile, the two nonpartisan judicial candidates faced close races, but came out victorious in the end:
- In House District 67B, which covers the southern portion of Maplewood, DFL-endorsed candidate Jay Xiong received 78 percent of the vote over Republican challenger Fred Turk.
- In House District 64A, St. Paul neighborhoods west of Snelling and north and south of I94, DFL-endorsed candidate Kaohly Her received 84 percent of the vote over GOP-endorsed candidate Patrick J.D. Griffin.
- In House District 40B, which covers Brooklyn Center and part of Brooklyn Park, 24-year-old Samantha Vang received 73 percent of the vote over GOP-endorsed candidate Robert Marvin. Vang narrowly defeated Hmong-American candidate Cindy Yang despite running without her party’s endorsement during the primary. She will be the first person of color to represent her majority-minority district.
- In House District 59A, covering most of North Minneapolis, DFL state Rep. Fue Lee won re-election with 86 percent of the vote over GOP-endorsed candidate Fred Statema.
- In House District 53A, which spans Maplewood and Woodbury, DFL-endorsed candidate Tou Xiong received 61 percent of the vote over GOP-endorsed candidate Andy Turonie.
- The five new lawmakers will join state Sen. Foung Hawj, who was elected in 2016 to represent Senate District 67 on St. Paul’s East Side.
- In the 2nd Judicial District, which spans Ramsey County, Adam Yang received 53 percent of the vote, defeating Scott Michael Flaherty for an open judicial seat. In addition, Paul Yang unseated Judge G. Tony Atwal with 53 percent of the vote. They will join Judge Sophia Vuelo, who made history when she was sworn in as Minnesota’s first Hmong judge.
For most of the representative-elects, it will be their first time in office. Rep. Fue Lee, however, was first elected two years ago – in 2016, he defeated Rep. Joe Mullery, a veteran politician who had represented north Minneapolis for more than two decades, and was backed by some of Minnesota’s best known politicians, including Attorney General-elect Keith Ellison and Governor Mark Dayton. Lee is the first person of color and of Asian descent to represent District 59A in the Minnesota House, and the fourth Hmong American elected to a state legislature. In May this year, he also introduced a resolution on the floor of the Minnesota House of Representatives commemorating Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month.
“I want to connect the Hmong community and my district to the Capitol. It’s important to me to help them understand the political process and what it can do for them, as well as motivate them to generate their own ideas to bring to the legislature. I hope Hmong and non-Hmong people in my district reach out to me, and think of me as a voice for them,” he says. “As a Hmong American politician, it’s really exciting to see how the number of Hmong American representative-elects has grown with the midterm election. It opens the door to new possibilities.”
Indeed, the influx of Hmong American representative-elects is already signaling important changes.
Representative-elect for House District 40B, Samantha Vang informed The Hmong Times that four new representative-elects have teamed up with Representative Lee and Senator Foung Hawj to create the Minnesota Asian Pacific Caucus (MAP Caucus) “in order to elevate Minnesotans, including AAPIs.” Vang, who is the youngest of the Hmong American representative-elects, ran a robust campaign emphasizing values of inclusivity and equitable representation; she is intent on staying faithful to her platform.
“I think the biggest part of my role is to give voice to the Hmong community as well as other AAPI [Asian American and Pacific Islander] communities who have long been underrepresented in mainstream politics. This is a seat to give voice, and a space people should feel welcomed to,” Vang says.
Meanwhile, in East St. Paul, representative-elect Jay Xiong is getting ready to take over House District 67B from longtime state Rep. Sheldon Johnson, who chose not to run for re-election after nine terms, and endorsed Xiong’s candidacy back in March.
“I am thankful for all East Siders who also call my neighborhood home. This great city has welcomed our [Hmong] refugee community over 40 years ago. To a new city and a great nation we now call home, I can think of no greater way to give back than by being a voice to advocate for my fellow neighbors in public service,” Xiong says.
“I may be Hmong, but I will proudly serve all people who live in 67B. I will work in partnership with anyone who will stand for values of equity and policies which uplift those who need help the most.”
In Maplewood and Woodbury, Tou Xiong has big plans for his time in office as well. (In another Minnesota first, there are now more Xiongs in the Minnesota House than Andersons, Johnsons, or Olsons!)
“I hope to serve the Hmong community by using this state-level office to highlight issues that disproportionately impact those in the Hmong community. I intend to speak up, and shed a spotlight on problems facing the Hmong community, particularly in healthcare, education, and business,” Xiong says. “But I always say: I am a Minnesota state representative who happens to be Hmong. I will do my best to drive awareness about concerns in the Hmong community, but my office door is always open to everyone.”
In a similar vein, Kaohly Her, policy director for St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter and co-founder [with Susan Vue and KaYing Yang] of Maiv-PAC, the nation’s first-ever Hmong American political action committee, brings a commitment to eliminating inequities to the Minnesota House.
“I am incredibly honored to serve District 64A as their next representative. My focus in the coming session will be on fully funding public K-12 education, universal/single payer healthcare, affordable housing, economic development, and the environment,” she says. “Disparities in these areas prevent communities, especially marginalized communities, from equitable access in order to achieve prosperity, security, and success. Work on these priorities will not only benefit the Hmong community, but also Minnesotans across the state.”
On the judicial side, Paul Yang (Ramsey County Judge, 2nd District Court 20) and Adam Yang (Ramsey County Judge, 2nd District Court 11) come with a wealth of legal experience. While Paul Yang founded and manages his own law firm and also works part-time as a public defender for the State of Minnesota, Adam Yang is a founding member of the Hmong American Bar Association who has been serving as an attorney in the Office of the Public Defender-Hennepin County for many years.
“As a judge, my principles are about fairness for all those who come before the court system and ensuring that those individuals are treated with respect. I will practice these values, and I will do so with patience, understanding and fair-mindedness,” Adam Yang says. “I am a judge for all the people, and I will do my best to help make the court system easy to access and to provide education to the community on legal issues.”
Paul Yang echoes a similar sentiment.
“I believe that justice is one of the pillars upon which our government stands, and a fair and impartial judiciary is essential to democracy, upholding our rights under the constitution. A critical element in achieving and preserving fair and impartial justice is that people who come to the court to resolve their disputes should have confidence that the judicial process will give them a fair shake – especially those who can’t afford an attorney,” he says.
“I bring diverse life experiences to the court. I was a child refugee who grew up in Ramsey County, and continue to live and work in Ramsey County, and I strongly believe that accountability and second chance can go hand-in-hand in the courtroom. My family and I were given a second chance in this country.”
“As judges,” he adds, “we can make a difference in people’s lives.”