At the local level, a history-making election

The color barrier is broken on the county board, and a refugee is going to Congress

Ilhan Omar, representative-elect in Minnesota's 5th Congressional District, is the first refugee to win a U.S. House seat. Photo by Michelle Bruch

Voters had a chance to elect a person of color to the Hennepin County Board for the first time ever on Election Day. They elected two.

History was also made in the state’s 5th Congressional District, which includes Minneapolis, where voters for the first time elected a refugee to represent them in Washington, D.C.

And after spirited challenges to the county’s top two law enforcement officials, it appeared Hennepin County voters had narrowly elected a new sheriff.

Those changes at the local level came as DFLers swept races for governor and the state’s other constitutional offices and a surge of support for Democratic candidates nationwide gave that party control of the U.S. House of Representatives, even as Republicans gained seats in the Senate. Minnesota’s state Legislature will be similarly split along party lines, with DFLers taking the state House from Republicans, who maintained a narrow state Senate majority.

Changes in Hennepin County include two new county commissioners: Angela Conley, who unseated Peter McLaughlin in District 4, and Irene Fernando, who defeated former Minneapolis City Council Member Blong Yang in the race for an open District 2 seat. Conley, who is African-American, and Fernando, the daughter of Filipino immigrants, together broke a barrier. The board has not included a person of color in its history, which goes back more than 150 years.

Conley said the board “desperately needed diversity,” but added that the change goes deeper than adding non-white members. Conley, who as a young woman relied on food, childcare and emergency housing assistance, noted she may be the first county board member who was also a recipient of county services, while Fernando will be the board’s youngest member at age 32.

“I think that having many viewpoints around that decision-making table will allow us to design approaches and solutions in more inclusive and more equitable ways,” Fernando said.

Voters in District 3 also re-elected Marion Greene to the county board.

Dave “Hutch” Hutchinson, a Metro Transit Police Department sergeant endorsed by the DFL, appeared to have narrowly defeated three-term incumbent Rich Stanek, a former Republican state legislator. With all 422 precincts reporting, the two were separated by just 2,329 votes — less than half a percentage point.

Hutchinson watched the election returns come in with supporters at Cooper Pub in St. Louis Park. The crowd cheered when a local TV stations called the race for Hutchinson just after 10:30 p.m.

Hutchinson told supporters that he “started this journey about a year and a half ago” because he “didn’t like how the current sheriff was policing our people.” He said he wanted to make sure that “while we police people in this county, we’re policing them in a fair, respectful manner, regardless of what country you’re born in, who you pray to or who you love.”

Hennepin County Sheriff candidate Dave "Hutch" Hutchinson speaks to supporters after learning of his likely victory over incumbent sheriff Rich Stanek.
Hennepin County Sheriff candidate Dave “Hutch” Hutchinson speaks to supporters after learning of his likely victory over incumbent sheriff Rich Stanek.

Voters re-elected County Attorney Mike Freeman, who withstood a challenge from Mark Haase, the director of government relations for a division of the state’s Department of Human Services.

It was a big night for Minneapolis Public Schools, too.

Voters elected two new at-large members to the School Board: active parent Kimberly Caprini and former teacher Josh Pauly. Incumbent Rebecca Gagnon fell short in her bid to win a third term.

Pauly, who watched the election returns come in at home with his wife, said he’s thankful and humbled to be elected. “There’s a lot of work we’ve got to do,” he said. “I’m excited to dive in and be part of that process.”

He said he’s excited to start building relationships with his fellow board members and said among his first steps will be to see where the district is with respect to its budget.

Large majorities also voted to approve two district referenda that will generate $30 million annually for MPS. They renewed the district’s operating levy and approved a new capital projects levy that will be used to cover its existing technology costs.

Voters in Minneapolis overwhelmingly answered “yes” to a ballot question on city liquor regulations, making it easier for restaurants located outside of large commercial districts to obtain full liquor licenses.

As expected, Minneapolis retained its all-DFL state House delegation. Fue Lee and Raymond Dehn won re-election in their North Minneapolis districts; Northeast re-elected Diane Loeffler to an eighth term and elected Mohamed Noor to his first; longtime representatives Jim Davnie and Jean Wagenius both won re-election campaigns in South Minneapolis; and Southwest voters returned Frank Hornstein to office for a ninth term while electing Jamie Long to succeed their former representative in 61B, Paul Thissen, whom Gov. Mark Dayton this year appointed to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Dayton’s successor in the governor’s office will be fellow DFLer Tim Walz, a Mankato native who currently represents the 1st Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. Walz’s running mate, Peggy Flanagan, represents St. Louis Park in the state House and is a former Minneapolis School Board member.

DFLer Keith Ellison defeated Republican Doug Wardlow in the race for Minnesota attorney general. Ellison is giving up his 5th District seat in Congress, but it will remain in DFL control with the election of Ilhan Omar, a Somali-American state legislator who was one of two Muslim women in the country to win a Congressional race in 2018.

“Here in Minnesota, we don’t only welcome immigrants, we send them to Washington,” Omar said at her victory party.

Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon won re-election, and a win in the state auditor’s race by Julie Blaha, a union official and former teacher, wrapped up a DFL sweep of the state’s constitutional offices.

In the two other statewide races on the ballot this year, Minnesotans re-elected Sen. Amy Klobuchar to a third term with more than 60 percent of the vote, according to the unofficial results from the secretary of state’s office. Sen. Tina Smith, appointed to replace former Sen. Al Franken, who resigned in January, also won her special election to serve out the final two year’s of Franken’s term.

Local turnout was remarkably strong for a midterm election. In Minneapolis, the unofficial tally was 173,213 ballots cast, roughly 20 percent higher turnout than in the 2014 and 2010 midterms.

Unofficially, 77 percent of registered voters went to the polls across Hennepin County, compared to 81 percent in 2016, a presidential election year, and 59 percent in 2014, the last midterm election.