BY STEPHANIE FOX
While most of the country is focused on upcoming presidential caucuses and primaries, voters in parts of South Minneapolis and Richfield had a chance to meet the five candidates who are hoping to fill the legislative seat of retiring DFL State House Representative Jean Wagenius, who has served since she was first elected in 1987.
The candidates showed up at the Richfield Community Center on Jan. 27 to seek the DFL endorsement in the District 63B precinct caucuses, scheduled for Feb. 25.
The five candidates, Emma Greenman, Tyler Moroles, Husniya D. Bradley, Eric Ferguson and Jerome Evans, were each presented with five questions during five rounds, moderated by Tom Anderson and Amy Livingston. Candidates also had a chance to present their backgrounds and the problems they hoped to tackle if they were to be elected.
Emma Greenman said that if elected, she hoped to first focus on repairing our democracy, starting with automatic voter registration, requiring financial disclosure of campaign money and fighting reoccurring Republican efforts to bring back voter ID.
“Our district is a little bit of the city and a little bit of the suburbs. We have an 83 percent voter turnout, but we can do better,” she said.
She also plans to work to improve the lives of kids. “We must invest in our schools. We need to pass the teachers of color act,” she said. “And, we need to support early education starting with universal pre-K.”
Greenman said she supports housing programs that ensure safe and affordable housing for all. Having shelter improves almost every other problem from health to education to crime rates, she said. In addition to subsidized rental housing, Greenman hopes to increase home ownership, especially among minorities.
“We have a unique opportunity to do bold things in the district and at the Capitol,” she said. “We need to harness this energy across the jurisdiction.”
Greenman got her start in Minnesota politics working with the Wellstone campaign. As a youngster, she lived in the Towers at Cedar-Riverside, which she said gave her insight into the struggles of lower income Minnesotans. She is a graduate of Berkeley Law School and received a master’s in public policy from Harvard. When she moved back home to Minnesota, she worked as a human rights lawyer, fighting against voter suppression and for immigrant rights.
Attorney General Keith Ellison: “Emma is the real deal. She was an organizer for Senator Wellstone, and she’s built her career as a voting rights lawyer around fighting for people pushed to the margins of our society. Emma doesn’t take short cuts or back down from a tough struggle.”
Tyler Moroles said he supports investing money in more housing, transportation and senior centers. “Everyone needs a home,” he said. He plans to reduce property tax, especially for lower income senior citizens, many of whom, he said, are being driven into poverty by high taxes on their homes.
He wants to increase opportunities for people of color to buy a home. Currently, he said, 41 percent of people of color own their own homes, more than 30 points behind white Minnesotans. “These people don’t have access to the middle class,” he said.
To help solve the problem of rising rents, he wants to allow local governments, not just the state, to pass rent control regulations.
He also champions public schools and wants to make it easier for paraprofessional education support specialists, many who are people of color, to become licensed teachers. “We need to bridge the gaps in ESL and special education and we need to fully unionize all staff, from teachers to bus drivers and cafeteria workers.”
Moroles supports a single payer health plan and wants to see more funding for addiction treatment instead of criminalizing addiction.
Moroles was born and raised in 63B. His father was a Mexican-American migrant worker. His mother was raised in Minnesota, the child of a physician and the first city councilwoman in New Ulm. He graduated from South High School and went on to obtain a master’s degree in political science. He currently manages the Hennepin County Community Development Block Grant Program and is co-chair of the Fair Housing Implementation Council. Doing this work, he said, has given him unique insights on how to craft housing policies at all levels of government.
Husniya D. Bradley (who usually goes only by her first name) said she is running for the state house to advocate for funding for Early Childhood Development programs and for increasing training for paraprofessional educators that would allow more of them to become licensed teachers.
Husniya would also like to find solutions to the crisis in health care. One idea she put forward is to hire more crisis nurses. “People should be able to call a nurse to come to their homes during a crisis. This would relieve the pressure in emergency rooms.”
And, she said she wants to restore and increase investment in the public school system. “I want all students to have access to quality education. When people are being left behind, they can’t get good jobs, can’t afford health care or homeownership.”
One way to help solve the housing crisis, she said, is to create housing alternatives, such as letting cities allow developers to convert vacant commercial properties to affordable housing. “There are 30 families in Richfield who are homeless,” she said, “and this plan could give them a place to live.”
Husniya was raised in South Minneapolis and attended Minneapolis Public Schools. She attended Spelman College in Atlanta, graduating with a degree in chemistry and later got a law degree from Mitchell Hamline College of Law. She served as the human rights commissioner in Richfield and is currently a member of the Richfield Foundation Board and the city’s transportation commissioner. She was a Fifth Congressional District chair and has held a number of other DFL leadership roles.
Eric Ferguson said that he will focus his campaign on what he calls “Big Ideas” that he said might seem out-of-the-box but could help to solve large societal problems in the long term.
Ferguson believes that the current housing crisis started more than 40 years ago, when Minneapolis had a population of 500,000 people. Today, there are 70,000 fewer people but, “As freeways cut huge swaths though neighborhoods, they removed hundreds, if not thousands of housing units,” he said.
Highways could be bridged over and housing could be built there on the area, he said. He pointed out that there already exists a section of Hiawatha Avenue that has been bridged over and has been converted to parkland and a public flower garden.
Ferguson admits that this idea might take time, but said that creating more housing, supporting mass transit and reconnecting neighborhoods would make this worth the effort.
Ferguson supports a statewide single payer health plan that would cover all Minnesotans for all their medical needs. “There is no use for private health insurance,” he said.
In education, he proposes an idea he called the “Commit to Minnesota” plan, where post-secondary school would be free for anyone who qualified, if they committed to living and working in Minnesota for five years after graduation. These newly educated citizens would stay here and bring in more taxes, he said. It would be an investment in Minnesota.
Ferguson also wants to require liability insurance for gun ownership. “If you need liability insurance to drive a car, you should be required to have it for a gun,” he said.
Ferguson is a freelance web designer and served as the chair of DFL District 63 for three terms, a position that gave him the experience needed in a legislator. “You have to organize. You have to get people to work together. There was never a guarantee that we’d get a turnout of DFL voters, but we never had to start from scratch,” he said, crediting his organizing district volunteers who worked to get DFL voters registered and then to the polls on election day.
Jerome Evans said that his campaign would focus on education, health care, and environment.
He is concerned about the lower quality education that black kids get in Minneapolis, but thinks this can be improved by government investment in schools, community organizations, child care and preschool programs including expanding before, after and summer school programs.
“Currently, the education system does not produce people who can get good jobs,” he said. “We should be investing in students so they want to stay in Minnesota,” which would bring in more taxes that could fund programs for the elderly.
“If you ask how we’ll pay for that,” he said, “we gave Delta [Airlines] an $800 million dollar tax break. We pay for a stadium and for wars. We can pay for this.” He said that some funding could be raised though legal marijuana sales and a lottery.
Evans is an advocate for single payer health care and supports greater investment in public health. “There’s a lack of attention to public health in Minnesota. On the hyper-local level, we are dealing with issues that should be on the state level.
“Climate change is a public health crisis. There are solutions and they weave into all the other issues. We need to teach environmental science in the schools. We need to have an electric vehicle grid throughout Minnesota, and create renewal energy, especially in rural Minnesota.”
Change, he said, takes more than emotional arguments. “You can talk racial justice until you are blue in the face, but to reach the GOP Senate and House, you have to start talking about data.”
Originally from Atlanta, Evans attended law school in Georgia and soon after, moved to Minneapolis. “I was lucky to find a community where values align with my own,” he said. He is the chair of the Nokomis East Neighborhood Association and the co-chair of the Public Health Advisory Committee for the City of Minneapolis.
Joel Burns, the District 63 Republican chair, says Frank Pafko, retired from State of Minnesota Department of Transportation, is confirmed to be running for 63B.