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Minnesota set for most diverse legislature in history next year

Minnesota legislature will soon be most-diverse ever
Minnesota legislature will soon be most-diverse ever 02:06

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Voters elected the most diverse slate of candidates to the state legislature ever this year, making the Capitol more reflective of the Minnesota communities lawmakers serve.  

In January when session begins, there will be 35 of the 201 members in both the House and Senate who identify as people of color, according to a list from the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library. That's a notable increase from just nine Black, Indigenous of people of color - BIPOC members - who served in St. Paul a decade ago.

The first openly transgender lawmaker will join the Minnesota House and the Senate will have the first Black women in its chamber in Minnesota's 164 years as a state.

"I really do believe when you have a variety of thoughts and ideas at the table that we all do better," said Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis. "Paul Wellstone said it best, he said, 'we all do better when we all do better.'"

Champion was elected by the new Senate DFL majority to be president of the chamber next year, a key role that presides over debates on public policy. He will be the first person of color and to hold that position - just 50 years after the first Black man was elected to the Senate. 

"When we think about progress, it's important for people to see it," he said.  


Now the legislature better represents the make-up of our state, though it still falls short of mirroring it. Data from the 2020 U.S. Census shows that nearly 24% of the state population is comprised of people of color. BIPOC members at the Capitol in January will account for 17.4% of all lawmakers. The legislature crafts policy and pass state budgets that impact Minnesotans' way of life.  

"If we want public policy to really reflect and take in consideration all of us then you have to have all of us at the table," Champion said.

In the House, Republicans tapped another barrier-breaker to steer their caucus next year. Rep. Lisa Demuth, R-Cold Spring, is the first woman to be leader of the House GOP. She is also the first Black person to lead any of the four main legislative caucuses.

"I did not raise my name to be voted in by my caucus to break any history, or make any history," Demuth said. "I actually just wanted to do the job and thought I'd be able to lead our caucus well in the next two years."

Demuth, who was first elected in 2018, is the head of the House minority, so she'll have to work with Democrats who have control to find compromise to see any policy priorities through. She said there's room for agreement with the DFL and the political environment "doesn't have to be a constant fight all the time." 

"I'm a conservative. I'm a Republican and I am proud of that. But I'm also here to served Minnesota and the things that matter to all Minnesotans shouldn't be dependent on the color of my skin or my gender at all," she said.

Her focus is on her leadership style and qualifications, not the historic significance of her new position. She said she asked her colleagues to look past that and not simply "check a box" when choosing her to lead.

But the impact is not lost on her.

"Why did it take this long?" she said.

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