The Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party’s (DFL) endorsement of a candidate in the state senate race for District 38 will have to wait until August, after delegates failed to agree on a candidate Saturday.
The Organizing Unit Convention at Northview Middle School in Brooklyn Park was held to decide between Brooklyn Park City Councilmember Susan Pha, and Huldah Momanyi Hiltsley, a community leader who is the president of the Kenyan immigrant organization, Mwanyagetinge.
“This is an effort of grassroots people coming together from across the community to decide who will represent them at the Capitol in St Paul,” said Ryan Winkler, the Majority Leader of the Minnesota House of Representatives.
The DFL has a structured process for selecting its candidates. There are four official levels of DFL caucuses and conventions, according to the DFL website. First, the precinct caucuses are held to give local voters a chance to get to know their candidates. That state also offers voters opportunities to speak with candidates and cast preferential ballots.
The second level, called the Organizing Unit Convention, groups candidates by senate district and delegates cast ballot to finalize an endorsement. These conventions are typically held on even-numbered years. Nevertheless, the outcome is not always clear. If neither candidate obtains the minimum required 60% vote threshold of delegate, the convention ends without an endorsement.
Although Hiltsley maintained a steady lead over Pha in both rounds of counting, she did not crack the 60% threshold required to get an endorsement. This means that, should neither of them withdraw their candidacy, the two aspirants will compete in the state primary on August 9 to determine who will ultimately represent District 38 DFL ticket in the November elections.
During a question and answer segment, delegates had the opportunity to anonymously pose questions for the candidates. One voter inquired about the candidates’ position on the Clean Slate Act, a policy that would grant case-specific expungements for non-felony and non-violent offenses. Both candidates expressed support for the act, saying that it would allow the community to thrive by giving people a second chance.
Another delegate asked how the candidates plan to approach affordable housing. Pha, who was Chair of the Affordable Housing Taskforce, said that her experience had equipped her well to address the issue.
“It’s a very difficult issue when inflation is rising faster than our wages,” Pha said. “I am currently funding a unit that supports affordable housing for disabled adults.”
Momanyi-Hiltsley said that she believed affordable housing to be central to addressing community problems. She spoke about District 38’s homeownership gap and said that it was imperative to elect a candidate who understood the root of such a systemic problem.
“Every resident in this district deserves safe and healthy housing,” said Hiltsley. “When we have affordable housing, we have healthy communities.”
The candidates were also asked about their stance on the Crown Act, specifically, how the candidate would ensure the Act gets passed in the Senate to become Minnesota law. It passed the Minnesota House on Feb. 28 but has to also pass the Minnesota Senate before the governor can sign it into law. The Crown Act prohibits discrimination based on hair texture. It is a response to centuries of hair discrimination in the workplace that disproportionately affects people of African descent. Hiltsley said that as a Black woman, the Crown Act resonated with her deeply.
“As a Black woman, I always have to worry about how my hair is styled for work, and it shouldn’t be that way,” she said. “The Crown Act breaks down barriers.”
Pha on her part said “I am not familiar with the Crown Act but after this, I will make a commitment to all of you to get more information.”
As both candidates are still in the running for the August 9 primary, District 38 voters can expect more opportunities to hear about where the candidates stand on various issues.
“Even though today didn’t go how we expected it to, it is such a blessing to see two women of color pursuing the opportunity to lead our community,” said one delegate, who supported Hiltsley, but did not want to be named.