2018 will be remembered as the year Minnesotans finally elect- ed a Native American to statewide office — 160 years after statehood.
In the race for governor and lieutenant governor, Minnesotans chose Tim Walz and White Earth Band member Peggy Flanagan over the Republican ticket of Jeff Johnson and Donna Bergstrom. Bergstrom is a Red Lake member, so the state was guaranteed to make history with its first Native lieutenant gov- ernor either way, but the Walz/Flanagan team was endorsed by the Mille Lacs Band and preferred by most Minnesota Native Americans.
Across the nation, Native women also made 2018 a historic year. Debra Haaland of New Mexico and Sharice Davids of Kansas will be the first Native women in Congress when they take office in January.
Additionally, the Band's endorsed candidate for Attorney General, Keith Ellison, defeated Republican Doug Wardlow. Ellison will replace Lori Swanson, who stepped down prior to an unsuccessful bid for governor. Swanson agreed with her predecessor Mike Hatch's opinion that the Mille Lacs Reservation has been disestablished. Although Ellison has not expressed an opinion on the matter, the Band believes he will be more friendly to Native American interests than his predecessor.
Not all races went as many Band members had hoped. Republican State Representative Sondra Erickson, who has held office since 1998 (with the exception of two years) soundly defeated challenger Emy Minzel, who campaigned hard for the office and visited the District I and IIa communities several times.
Mille Lacs County Commissioners Roger Tellinghuisen and Tim Wilhelm and County Attorney Joe Walsh, who supported the county's 2016 withdrawal from the law enforcement agreement, were both reelected.
And Joe Radinovich, running for Congress in Minnesota's Eighth District, was defeated by Republican Pete Stauber, only the second Republican to win there in several decades. Outside Minnesota, Paulette Jordan of the Coeur d'Alene Tribe, who was running for governor of Idaho, was defeated by the Republican candidate.
Rallies on the reservation
The Government Affairs Department worked with the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) Party to host election rallies in all Mille Lacs Reservation communities.
On Friday, October 26, candidates made the rounds from Meshakwad Community Center to East Lake, Chiminising, and District I.
Band members heard from candidates Flanagan, Minzel, and Radinovich, along with U.S. Senator Tina Smith, State Au- ditor Julie Blaha, and Secretary of State Steve Simon.
Smith, Blaha, and Simon all won their respective contests, as did incumbent DFL Senator Amy Klobuchar.
Emy Minzel, DFL candidate for Minnesota House in District 15A, spoke about her commitment to represent all residents of the district, not just those who share her political views. She also stressed the importance of clean water and the Mille Lacs Lake tourism economy.
Emy said she became a mother three days before she turned 17 and relied on help to raise her daughter. “It’s a Minnesota value to care for each other,” she said.
Julie Blaha, who won her race for State Auditor, replacing Democrat Rebecca Otto (who also stepped down to run for governor), drew some laughs with her self-deprecating style.
“I know you all came out here to meet the person who’s running for State Auditor!” she joked. Julie talked about what the Auditor does and asked community members for their votes November 6.
Steve Simon said his mission is simple: to make it as easy as possible for people to vote. He talked about a former Secre- tary of State, Republican Mary Kiffmeyer, who tried to make it illegal to vote with a tribal ID. She and other Republicans also attempted to pass a Voter ID amendment that was voted down by Minnesotans.
Joe Radinovich talked about how good jobs have been re- placed by automation, and the new jobs don’t have the salary and benefits to keep up with the rising cost of living. He vowed to work to lessen the influence of big money on politics and to honor tribal sovereignty and treaties as the law of the land. He talked about the tax bill passed by Republicans in Washington that gives 80 percent of the benefit to the richest 1 percent of Americans, while they are threatening to cut Social Security and Medicare. “We have to change the way we do politics in this country,” he said. Unfortunately, his message was not enough to bring him to victory.
But the star of the show for many Band members in attendance was Peggy Flanagan, who talked about her childhood in St. Louis Park as “the kid with the different-colored lunch ticket” who had asthma and relied on Medicaid for healthcare.
“Some people talk about ‘those people,’” said Peggy. “Well, I am ‘those people.’”
Peggy and running mate Tim Walz ran on the theme of "One Minnesota," and for the first time in history, the state will have a representative of the first Minnesotans in statewide office in St. Paul.