Election 2020: MN House 59B Primary

This is the seat currently held by Raymond Dehn, the progressive favorite mayoral candidate back in 2017. On the ballot:

Raymond Dehn (incumbent)
Esther Agbaje (endorsed by the DFL)
Isaiah Whitmore

Lisa Neal-Delgado, a Green, will be running in the general election. (I mention this just in case you’ve seen her name and are wondering why she’s not getting discussed!)

When Dehn ran for mayor in 2017, his platform was the first time I’d ever heard of upzoning. Looking back at the centrality of the police reform stuff to his platform, I kind of wonder if things would have gone any differently this spring if he’d been mayor or if we’d have seen the exact same clusterfuck.

The thing I find a little puzzling is that Dehn seemed like such a progressive darling as a mayoral candidate three years ago — how did he go from that to losing the endorsement? Especially since he and Esther Agbaje seem to hold the same positions on pretty nearly everything? I think it’s a mix of things: impatience with lack of progress, first of all. Also, Agbaje is a really appealing candidate. She’s a graduate of Harvard Law School, she worked for the State Department as a Foreign Affairs Officer, she has a Masters in Public Administration from the University of Pennsylvania and worked with cities to develop computer systems to track goals and outcomes of city programs — it’s the sort of resume I look at and think, “and you’re running for state legislature? Why aren’t you jockeying for a cabinet position in the Biden administration?”

One argument in favor of electing Agbaje really is that the Democrats need a better bench, and our bench has historically been a bunch of old white people, and the way you get young people and people who aren’t white on your bench is that you elect them to entry-level stuff like the State Legislature.

Dehn has gotten things done, though, and I think it’s worth noting that some legislation is a long-term project. He’s helped accomplish some of the major criminal justice reform He was one of the movers and shakers who got ban-the-box legislation passed in the House. He’s a formerly incarcerated person who had his voting rights restored in the 1980s; he’s one of the legislators who’s worked, so far unsuccessfully, to restore the franchise to people as soon as they’re released from prison. Ten years ago, this really wasn’t an issue that people were broadly aware of. Now the idea that people serving time should be allowed to vote by absentee ballot is mainstream among progressives. This is not solely down to Dehn but as a formerly incarcerated person who is now a state legislator and who’s made this an issue he focuses on, I think he gets a share of the credit. Anyway — this is precisely the sort of issue that requires people to push on it for years, because there are a lot of people who a decade ago would have viewed it as basically reasonable that people convicted of felonies lose the right to vote for life, who would now argue for allowing people in prison to vote.

Once again, Southwest Journal had the best coverage I found of the two candidates. The primary issue on which they seem to actually disagree is the Upper Harbor Terminal, which Dehn basically supports and Agbaje basically opposes.

Dehn is not endorsed by the DFL but is endorsed by Our Revolution Twin Cities and by Keith Ellison. In addition to the DFL, Agbaje is endorsed by Angela Conley and Hodan Hassan (and presumably Ilhan Omar and Bobby Joe Champion, who showed up for the Cookie Cart at the Park event she held on Saturday.)

Which brings me to another thing I wanted to note, which is that Agbaje has been doing meet-and-greets — outdoors, masked, with free cookies and lemonade. This is a really rough summer to be trying to campaign, and I appreciate candidates who are going the extra mile to find a way to meet voters, although I’m not going to hold a lack of in-person events against candidates who don’t hold those — masked outdoor contact is outside the comfort zone for a lot of people I know, especially if they have a family member in a high-risk group. I couldn’t even find virtual events for Dehn, though. (Maybe he held some and they’re just no longer listed? But I checked his Facebook and his Twitter looking for any reference to virtual outreach and didn’t find anything.)

The third candidate in the race is Isaiah Whitmore. Some highlights from his platform: he starts with “basic human needs are human rights” and wants the district to “work with nonprofits, concerned community members, land lords, restaurants, thrift stores, and food shelves to create the sort of ecosystem where everyone gets what they need no excuses.” He wants to revamp school curricula to be more relevant: “Our schools must teach our children about things that are relevant to their day to day lives so as soon as they graduate high school they will be successful.” And he wants more investments in small businesses.

He’s young (twenty-four.) His past experiences include working as an assistant political director for Ilhan Omar. His LinkedIn also talks at length about past work for the Marie Sandvik Center; I’m curious how he transitioned from the sort of Christian who’d work for years at a missionary center that engages in the form of charity where to get help you have to come to a service (“Persons who attend a chapel service are eligible to receive food, clothing, and hygiene items after the meeting”) to the really vocal Muslim that he is now. (I don’t want to come down too hard on the Marie Sandvik center, which is a religious organization that clearly provides a lot of really desperately needed services. This is just one of those times that my political research led me to what’s clearly an interesting untold story from the candidate’s life.)

Anyway — Whitmore gave it a a decent run for a first campaign (did I mention he’s twenty-four?!? definitely someone who could run again, if he chooses) but this is pretty clearly a race between Dehn and Agbaje.

If I were in 59B, I think I would vote for Agbaje — less because I want to get rid of Raymond Dehn than because I’d really like to see her in the legislature.



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