The New Guard

The race to replace St. Paul mayor-elect Randy Kelly illustrates how much the city's east side has changed

Moua faces other significant obstacles in winning the senate seat. For one thing, she backed city-council member Jay Benanav over native-son Kelly in the mayoral campaign. A key factor in the senate race will be the mayor-elect's endorsement--if he makes one. Moua takes pains to make clear that her support of Benanav was not a condemnation of Kelly. She points out that initially she supported First Ward council member Jerry Blakey for mayor and only switched to the Benanav camp after he secured the DFL endorsement. "I have tremendous respect for Randy Kelly," she states. "I love the fact that he's a fighter for St. Paul."

Some political observers also question whether Moua has the experience to step into a legislative session that is expected to be excruciating because of looming budget shortfalls and the division of power between three political parties. Former state Rep. Jim Farrell (DFL-St. Paul) notes that the East Side's state delegation is already lacking in legislative expertise. "Right now we go into a situation where Mahoney has three years' experience, Johnson has one, and the senator would have zero," says Farrell, who is encouraging former Rep. Trimble to run for the senate seat.

He further argues that knowledge of the back halls of the capitol will be particularly crucial in the upcoming session, which will focus primarily on bonding issues. "They have no idea the politics that go behind the bonding bill," Farrell argues of Moua and other political neophytes vying for the senate seat. "They'll get blown right out of the water." For example, during the upcoming session St. Paul lawmakers will be seeking funds to build a library at Metropolitan State University, located just east of downtown, as well as money for the redevelopment of the Phalen Corridor.

Naturally Moua scoffs at the assertion that she doesn't have the acumen to bring home the legislative bacon for the East Side--a role that Kelly was particularly renowned for. Likewise, she plays down the fact that she would become the first Hmong American to hold state elected office. "For me, if that becomes the case, that's the icing on the cake," she says. "What really concerns me is the ability to represent all the citizens on the East Side."

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