Susan Allen is first Native American woman elected to Minnesota legislature

Allen is the first Native woman and the second open lesbian to serve in the legislature.
Allen is the first Native woman and the second open lesbian to serve in the legislature.

Yesterday, Susan Allen won a special election for the House District 61B seat, making her the first Native American woman elected to serve in the Minnesota legislature.

Allen prevailed over Nate Blumenshine, a left-leaning "Respect" candidate. Allen received 56 percent of the vote, compared to 43 percent for Blumenshine. About 12 percent of 61B's 17,465 registered voters cast ballots.

While Allen won by a comfortable margin, 56 percent of the vote in a general election is the lowest total received by a DFLer in liberal District 61B in recent memory.

What accounts for Allen's relatively low vote percentage?

David Brauer, a MinnPost journalist and local Twitter celebrity (@dbrauer), is a close observer of Minneapolis politics and lives in Kingfield, which is part of District 61B.

During his 18 years of living in the 61B -- which in addition to Kingfield includes the south Minneapolis neighborhoods of Whittier, Lyndale, Central, Bryant, Regina, Field, and Powderhorn -- Brauer said he can't recall many, if any, general elections where the DFL candidate received less than 70 percent of the vote.

He said it was his sense that Blumenshine and Allen were similarly left-leaning and didn't differ much in their politics, so "for a lot of people it was a question of who you liked."

"The only thing I heard campaign-wise that might have affected Susan Allen was that she's not the best speaker and doesn't have the most compelling presence," Brauer said, adding that it might simply have been the case that "Nathan worked his ass off" to get 43 percent of the vote.

While her presence may not be, Allen's story is certainly compelling. She grew up as a poor Native American and is a member of the Rosebud Tribe in South Dakota. As an out lesbian, she joins Senator Karen Clark as the second openly lesbian legislator in state history. She works as a tribal and tax law attorney.

In a press release announcing her victory, Allen said: "As a Native woman and lesbian I know what it's like to be left out, to not have a voice," adding that "when this seat became open I felt it was the natural progression of my life's work to run for it."

The press release states that Allen's priorities will be bringing jobs and job training to her district, working on a fair tax system, and fighting the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage that will be on the ballot this November.

Blumenshine, for his part, accepted defeat gracefully. In a concession announcement, he said:

Susan is a remarkable woman and a dedicated progressive. Her personal story is a powerful one, and I can't think of a stronger leader to serve as the voice of this community. I laud the respectful tone that she showed me and brought to this race. I will now do everything I can to support her work, to ensure that we bring affordable health care to all Minnesotans, educational opportunities to all children, and living-wage jobs to the many unemployed in our community.

Allen will take office in time to be part of the 2012 legislative session, which begins January 24.

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