Established and newly elected legislators are sounding a hopeful note after the recent election promised to deliver the most diverse Legislature in Minnesota history.
At least 35 out of 201 members of next year's House and Senate identify as people of color, according to a Sahan Journal count verified by DFL and Republican Party leaders.
LGBTQ representation will also expand. According to the LGBTQ Victory Fund, a national organization that works to elect LGBTQ lawmakers, 11 of next year's Minnesota lawmakers belong to the LGBTQ community. That's a record that will more than double that representation in the Legislature.
The new legislators will include Minnesota's first Black women to serve in the Senate, the first Japanese American legislator, the first openly nonbinary lawmaker, and the first transgender legislator.
They'll be joined by the youngest woman and first member of Generation Z to serve in the Legislature — Zaynab Mohamed, who is also one of three Black women elected to the Senate.
Alicia Kozlowski, DFL-Duluth, who is Ojibwe and Mexican, became the first nonbinary person elected to the state Legislature.
Esther Agbaje, DFL–Minneapolis, the co-chair of the House's People of Color and Indigenous Caucus, noted that more representatives of color are coming from the suburbs and greater Minnesota.
"I think it's great that we now have a Legislature that is starting to look more like the state of Minnesota," she said.
Overall, 17% of next year's Legislature will consist of people of color, nearly mirroring the state population. About 20% of Minnesotans are people of color, according to the Minnesota State Demographic Center.
The vast majority of the incoming members of color — 30 — belong to the DFL Party. Five of next year's legislators of color are Republicans including one newly elected state representative.
The new Democratic members will have the opportunity to shape the state's political roadmap for the next two years, after Democrats won control on Nov. 8 of both the House and Senate for the first time since 2012.
Though the growing People of Color and Indigenous caucus hasn't met yet, Agbaje said they will plan to bring a racial justice lens to legislative priorities.
"We know that when we are doing right by our marginalized communities in Minnesota that everyone does well," Agbaje said.
Patricia Torres Ray, DFL–Minneapolis, an outgoing state senator, was one of three senators of color when she took office in 2007. As she's seen the Legislature grow more diverse, she's also seen changes in how communities of color engage with the Capitol.
"Generally communities of color feel more invited when we have people inside who represent them," she said.
It also means the state's diverse communities will be better represented in policy discussions, she said, adding that having more leaders of color inspires the next generation.
Many legislators of color are relatively new to the Capitol, so they lack the seniority that often brings leadership positions, Torres Ray said. She advised the incoming legislators to challenge those rules, and credited House Speaker Melissa Hortman for opening up chair positions to newer legislators of color in the last session.
Most committee chairs have yet to be named, but recently the Minnesota Senate DFL Caucus elected its leadership team. They chose Bobby Joe Champion, DFL–Minneapolis, as Senate president. Champion will be the most senior lawmaker of color when the new legislative session convenes next year. He will be the first Black person to serve as Senate president. Athena Hollins, DFL–St. Paul, who is also Black, will serve as House majority whip.
Republicans recently chose Lisa Demuth, R–Cold Spring, who is biracial, as the House minority leader.
Though many of the new members of color are DFLers, the Republican Party also added to the diversity of its House caucus. Walter Hudson, who is Black, won a state House race in Wright County.
Hudson, who serves as a member of the Albertville City Council, said the Republican Party in Minnesota doesn't tend to seek out diverse candidates. He'd like to see that change.
"The approach that I think Republicans should be taking is actually engaging people in relationships where they're at and where they live — to learn what their issues are and what their values are — and see how those values jive with the Republican platform," he said.
The Legislature's increasing diversity is noteworthy and can serve as common ground for legislators of color from both political parties, he said.
"My hope is, as we move forward, that the diversity will manifest itself in discovering how we're alike as opposed to focusing so much on what makes us separate and distinct from each other," he said.
Kozlowski said that as the DFL Party looks to the future, it must continue to adapt to the energy its diverse candidates harnessed this election.
"So important is all those people who are coming behind us," Kozlowski said.
This story comes to you from Sahan Journal, a nonprofit newsroom dedicated to covering Minnesota's immigrants and communities of color. Sign up for its free newsletter to receive stories in your inbox.