Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Why I'm voting for Blong Yang

Post by the Hawthorne Hawkman, image from Blong Yang's campaign website.



On November 6, I’m casting my ballot for Blong Yang as our next Hennepin County Commissioner for District 2.  Although his opponent, Linda Higgins, would likely not get my support after her stance on the Vikings’ Stadium, this is not a choice swayed by that issue.  I supported him before the DFL county convention (although Yang is a Democrat, he chose not to seek party endorsement for a non-partisan election), and far ahead of the primary.  In fact, I bought my house and had a Blong Yang sign in my yard before I even moved in a bed.

I was excited to hear of Blong’s entry into the race especially because of the first time we worked together…
…I was active on a campaign to get a Hmong-speaking police officer on the day shift in the Fourth Precinct.  We had one public meeting at Farview Park with over a hundred northside residents – most of them Hmong.  At that meeting, we were given five contractual reasons why the police department couldn’t just transfer someone to the shift—reasons like seniority, requirements to work night shifts for a while, employee preference, etc.  They all seemed like pretty good reasons, and we may have been resigned to a plan of five years or longer.

On our behalf, Blong did something no one really expected:  He read the contracts.  And it turns out that basically none of those stated reasons applied when a specific skill and a specific need (like language fluency) matched up.  Many of the same hundred people came to a second meeting, armed with the knowledge that Blong had helped us discover.  We were much better prepared to push for our community demand.

Blong’s thoughtful and detailed approach to a difficult issue still speaks volumes for what kind of a County Commissioner he’s going to be.  Even when I had nine other candidates to choose from, I cast my vote in the primary for him.

His campaign is an uphill battle against a more seasoned opponent.  But Blong is no stranger to adversity.  His time in a refugee camp and his growing years in poverty give him a perspective our community sorely needs at the County level.  Granted, Higgins wasn’t born with a sliver spoon in her mouth either.  But as our community grows more diverse, experiences such as Yang’s will become increasingly more important as a way to more fully understand a constituency with growing immigrant populations.

From what I've seen at debates I've attended and heard about when I couldn't make it, Yang holds his own quite well.  He's shown a solid understanding of our community, the issues across the district that we need an advocate for, and the role of the county in addressing those needs.

When Higgins has been asked why she is running, she says she thought she was done with politics after announcing her retirement as a state senator.  The County Commissioner seat appears almost to be an afterthought.  Yang asked for a temporary leave of absence from his job as an attorney with the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights—a move frequently granted to public employees.  When that was denied, he chose to step down from that job and fully commit himself to this campaign.  There is no doubt in my mind that Blong is running based on his convictions, and that speaks volumes about the job he will do if he wins.

I’ve heard the refrain that his opponent has more experience and could make a more immediate impact for the district.  Blong Yang brings his own unique set of experiences to the table, and as the first person of color voted onto the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners, in a district that grows more diverse by the day, he would bring a more lasting impact to our community.  The other chorus is that Yang is a good candidate and ought to “stay active” in politics while his opponent goes on.  I’ve made that same argument on other campaigns, and will have to seriously reconsider doing so in the future.  At some point, it is time for our long-serving politicians to step aside, so that a new generation of leaders can emerge.  When we have newcomers who are smart, dedicated, and capable, we ought to recognize them as such and realize when the time is right for them to take those next steps.

That time is now, that person is running for County Commissioner, and that’s why I’m supporting Blong Yang.

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