MINNESOTA, USA — Unlike the Minnesota House, there has never been a Black woman serving in the Minnesota Senate.
However, that could soon change as at least seven Black women are running for Senate seats this election cycle: Zuki Ellis, Marla Helseth, Huldah Hiltsley, Farhio Khalif, Erin Maye Quade, Zaynab Mohamed, and Clare Oumou Verbeten.
"I hope it does lead the way and open the door for others to run," said Helseth (R), who is unopposed in the Aug. 9 primary election but will face Steve Cwodzinski (D) in the Nov. 8 general election for District 49, which covers Eden Prairie and southern Minnetonka.
All seven Black women are running in different districts so it's possible more than one of them will win, sharing the honor of being first.
"We actually have a legit chance of getting a Black woman in office," said Hiltsley (D), who is running against Susan Pha (D) in the primary for District 38, which includes Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park. "For the longest time, I didn't see myself in politics … and I think a part of it was because I didn't see myself in there. I didn't see someone I could relate to, I could connect with."
"It would be wonderful if I were to be the first Black female senator, however, I don't want people to vote for me only because I'm Black," Helseth said. "I want them to be an informed voter."
Helseth is the only Republican of the seven, while the others are running as Democrats. Both parties say they've experienced some challenges on the campaign trail.
"'Are you old enough to run for office?' Probably the most common question I get asked," said Oumou Verbeten, who is unopposed in the primary but will face Mikki Murray (R) and Jeremy Peichel (L) in November for District 66, which covers parts of Falcon Heights and St. Paul. "'Have you actually lived here?'"
"People assume I'm not a Republican so I love the moment when I can say, 'Well no, I'm not — I have a different perspective,'" Helseth said. "'I'm running as a Republican.'"
Oumou Verbeten says she reached out to the others to form a sisterhood.
"I put us all on a text chain and was like, 'Did you all hear about this? I think we just need to chat so that we can stay in touch,' and like, 'We're going to go through a lot of things that are specific to us running as Black women,'" she said.
Oumou Verbeten says when she's not campaigning for herself, she's campaigning for the other Black women.
"I have been out knocking for them," she said. "They are working really hard."
"Regardless of what happens tomorrow, we are all proud of the work that we've put in," Hiltsley said.
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