The State of Gender Parity in Minnesota Politics

"Diversity in Politics" coverage is made possible by Women Winning and Vote Run Lead.

Beth Peterson of Vote Run Lead and Nevada Littlewolf of Women Winning (photo by Sarah Whiting)


At the 2024 Minnesota Women’s Press April event, we brought together leaders from the Changemakers Alliance series — including “Diversity in Politics” underwriters Nevada Littlewolf of Women Winning, and Beth Peterson of Vote Run Lead — to discuss the state of women’s representation in Minnesota politics, and the impact it is having.

Earlier in the year, we also attended an event about gender, race, and elected representatives in Minnesota, which was hosted by the University of Minnesota Center on Women, Gender, and Public Policy, based on their report “Who Leads?” The report looked at data about Minnesota elections over the past two decades. A few findings:

  • When women candidates run, their chances of winning are as good as those of male candidates, especially since “women who run for office tend to be more qualified than the men they run against. … When women and men candidates have the same qualifications, women’s chances of winning drop.”
  • In 2020, Minnesota became one of 18 states to have gender parity in the U.S. House of Representatives — four women and four men representing Minnesota districts in Washington D.C., along with two U.S. women senators. In 2024, five pro-choice women are running for U.S. House.
  • From 2000 to 2010, Greater Minnesota elected no individuals that identified as Native, or as a person of color, to the state legislature; in 2022, that number had increased to 7 percent BIPOC; the numbers of BIPOC elected candidates increased in metro areas from 4-8 percent to 28 percent BIPOC.
  • The highly important county commissioner roles — which control billions of dollars in local budgets — are largely held by men in rural communities, often because there have been few women candidates. In the metro areas, women had 47 percent of county commissioner seats in 2022.
  • Fewer women have run for mayor, which means fewer than one-third of the 100 largest cities in the state have elected a woman mayor between 2022 and 2022. The top cities for women mayoral candidates from 2011-2022: Savage, Maplewood, Shoreview, Otsego, Richfield, New Hope, Hastings.
  • Only four of the 32 largest cities in the state have had 50 percent or more women candidates run for city council over time: Maplewood (63%), Brooklyn Center (52%), Maple Grove (51%), and Richfield (50%). Cities with the fewest women candidates running: Lakeville (9%), Bloomington (15%), Shakopee (20%), Coon Rapids (22%).

Video Excerpt of the “Diversity in Politics” Talk at our April 2024 Event

 

 

Synopsis of Talk

Women’s political representation in Minnesota, particularly in Greater Minnesota, is important in order to get diverse perspectives and decision-making at the decision-making tables. Research indicates that women in office tend to pass more legislation, bring more resources home, and be more active advocates for communities. When candidates are elected with lived experiences to share, that tends to align with being better able to meet community’s needs.

 

Nevada Littlewolf, WomenWinning.org

We are working to encourage, promote, support, and elect pro-choice women to all levels of public office. Why does this matter? One of my mentors and friends was Paul Wellstone. I think we know this quote from him that says, “when we all do better, we all do better.” What I like to say, and I think Paul would be okay with me saying this, is that “when women do better, we all do better.”

We all know in this room that when pro-choice women are in the seats of leadership, they’re making decisions thinking first about the health and well-being of individuals, families, and our community as a whole. We heard earlier from Our Justice about that vision for the future — when we have a future that actually has reproductive justice, we know that we will be able to raise our children in safe and healthy environments. We will be able to make those decisions about whether we are going to have children, or not have children, and have options for that.

Reproductive rights are facing these unprecedented levels of attack across the nation — abortion bans, including the medical options; travel bans; losing IVF [fertility options]. This is about controlling women and controlling reproduction.

  • From 2002 to 2006, the number of women elected rose somewhere between 28% and 36%. But then it flatlined.
  • In 2018, the number of women elected in Minnesota suddenly increased significantly. I think we can probably understand why that would have happened.
  • In 2022 women represented 38% of those elected to federal and state offices in Minnesota.

Following the 2018 election, five out of the 10 members of our Minnesota federal delegation have been held by women: Rep. Ilhan Omar, Rep. Betty McCollum, Rep. Angie Craig, Sen. Tina Smith, Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

Being from rural northern Minnesota, I have a great and deep respect for Greater Minnesota and the work that needs to happen there around electing women to public office. We know that the metro districts have had a greater share of women candidates and elected officials.

What I will tell you about the county commissioner seats is that they are incredibly important to our state. They control billions of dollars. They are the ones who are making decisions about health and human services — a lot of the policy decisions we heard about earlier today. Those have a big impact on county government.



Beth Peterson, VoteRunLead.org

I have been a longtime friend of Nevada. She was a city councilor in the city of Virginia, when I was a city councilor in the city of Eveleth, about six miles away. It’s great to be in this work together for a long time.

While Vote Run Lead is a national nonprofit, we began at the kitchen table of Liz Johnson, on the shores of Lake Superior in Duluth. We just expanded to seven more states, and we have states that are already at a women’s majority.

Research shows that women lawmakers pass more legislation, bring more resources home to their constituencies, and are more active advocates for their entire community needs. What that boils down to is that women just govern better, right?

Right now 38% of state legislators are women or nonbinary. We have 19 House seats that went to Republicans under 10 points. We have 26 House seats that went to Democrats under 10 points. So those are districts that we should be putting a lot of energy, power, and money into — put your money out there — because we only need 15 seats for gender parity at the legislature. Right now, the DFL has control of the House, by six seats.

This year is a House election year — all of those seats are open, and we only need 15 of those seats to reach gender parity. So we’re out in those districts that you see on this map, having conversations with who’s there.

We are anti-racist, democracy-reform–minded. We are intersectional feminists. So we really are looking for women who align with our values to [become part of a] reflective democracy.

We’ve heard a lot today about lived experience. We want people who are making the policy that have those same lived experiences.

Ask your your friends, your mothers, your sisters, your cousins to run for office. We’re out having trainings around confidence, if there is an issue that you’re concerned about in your past. Those men have something in their past and they still run. They have stuff in their present and they still run.

Action Steps

  • Recruit more women to run for rural county commission seats and mayoral races
  • Target competitive state legislative districts to help shift control of the House
  • Encourage friends and community members to consider running for office
  • Contact VoteRunLead or Women Winning for candidate training and support
  • See Charting Paths to a Women’s Majority