Vote Run Lead Event: Preparing Women for Politics

“Democracy can only work if it accurately reflects the people it is supposed to represent,” says Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan. “We must expand the electorate to change the electorate.”

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Juanita Lewis, a national trainer with Vote Run Lead, speaks with aspiring candidate and training participant Jenay Manley
during the June 17th Celebration of Power Dinner. (Emily Whitlow, Fluid Photography)

A two-day training in Saint Cloud on June 17 and 18 by Vote Run Lead supports its RUN/51 All-In initiative, a nationwide program that empowers women to run for office with the goal of achieving by 2024 a 51 percent majority of women in state legislatures.

The keynote speech from Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan, indicated: “Running for office is the loneliest thing you will ever do.” She explained that surrounding yourself with good people who uplift your campaign is the best thing a candidate can do. 

Flanagan asked a series of questions and went through the room to hear answers from the crowd: “What are you afraid of?” “What are you most proud of?” “Why are you here?”

Erika Bailey-Johnson, running for the Minnesota House of Representatives in District 2B, enthusiastically responded: “To win!”

Around 50 people attended — including women from Missouri, Georgia, and South Dakota — to learn how to plan successful campaigns as candidates and campaign managers.

A guest speaker included Erica Pines, head of Vote Run Lead state strategy in Georgia. “If we can do it in Georgia, we can do it here,” says Pines, referring to the fact that her state mobilized 130,000 additional marginalized voters in 2020 to support progressive candidates. 

Senator Melisa López Franzen is stepping down this year because of redistricting that moved longer-term candidate Sen. Ron Latz into her Edina district. In a video, she encouraged women to “stand up for yourself and your neighbors if there are issues in your constituency.”

Zaynab Mohamed, who is running for Minnesota senate, for the seat being vacated by Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, encouraged African diaspora women in a video presentation to run for office by leveraging their identities. Mohamed credits Ayada Leads as the reason she is running for office; she said the organization gives resources to diaspora women so they can engage in the political system.

Terri Thao, the co-chair of the first Hmong-American PAC in the nation, says: “We claimed our space,” Thao says about the creation of Maiv PAC in 2016. “If we don’t claim the space in the community, who will?”

Thao stressed the importance of using vulnerability as a strength during times of political distrust, and focused on women’s role in politics using a healthcare and education lens. “Women’s issues are men’s issues are families issues,” she says.

Stearns County Commissioner Tarryl Clark took the stage to discuss her top 10 pieces of advice for potential candidates. These included the need for voter contact, connecting to emotions, treating people with respect, and using words that constituents will hear, “not just what you want to say.”

“Good today is better than perfect tomorrow,” Clark said repeatedly. 

Flanagan’s speech included the good, the bad, and the realistic aspects of running for office. She discussed the lateral conflict that can impact women — such as when people you thought would support you do not — and encouraged everyone to “brag on yourselves.” She noted that she holds her current position as the number two leader in state government because of support from other people as well as her own skills and experience.

“Democracy can only work if it accurately reflects the people it is supposed to represent,” says Flanagan, whose speech received a standing ovation. “We must expand the electorate to change the electorate.”

Other people who attended to lift up the power especially of people-of-color candidates and voters included: Juanita Lewis, who has University of Minnesota roots and currently leads the New York-based Community Voices Heard, is a trainer who advises especially low-income community members to share their authentic stories and traumas in order to connect with voters; Candace Valenzuela, who nearly unseated a Texas Republican for office; and Mallory Mitchell, fundraising expert with the local Black Visions.

Candidates seeking to expand Minnesota’s representation in the November elections, who attended the weekend event, include: Yastrianne (Yanne) Spry, an Indonesian woman running for Cook County Commissioner; Jane Conrad, who has been active asking men with anti-refugee sentiments to step down from office; and See Moua-Leske, a Hmong woman running for office in Marshall.

Saturday there was a group session about storytelling and fundraising, followed by two tracks of discussions: tips for successfully leading a campaign, and strategies and tools to create an authentic and effective campaign. More to come on these topics in future Minnesota Women’s Press stories, in partnership with Vote Run Lead.

A Star Tribune story about the weekend’s conversations