What Is On Voters’ Minds?

Nadia Mohamed, city council member in Saint Louis Park: “We can only begin to start healing once we start telling the truth.”

A story in The Conversation indicated that “polls show American voters are just plain outraged over perceived transgressions committed by their opponents. This is regardless of political party, age, race or gender. This is a good thing — if democracy is judged solely by voter turnout, which is expected to break records this year. But it’s not — if solving problems matters too.”

Economic indicators and perceive spikes in crime enrage Republicans, according to New York Times stories. Democrats are angry about the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision that overturned a woman’s rights to her reproductive and economic health.

As The Conversation story pointed out, politicians on all sides are coached to deliberately provoke voters’ anger — because angry people are more likely to vote. Those who are not motivated to vote by emotions might simply stay home.

Fear is also a motivating emotion for voters. A recent Wall Street Journal poll indicates that white suburban women have “significantly shifted” their support from Democrats to Republicans amid “rising concerns over the economy and inflation.”

A columnist for The Guardian points out that “white women have been voting against their own (reproductive) interests for a very long time. White women have voted for the Republican candidate in the past 18 presidential elections,” according to the Washington Post, “breaking only for Lyndon B. Johnson and for Bill Clinton’s second term.” White women voted in large numbers for Donald Trump.

We talked with several Minnesota candidates and other people engaged in local politics about what seems to be on voters’ minds this fall.

About reproductive rights, public safety, and having women on the ballot

Features Susie Strom, Edie Barrett, Liz Lee, Susan Pha, Brion Curran, Clare Oumou Verbeten, Natalie Ringsmuth, Alicia Gibson

Susie Strom, House 36A (left): “Especially in my race, and the pushback that we’ve received from the other side, [a core issue] is reproductive rights. It is being painted as something that is not on the ballot when we know it absolutely is something that is going to be impacted depending on who controls the legislature and the governorship.”

Edie Barrett, House 12A: “My district is maybe not quite as rural as Erica [Bailey-Johnson’s] district, but it is big. Mine goes all the way from the South Dakota border into part of Stearns County, and then down to Swift off to Stevens and Pope. I am very surprised how this topic has lit people up. It is bringing people out of the woodwork and particularly women.”

Susan Pha, Senate 38: “This is my third campaign. And this is the first time I have ever seen young women, young teens, like my 16-year-old daughter, to young college students coming out to say, ‘I am going to do something this election. I am going to support campaigns. I am going to support candidates who are for reproductive rights. They cannot believe that their reproductive rights, their ability to make decisions over their own bodies, is actually at stake.”

Brion Curran, House 36B: “When the Black Lives Matter movement started, I was deep into learning about public safety, trying to become a police officer. There were a lot of things I didn’t understand. It took a while for me to truly get there. And now that I do understand, and I continue to learn more, I see so much opportunity where we can support officers, we can be protected, we can be safe. But we can also make sure that people are held accountable. There is no reason for the people sworn to protect us to murder folks in the street.”

Clare Oumou Verbeten, Senate 66: “Our safety can’t be divorced from all these other issues that we are running on, including abortion access. When you are able to start your family determines if you are able to keep your job, can you pay for child care and health care. People are safer when they have good jobs and good health care, when they have clean water and air, when their kids are in good schools. Making the investments in those areas is as important to keeping our community safe as is building that trust and holding officers accountable — looking at root causes of crime. We have to do this in coordination. That is part of how we are bringing a different perspective and a different style of leadership to the legislature. No matter what committees we sit on, these are all safety issues.”

Natalie Ringsmuth, Saint Cloud School Board: “Even now, when I am one of seven people sitting at a table, leading the school board, I can feel myself starting to defer to a man. I have to call on my inner self, that I know who I am, and I have a degree in education, and what he is saying is wrong. … These outdated ideas. At the doors, we still hear women say ‘my husband tells me who to vote for.’ Women die for this — take your rights, my friend.”

Alicia Gibson, former candidate for city council: “The way that we talk to each other right now is really purposely dividing us into bubbles, really keeping us apart, which is one of the reasons why a conversation like this with women who live across Minnesota, with different day-to-day life struggles is so critical. I am here [in this virtual conversation] even though I have COVID, because I want to participate in these kinds of conversations.”

Minnesota debates about what we are teaching kids

Features Leigh Finke, Natalia Ringsmuth, Erika Bailey-Johnson, Liz Lee, Alicia Gibson, Edie Barrett, Suzann Wilhite, Ellie Krug, Terri Thao, HaoPay Lee, Alicia Kozlowski, Nadia Mohamed, Sharon Brooks Green, Laverne McCartney Knighton

Erika Bailey-Johnson, House 2B: “When they mention the critical race theory, I ask ‘can you tell me more, what does that mean, in schools, to you? What are you trying to have done or not done?’ I haven’t been able to find anyone that can even explain what they are talking about. … I come from an entire conservative family, so I have grown up with it. I have been thinking of creating a new party called the Evolve party. That is the one thing that is constant throughout all time is that we change and we need to figure things out and get better. Why can’t we all do that together?”

Suzann Willhite, ERA Minnesota: “I grew up with one story, and I love learning more stories. So it has been opening and refreshing to me. But for a lot of people, they are afraid and they think they are losing. Somehow this message about how to be inclusive is being used by people who want to see it in a negative way. I just find it really sad that so many people easily go to fear versus ‘Oh, that’s interesting.’ Or ‘I could learn more about this.’ I just wish we had more of that than fear mongering.”

Ellie Krug, Carver County school board candidate: “I don’t think the vast majority of voters, of parents, of educators want to restrict the view of the world and keep students from learning about our history, how we marginalize people. The vast majority want children to learn about that, because it is a diverse country, and it is going to continue to get more diverse. School boards and superintendents are scared of that vocal minority. I want to get elected so that I can be somebody to say, ‘We are not going to be scared. We are going to do what is right for the students, not a handful of parents who are castigating people on social media and school board meetings.'”

HaoPay Lee, MaivPac: “We go through the world being judged, being treated based on how we look, based on very little knowledge of our history. We experience all of these forms of oppression and hate, but we don’t understand the history of the cause of that. It is important for us to talk about that.”

Alicia Kozlowski, House 8B: “I, too, grew up not seeing anything about our people. Our stories started in 1492, if we were in anything. So I think what a really beautiful moment we are in, if we can hold off and withstand and help folks to to meet this moment with curiosity rather than fear.”

Sharon Brooks Green, Robbinsdale school board: “Some of the kids on [the Chanhassen football] team started screaming the N word towards the Black members of our Armstrong team. The coaches took the extra step, not to wait until the media caught on, not to wait until they got back to discipline the children. They did it right in front of the team, right there in front of us. They took the extra step. And that is what it is going to take.”

Laverne McCartney Knighton, former Senate candidate: “I am a family member of those who were affected by the Tulsa massacre. We have so much that can be gained in our schools and in our churches and in our communities when we talk about the history — the good, the bad and the ugly. It doesn’t diminish any one person, it just tells the truth.”