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What's Wrong With This Picture? The Hennepin County Commission's Caucastic History

Here's what happens when no one pays attention to elections (*raises hand) especially the "down-ballot" elections like the County races (*waves hand). In a country where we struggle to get people to the midterms, here's where apathy leads us at the county level:

Hennepin County, the most diverse and supposedly progressive of the 87 counties in MN, has a pro-ICE Trumper as its sheriff. The County Attorney is a man who has been named one of the worst three prosecutors in the country, and has sparked weekly Freeman Friday protests. And the County Commission, which oversees a 2.4 billion (!) dollar budget for programs affecting all of us, has been comprised entirely of white folks since its inception in 1852. Female members were elected only recently (the first was in the 1970's). How is it such a progressive and diverse county has such regressive representation at the county level? Simple! No one pays attention. Until now. So let's change that by waking up to what's going on at the county level, and what our vote (or lack of vote) means.

The Basics The 87 counties in Minnesota all have a Commission of 5 – 7 commissioners. They’re elected to 4-year terms that come up different years. Hennepin County has 7 districts, and 3 of these are up for election this year (districts 2, 3 and 4). The County Commission oversees and impacts public transportation, affordable housing and homelessness, environmental and natural resources, transportation infrastructure, jobs and economic development, healthcare, child welfare (including foster care), library systems, timely 911 dispatch, criminal justice… and more! They create huge change without legislation, just by where they allocate the budget or with internal policy change.

The Candidates Two exceptional candidates are running that you should know about! If elected they will be the first people of color on the County Commission.

Irene Fernando: District 2

Ms. Fernando recently picked up the DFL endorsement at the county convention. Currently, she works at Thrivent Financial. Her leadership there around organizational design, business development and talent management all prepare her well for the complexities at the county level.

Irene grew up in a large and lively Filipino family. Her parents immigrated to this country in pursuit of the American Dream. At age 17, Irene moved to MN to attend the University, earning first a Bachelor of Science in Business and then a Master of Education in Youth Development Leadership. Irene co-founded Students Today Leaders Forever (STLF), a youth leadership nonprofit with a mission of revealing leadership through service, relationships and action. She worked at STLF for 11 years, creating jobs and recruiting national talent to Minnesota. In 2015, Irene was selected to be a Bush Foundation Fellow and began teaching social entrepreneurship at St. Mary’s University. She is a proven leader, consensus builder and strategic thinker who also seems amazingly effective at that rarest of all talents: The ability to actually get things done and create real, lasting change.

Her interests for the county are equity through affordable housing, transit solutions, healthcare services, criminal justice reform and environmental justice. She lives in North Minneapolis.

Angela Conley: District 4

Angela was born and raised in South Minneapolis. She began working at Hennepin County in 2000. Initially, processed applications for welfare, many of them women who were single parents fleeing abusive partners or women who found themselves with unexpected pregnancies needing assistance or experiencing homelessness.

After five years, she took a promotion to work in with the State of Minnesota, then returned to college at the University of Minnesota and St. Catherine University. Angela also interned at a homeless shelter and taught English to newly-arriving immigrants. She graduated from St. Kate’s in 2013 and went back to school for her Masters in Public Administration at Hamline University.

A mother of four, Angela also found herself needing to navigate the services she seeks to oversee as County Commissioner – an extremely valuable perspective. It was that experience that motivated her to work and change systems from within. At the county convention, no one for this district was granted the endorsement by the DFL (the endorsement requires a 60% majority), but Angela came closest (upending a long-time incumbent). More in this article.

Opponents & Primaries

To be fair, Irene and Angela are not the only people of color running for the Commission. But with Irene winning the DFL endorsement and Angela coming the closest, they are the two people who we feel have the best momentum and skill set. The primary on August 14th will send the top-two vote-getters to the general election in November.

Candidates for District 2:

A great summary of candidates (including some last-minute additions!) running along with Irene Fernando is here.

Candidates for District 4

Angela Conley: Endorsed by Take Action, MN Young DFL and came closest to winning the DFL endorsement at the convention. Also has our endorsement. More endorsements here.

Peter McLaughlin (incumbent)

Megan Kuhl-Stennes (Green Party)

What's Needed Whenever this type of talk comes up, there's inevitable questions along the lines of "vote for them just because they're people of color! that's so wrong!" But voting for two exceptionally qualified (if not over-qualified) people is never a bad decision, and the fact that they can bring perspective that is ignored is simply a value-add. If we are truly going to be a "progressive county", it's not enough to have vaguely liberal-ish white people in office who we hope will address everyone's issues. There is no substitute for representation and co-governing with everyone at the table. It has to be the goal, particularly as we face an increasingly agitated Alt Right in this country.

1) Find your district: Head here to see what district you're in and who is running.

2) Spread the word! Awareness of these county elections is not matching their importance. PLEASE spread the word – by sharing this article if that's easiest, by talking to your friends and neighbors, by getting lawn signs, by sending a group email to your friends in Hennepin County or whatever you can do to put this on people's radar. Remember: Irene Fernando and Angela Conley BOTH are in the primary election on August 14th.

3) VOTE!!!

To vote early for the primary:

  • Head to Hennepin County Government Center weekdays 9:00am - 4:30pm. Main level, where the fountain is, there's a big sign that says "vote" (you can't miss it).

  • Vote early by mail by applying for a mail-in ballot here (click "go to online application"), you'll get a ballot in the mail, send it back it. Done!

Or vote on primary day at your regular polling place 8.14.18 AND election day 11.6.18.

4) Help

These candidates, even if DFL-endorsed, don't get a ton of support being so low on the ballot. They need money for lawn signs, for whatever minor advertising they can afford, or just for gas to make public appearances. If you are time-poor, please consider a donation.

Have time? Great! Volunteer for Angela or Irene. Sign up on their websites, and

This is long overdue Hennepin County. Let's make some history!


Star Tribune: Hennepin County Commissioner Candidates Looking to Diversity All-White Board

Minnesota Spokesman Recorder on Angela Conley: County Board candidate says she brings bottom-up perspective

Irene Fernando's TedX talk

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