Q and A with Minnesota state senator for District 67, Faung Hawj

On Tuesday, November 6, 2012, the citizens of Minnesota Senate District 67 elected Foung Hawj to represent their interests at the State Capital.

29,853 voted in this race, with Mr. Hawj securing 72.46% of the vote.

As an ongoing effort to connect Dayton's Bluff residents with elected officials, the following questions were submitted to Senator-elect Foung Hawj.

Avi Viswanathan, Dayton's Bluff Resident: The Twin Cities Metro is home to the largest black/white unemployment disparities in the entire country, with black workers being more than three times more likely to be unemployed than white workers. The East Side is home to growing communities of color, including a strong African American community. How do you plan on addressing this dire issue for our communities as our representative in the State Senate?

Hawj: I will work with other East Side elected officials, local non-profit organizations and business leaders to attract companies and small businesses to our district. Our goal is to increase local hiring by developing job training programs and counseling to allow local workers to be part of the workforce. In addition, I will push hard to restore LGA (Local Government Aid) to our city to ensure funds reach our neighborhood development organizations and district councils to assist local businesses to increase job creation.

Sage Holben, Dayton's Bluff Resident: Housing and Health Care are two primary issues in your platform. I have long been concerned about the adjective 'affordable' often attached to each word; I would like to see someone re-evaluate the reality of 'affordable' in terms of housing and healthcare. Government guidelines, I believe, use household income as a basis to define 'affordable.' However, with soaring costs of living and lower (or no) increase in wages, expenses increasingly suffocate income and 'affordable' is becoming a moot point. As senator, with a comprehensive social and business background, what can you suggest so that health care and housing actually are affordable to the working-class wage earner?

Hawj: I will do whatever I can to ensure that Minnesota implements the Affordable Care Act, including the healthcare exchange promised for 2014. I will support the expansion of Medicaid and Medicare to make sure that the most needy members of our community are not left without health care coverage. For housing, I will seek partnership with other stakeholders or agencies like ISAIAH and Habitat for Humanity as well as involving city and county leaders to revitalize our neighborhood. I will also work hard on comprehensive tax and budget reform that will shift some of the tax burden to the more affluent taxpayers and away from local property taxes. As for the use of the word ‘affordable,’ it is indeed a very flexible term.

Stefan Pomrenke, MD, MPH, MATS, Dayton's Bluff Resident: Many of my patients are Hmong and live in our district. Like many other Americans, they have acquired diseases related to consumption and sedentary lifestyle such as diabetes, hypertension and gout. How can you as Senator-elect organize the Hmong 18 Council and other Hmong leaders on the East side to meet to discuss the importance of healthful choices in diet and exercise? How can we engage the eating and wellness customs of all of our varied ethnic homelands to engage wellness?

Hawj: Outside of the legislature, I will be happy to join any community function to learn and advocate for healthy living. I believe empowerment must be from within, so I see that the initiative of the community food co-op (Gateway) has the potential for such education, not only for our Hmong-American citizens but everyone. As for the Hmong 18 Council, it's a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with a mission to build community, resolve cultural conflicts, and increase community resources. My pre-decessor Sen. John Harrington has been on the board since the early part of its inception and may still be serving at some capacity. Anyone can ask to be on the agenda for their monthly meeting. The Hmong Professional Healthcare Coalition should be a part of a health and wellness symposium in a leading capacity. Most of its members work for clinics or public health agencies, hoping to better the health of the community.

Steve Trimble, Dayton's Bluff Resident: Have you done any thinking about what Senate committees you might ask to be on that would best reflect your interests and the needs of your district?

Hawj: I hope to serve on the Energy, Utilities and Telecommunication Committee, Jobs and Economic Growth Committee, and Environment and Natural Resources Committee, to find ways to foster local growth.

Tim Herman, Dayton’s Bluff Resident, Executive Director, East Side Area Business Association: What can you do to help small businesses get the funding, training and resources needed to grow their business?

Hawj: I will help restore LGA to the city so that we can support the growth of our local entrepreneurs and small businesses. I will also work to make sure that some of economic development funds are directed to provide training for local workers and local business owners.

Read the rest of the community Q and A with State Senator-elect Foung Hawj in the February issue of the Dayton's Bluff District Forum, which will be available at the end of January, 2013.