With the focus of the entire world lately being on Washington, D.C., and the inauguration of the first African American President of the United States in the history of the country, there has been a tendency to overlook some of the important political happenings right here in Minnesota. Among these is certainly the successful election last November of two new, youthful, aggressive African Americans to the Minnesota House of Representatives.
Whereas we lost the services of one of our bright lights on Minnesota’s Capitol Hill with the retirement of Rep. Neva Walker, we gained the representation of two promising legislators in the persons of Jeffery Hayden of District 61B and Bobby Joe Champion of District 58B.
Both are “rookies” in legislative politics but have impressive histories in community activism. Champion, a Minneapolis attorney, has used his legal expertise in support and advocacy for individuals and organizations on Minneapolis’ North Side, which he now represents in the legislature.
Champion is well known within the community and throughout the state for his vocal musical leadership talent. Also, the fact that Champion has served under two administrations as a state assistant attorney general will probably prove helpful to his new legislative role.
Hayden is an established community leader on Minneapolis’ South Side. He has been regional manager of Heart Connection, a nonprofit that manages state and federal funds for those who have been longtime homeless. He also served as Section 8 director for disabled people needing housing.
However, Hayden is probably best known for being policy aid for the Minneapolis Eighth Ward city council member. He also headed a County program called Hennepin County Powderhorn Partners.
His volunteer community works include chairman of Powderhorn Neighborhood Association, vice chair of Bryant Neighborhood Association, chair of MAD DADS, and board member of Minneapolis Community Action and City of Lakes Land Trust.
Although both legislators have been sworn in less than a month, they have already been given important positions in the legislative process. Champion serves as vice chair of the Transportation Finance and Policy Division and is a member of the Civil Justice Committee, the Transportation and Transit Policy and Oversight Division, and the powerful Finance Division.
Haden is assigned to four committees: Health Care Human Services Finance, Health Care and Human Services Policy and Oversight, Housing Finance and Policy and Public Health Finance, and Rules and Legislative Administration (vice chair).
Both of the new legislators seem aware that they have a dual role: representing their districts as well as symbolically representing all Black people in the state.
Rep. Hayden said, “I look forward to the privilege of representing my district, but I realize that there are African Americans throughout the state with expectations.” Champion indicated that he feels that most of the problems prevalent in his district are to be found throughout the state.
When asked about their stance on the tremendous $5 billion deficit that the legislature will have to deal with, their answers were similar. Hayden stated, “I think it is an opportunity for innovation, a chance to look at some of the programs that we have and see if they are producing effectively as intended. There is a feeling that there have been some inequities in the manner that some funds have been appropriated.”
Rep. Champion agreed, stating, “Everybody is going to take a cut. It is going to be our responsibility to see that it is done equitably and proportionately to the need.”
Both of the new representatives were highly supportive of the legislative Commission to End Poverty by the Year 2020. Rep. Hayden stated that the very best thing we can do for the state is to end poverty. He stated that we will never know how many “Obamas or other exceptional persons we lose by not rescuing youngsters who are trapped in poverty.”
The two legislators were not sure at the time of our interview what bills they would be introducing, but Champion is leaning heavily toward legislation that would restore the rights of ex-felons who have paid their dues to society.
Matthew Little welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.