St. Paul, Minn. (October 9, 2010) – DFL candidates spoke before Hmong community at Hmong American Partnership Saturday, as an effort to pledge that Minnesota’s communities of color would have a voice in new leadership. The event was hosted by the Hmong Organizing Program of TakeAction Minnesota, and included gubernatorial candidate Mark Dayton. Also present were Rena Moran, who is seeking to replace outgoing Dist. 65A Rep. Cy Thao, and John Harrington, who is seeking the Dist. 67 Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Mee Moua.
Sen. Moua and Rep. Thao have served multiple terms and both have decided to focus on family and other leadership priorities. This will be the first time in over a decade there will not be an Asian American in the state legislature with their departure and the primary loss of State Sen. Satveer Chaudhary.
“This event is a key opportunity for Minnesota’s Hmong community to meet Mark Dayton and continue the important relationship that was built initially when he was our U.S. Senator,” said Amee Xiong, lead organizer of TakeAction Minnesota’s Hmong Organizing Program.
In addition to appearing as the TakeAction Minnesota endorsed candidates, the three spoke on the importance of the DFL party ticket as the way to ensure that the platforms they were elected on move forward. They also said it would help them build on the legacy of Mee Moua and Cy Thao.
In his opening remarks, Dayton told the crowd that Minnesota’s Hmong community has brought a rich cultural heritage to the state.
“You have revitalized neighborhoods, opened up thriving small businesses, and enriched the lives of Minnesotans with your vibrant culture. I know that many of you are struggling to find the jobs and health care your families need,” said Dayton. “As Governor, I will be a champion for Minnesota’s Hmong community and for everyone in Minnesota.”
Following his talk, Dayton was asked prepared questions from the community.
The first, “Why is it important that Hmong people and other people of color are reflected in state government?” was asked by Shong Ger Yang, an IT manager from Saint Paul College.
“It is important that our government reflect the rich diversity of all the citizens and everyone else living in Minnesota,” said Dayton, adding that the Hmong community has talent, experience and wisdom offer the state and invited them to be with the administration.
The second question, “Would Dayton support the implementation of Hmong history to be taught as part of the social studies curriculum throughout the state of Minnesota?” was asked by Zer Yang, a local elementary school teacher, who felt that teaching Hmong history would be of benefit to both Hmong and non Hmong communities in learning to value and understand one another.
Dayton agreed that it would benefit all Minnesotans to better understand the heritage and contributions of the community and to respect the sacrifices made by people on behalf of our country.
“I believe there are more than 40 nationalities living in this state now and that is wonderful,” he said.
Dayton said that this question is often asked by other communities and that it may not be possible to have a uniform curriculum in every school district – but that each could have something that teaches about the various peoples that make up this state.
“I would support in principle that all of us in Minnesota need to learn about the heritage of people from other countries that are now all part of us,” he added. “We’re all one citizenry, and with that understanding comes greater acceptance and friendship.”
The third question, “How would Dayton work to ensure that people who have completed their sentence are reintegrated into society in a way that promotes safety, but also allows people to live productive, full lives and have a second chance?” was asked by Kathy Vang, a student at Northland Community College.
The question was prefaced with background that described persistent institutional disparities where disproportionate number of minorities live in poverty and leads to higher instances of incomplete education, crime and recidivism.
Dayton replied that human beings all make mistakes in life and when they come through the experience as a wiser and better person they should deserve a chance to find job.
“At a time when 200,000 people in the state trying to find jobs its a challenge to find opportunities for everyone no matter background or experience,” Dayton said, noting that he would do everything possible to help those that assist people coming through this experience a wiser and better person.
Xai Paul Vang, president and CEO of Hmong SGU Development, asked Dayton if he would support a national effort to win veterans benefits and recognition for soldiers in the Hmong Special Guerilla Unit that fought in the Secret CIA War in Southeast Asia. Part of that effort is to get the U.S. Veterans Administration to recognize their service as American soldiers now that they are here – and said it would require documentation showing their service, better known as the discharge form DD-214.
Dayton said this is a matter that involves the Federal Government and the U.S. Department of Defense. He said he would participate in a Congressional Delegation, and if elected, promised to meet with the veterans in the interim between November and taking office in January 2011.
“I would be glad after the election to sit down with you and others to learn more about your situation and then find out what that situation is and what is appropriate,” he added.
Dayton earlier thanked the veterans calling their service to America, “heroic”, and promised to honor those contributions in terms of finding more jobs and opportunities and other problems that affect the community.
“All of you have earned your place in our society, and I’m proud to welcome all of you as our fellow citizens and fellow Americans and proud of your contributions to our society,” he added. “As Governor, I look forward to involving you in the administration, if elected, and involving you in the administration that will serve all of Minnesota as well as the Hmong community.”
Dayton complemented the work of Sen. Mee Moua and Cy Thao and through his support for John Harrington and Rena Moran in their candidacy to replace them. He said the DFL ticket is a team and that the Hmong community would make all the different come Election Day.
Rena Moran spoke about the Central Corridor Light Rail project and the importance of ensuring jobs will be created in the communities that LRT runs through both during and after construction. She said LRT is a corridor issue and needs programs such as the Save Our Homes campaign to protect homeowners and small businesses that are impacted from disproportional rising property taxes through credits, grants or deferments.
John Harrington spoke about his life as a high school and university before and during his 33 years with the Saint Paul Police Department, including as its Chief. He has a Master’s Degree in Education and said he is well aware about how budget cuts have impacted student services in the schools and said he would fight for complete funding.
Harrington said the neighborhood schools need a new focus, as districts are spend millions to transport children all over the cities. He believes it would save dollars and increase the quality of education by making it possible for parents and teachers to work together to make sure children are well educated.
He said neighborhood schools would work when fully funded, fully staffed, are safe and have state of the art technology.
Lao Family Community Vice President ChuPheng Lee concluded the event by speaking to the importance of voting to ensure the Hmong community maintains it voice. He said that the Hmong people have fled communist Laos and that not to vote would be allowing this country to fall into the same fate.