After nearly 22 years in office, Ramsey County Commissioner Jim McDonough has chosen not to seek re-election in November. That creates a rare open seat in District 6, which spans much of St. Paul’s Greater East Side, Payne-Phalen, Dayton’s Bluff, Conway, Highwood Hills, the North End and adjoining neighborhoods.
Seven candidates will compete in the Aug. 9 primary election, and two candidates will advance to the Nov. 8 general election.
Among Ramsey County Board races, this one is arguably the most electric.
Fellow candidates have questioned perennial candidate Greg Copeland’s inclusion on the primary ballot, noting he may no longer live within the district as a result of political redistricting.
McDonough has thrown his endorsement to Ying Vang-Pao, a daughter of famed Hmong Gen. Vang Pao, who worked closely with the CIA’s Special Forces during the Laotian Civil War.
The St. Paul DFL, AFSCME Council 5 and TakeAction Minnesota have endorsed Mai Chong Xiong, an aide to outgoing St. Paul City Council member Dai Thao. Other candidates include former Ramsey County Commissioner Dino Guerin, who recently ran for mayor of St. Paul, public health worker Foua Choua Khang and Nick Muhammad, executive director of the Black Civic Network.
Here’s a closer look at the candidates:
Occupation: Investigative assistant for the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office.
Relevant experience: Over 35 years in public safety, St. Paul Fire Department District Chief, St. Paul City Council member, Ramsey County Commissioner for District 6.
Endorsements: Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher, former St. Paul Police Chief Bill Finney.
What are the three biggest issues facing Ramsey County? Guerin believes that there are two big issues facing the county. The first is crime. “Right now, it is out of control,” he said. “The city is not safe anymore.” The second issue is taxes. “Taxes have escalated every year, there have been no reductions and we need to do better,” he said.
Why are you seeking this job? Guerin believes he has the experience and the work ethic to make a difference, especially against crime. “With my connections working with public safety groups, I think I can make a difference in crime right now,” he said.
Foua Choua Khang
Occupation: Community and County Liaison for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota.
Relevant experience: Worked in the community for over 15 years through the health care industry, previously Director of Health and Wellness for the Hmong American Partnership.
What are the three biggest issues facing Ramsey County? Khang believes the three biggest issues facing Ramsey County are housing affordability, generational wealth building and children’s well-being. In regards to generational wealth building, Khang wants to make the opportunity accessible to everyone. “The information access to generational wealth isn’t widely available, and if it is, it’s targeted towards literate persons,” Khang said. “So within that approach alone, you are very exclusive to people who speak and can understand English.” She also wants to ensure that no child has to suffer through poverty. “I’ve lived in poverty, and I would not wish that upon any child,” Khang said. “So my vision for the next 20 years is to actively decrease childhood poverty.”
Why are you seeking this job? Khang believes that she is the best candidate and that she has the résumé to back her up and a community that trusts her. She will hold the county accountable and make sure that the community remains informed on how programs are helping people, she said. Her core values are communication, accountability, opportunities and transparency, and she will do her best to ensure they are present on the county board, she said.
Occupation: Founder and Executive Director of Black Civic Network, a local political engagement and policy consultation organization.
Relevant experience: BCN already collaborates with Ramsey County to create policies that address issues of disparity and racial equity; has been a policy advocate for the Family First Act and the African American Family Preservation Act.
Endorsements: Black Women Rising.
What are the three biggest issues facing Ramsey County? Muhammad believes that the three biggest issues facing Ramsey County are family stability, the housing shortage and public safety. He believes that all of these issues are connected. “We need to figure out ways to make sure that we’re creating pathways to upward mobility that make sense and not just have people sitting on government rows with no upper mobility,” Muhammad said. “(We need) comprehensive ways to make sure that they’re actually growing a skill set, education and whatever have you so that what they’re doing is sustainable.”
Why are you seeking this job? Family is extremely important to Muhammad. “I have children of my own inside of Ramsey County and when I think about the conditions that we’re setting out for families to be successful, we could do a much better job of making sure that families actually have a running start,” Muhammad said. As a member of the county board, he wants to help make this a reality.
Occupation: Business owner and senior consultant.
Relevant experience: Board member of the Peb Hmong-American Democratic-Farmer-Labor Caucus and has over 30 years of budgeting, financial analysis, expense analysis and leadership and management skills.
Endorsements: Ramsey County Commissioner Jim McDonough, state Sen. Foung Hawj, state Sen. Karla Bigham and state Rep. Leon Lillie.
What are the three biggest issues facing Ramsey County? Vang-Pao says she believes that affordable housing, the environment and public safety are the three biggest issues facing Ramsey County.
Why are you seeking this job? She is seeking this job to ensure that the next commissioner has the maturity, the experience and the care for the community. Vang-Pao said she is a proud daughter of the late Gen. Vang Pao, and “he was always showing … his love for all minority people that are not able to stand up for themselves. I want to make sure that we have programs, especially county services. We have a lot of people that are low income, so I want to make sure that we have affordable housing for them.”
Mai Chong Xiong
Occupation: Legislative aid for St. Paul City Council member Dai Thao.
Relevant experience: Has worked in local government for eight years; before that worked for the Community Action Partnership of Hennepin County, which did community outreach and helped people apply for county services.
Endorsements: Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, TakeAction Minnesota, Twin Cities Democratic Socialists of America, International Brotherhood of Electricians Local 110.
What are the three biggest issues facing Ramsey County? Xiong said she believes that the three biggest issues facing Ramsey County are affordable housing, the environment and having jobs that pay living wages.
Why are you seeking this job? Xiong said she believes she is the most qualified due to her past work experience. “I’ve seen how local government at the city and the county level can focus and prioritize issue areas so well,” she said. Those relationships are crucial to leverage and bring more resources into Ramsey County. “In addition to that, it’s really about targeting and prioritizing where the funds go,” Xiong said. “And I know that I will be able to do that.”
Copeland was unable to be reached for an interview. According to his website, he plans to focus on crime, education and the organized trash ordinance.
Clara O. Ware
Ware was unable to be reached for an interview. According to her Facebook page, she plans to focus on creating affordable housing, rehabilitative criminal justice and voter engagement.