How We Vote: Voices Across Minnesota's Political Spectrum

Six Minnesotans discuss how their lives led to their ballot behavior

Photo by Karen Roach/Fotolia

As we approach yet another election cycle in Minnesota, there are serious questions about the state’s political lean. Since the founding of the Democrat-Farmer-Labor Party in 1944, local and national elections have gone to more DFL and Democratic candidates than Republicans. But Erik Tormoen’s feature, “Is Minnesota a Red or Blue State in 2018?” points out ways we look more purple, according to recent voting data and research.

But we would be remiss to not speak to some of Minnesota’s voting public. What follows is a mix of stories that come from different parts of the state, spanning an often-complicated spectrum of beliefs. What we found shows that everyone arrives at their voting behavior with a different set of life circumstances. Whether you agree or disagree with someone’s views, these perspectives are a reminder that we are way more than just the sum of the circles we fill on a ballot sheet.

These interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.

Courtesy Catherine Karas

Catherine Karas, 18
Lifelong resident of Duluth, enrolled in a medical assistant program at Lake Superior College

Growing up, my family was Republican, though some of my sisters are now Democratic. But I’d say voting Republican goes with my family. I am definitely pro-life, and for me that’s a very important issue and a deciding factor in whether I would vote for someone or not.

I would say I’m also pro-Second Amendment. Personally, I don’t really want to own a gun, and I think it’s important to have certain restrictions on them. But I also think that citizens being able to defend themselves is also very important.

I turned 18 last December. I was still 16 [in 2016], but I would have voted for President Trump. I think he’s working pretty hard to actually fulfill what he said he was going to do. I admire that. I read the economy just grew by 4.1 percent—but I know it doesn’t necessarily mean that it was Trump who did that.

One thing that I like about Trump is that he’s not afraid to say stuff that isn’t necessarily politically correct. I’m a person who would be afraid to say some things that I might think, and that’s kind of refreshing. It can also be kind of bad in a way, in my opinion. I support Trump but I’m not behind everything he says, and I can understand why someone wouldn’t like him.

I go to college, and this is something that I struggle with: I feel really alone there, because everyone is liberal. One of my professors brings a lot of politics to my class in my second semester, and it seemed like everyone else was liberal. I felt afraid to say anything, because I knew I was going to be seen as this hateful person. My teacher would send mixed signals—one day talking about open speech, but the next acting like his way is the only right way.

At the Trump rally [in Duluth], I saw the protestors, and a lot of them were cursing and looked really angry. My mother pointed out one woman who was being really respectful, and that’s the kind of person I can really respect in return. I do feel that for a lot of Trump supporters, once you say you are, then you’re the worst person. That’s not really helping anything. –Q.S.

Don Allen, 56

St. Paul school teacher with an M.A. in teaching and education, Army veteran
[photo courtesy of Don Allen]

I went all over the world in the Army. It was the best experience ever. After that, I started going to school and writing and getting into my different crafts. I worked in media as an assistant promotions director, then as a consultant for a local nonprofit radio station, then I worked at an internet marketing company that a friend opened. Then the V.A. called and asked if I wanted to go back to college.

I ended up at Hamline, where I finished by B.A. in English, then a Master’s in Education and a Master of Arts in Teaching. I joined the college newspaper as a senior editorial columnist, where I wrote about hostility from liberals toward veterans. I was also the only black American student for the M.A. in teaching, and I wrote a capstone talking about universities and a lack of people of color and especially black males training to be teachers.

I like to vote for winners. I consider myself a Republican and an independent conservative. The Republican Party in Minnesota has a huge public relations and communications issue; if they can change that, they could possibly turn Minnesota red. It could happen.

We have Trump, who is an entertainer, who says what he wants to say. A lot of citizens wanted a president who would take no crap and say what was on his mind and actually do stuff. Trump is doing stuff for the betterment of everyone.

I don’t see any party bringing anything different than what’s already here. If the whole state turns red, what’s next? What’s going to be different? There are things that are important that don’t have a political agenda. Government has never fixed anything.

The only challenge I have with Trump at this point is what he will do to reset education and urban development in cities across the United States. My dad, a Jamaican immigrant, was a Republican. He built houses in Rondo that stand today. He always said the Republicans understand a business vision and want to move forward.

You’ve got to cut poverty off at its legs. We can look at a compensated work therapy program, a model like the V.A.—start people working 20 hours a week, some grant money can help, and we could get a lot of people into the workforce. Nonprofits can change people’s lives, but the political infrastructure doesn’t want people’s lives changed. –Q.S.

Courtesy Andrew Richey

Andrew Richey, 57
V.P. for an employee-owned wood products company on the Iron Range

I grew up in a very strongly Democratic, blue family. Both of my parents voted a straight Democratic ticket. I was very liberal early on, and still consider myself that way on social issues. Fiscally and governmentally, I find myself more and more conservative, but not hard right by any means.

I’m very open-minded in terms of same-sex marriage and equal rights and education. What I don’t care for in Minnesota is the tax structure. I make an income that puts me in a real sweet spot of paying a lot of taxes without being rich enough to get out of paying them.

The level of right-wingedness and conservative thinking on the Iron Range today just shocks me. It’s gone from being a completely Democratic union stronghold to being the land of Trump. It’s shifted in a very short period of time.

I think the gun lobby is part of it—brainwash people a little bit, the left and the Dems will take your guns away. People don’t have a clue about the whole foreign trade thing, but it’s resonated. Some of it is nostalgia for the good old days of white America.

The most important thing is to focus on jobs, with decent benefits and the ability to retire. Then a lot of other problems go away—from violence to welfare, a lot of these problems really evaporate. I think that’s what the Democrats are missing. Some form of a New Deal for today’s times should be there, so that someone willing to put in 40 hours should be able to find a job that provides a decent living.

One thing that gets me is Make America Great Again. In my business I travel the world, and America’s already pretty great. My wife is Chinese and we go to China. You don’t want to live there. They have 1.5 billion people, and 1.49 billion of them would move to America tomorrow if they could. It’s that attractive. When I go out to dinner with people, after a beer or two I ask what’s not great about America. No one can really tell me.

I think things are going to remain very tribal. Thirty-five percent of people on both sides are entrenched and will never see eye-to-eye. They’ll call each other foolish, dumb, and ignorant. The balance is the 30 percent in the middle—that’s where the direction of the country and the state is going to be determined. –Q.S.

Courtesy Deisy De Leon Esqueda

Deisy De Leon Esqueda, 36
Works at a food shelf, runs On Every Corner, a Mexican food truck in Mankato

I was born in northern Mexico, in a very small town, where there was a lot of violence going on. When I was about 6 or 7, my parents pulled us out of that situation and brought us to the U.S. looking for the American dream.

I don’t remember my parents talking much about politics. My dad was a farmer back home, and when we moved to Minnesota, they were migrant workers, and later found a job at a factory in St. James.

It wasn’t until 2006 when I became a U.S. citizen. I could have done it when I turned 18, and I just refused to do it. I felt that it didn’t matter what I did; I was never going to be American enough. It didn’t matter if I spoke correctly, it didn’t matter how many activities I did with my classmates. I wasn’t going to be white enough.

But I wanted a voice. Even though I lived in a community that had offered me a lot of opportunity, I still was seeing a lot of racism. I was not able to call my local representatives and say, “What’s going on? This is not okay. We’re not second-class citizens.”

Now, I try to vote in all the elections. My values go on both sides, though I find myself voting more toward the Democratic party. I think Democrats tend to [value] social programs more. I work at a food shelf, one of the largest food shelves in the state, and I see how these programs are helpful toward the people who live in our community.

The name of my and my husband’s food truck, On Every Corner, came about because of our stand on politics. During the 2016 elections, we were watching TV and there was this guy who said, “If Hillary Clinton wins, there’s going to be a taco truck on every corner.” My husband had talked about starting this food truck maybe about three years ago. We were like, you know what? That’s what we’re going to name it. What’s wrong with us trying to be entrepreneurs? What’s wrong with us wanting to start our own business and provide for our families?

For Trump to assume that Mexicans are just [rapists and criminals]—there are going to be rapists in any racial group, just like there are going to be good people in any group. I can tell you, my husband and I, we’re trying to have a job, we’re trying to provide for our family, but we’re also trying to give back to our community, and to be grouped into this despicable group—to me, that’s just a very uninformed, ignorant comment.

I use Facebook, and a lot of the time I see these comments where somebody is putting down an immigrant, or a refugee, but then they’re my friends on Facebook, right? And I’ll run into them, and they greet me, like, “Hey, Deisy, how are you doing? How’s it going?” And I kind of wonder if they see me as an immigrant. Because it is who I am. And I am here, like many other people, because of how unstable things were, and how dangerous it was. I feel like they think, “But you’re different. You’re not them.” And I wonder, if these people would just take the time to meet someone who is an immigrant, who is a refugee, who is not completely American—they could also realize how they’re different, and not view them as the “immigrant” or the “refugee,” but as an individual. –E.T.

Gloria Freeman

Founding CEO of Minneapolis-based social-service organizations Olu’s Home, Inc. and Olu’s Beginnings LLC
[photo courtesy of Gloria Freeman]

I grew up in Chicago, though I’ve lived all of my adult life in Minneapolis. I was born 1960, so when I was a little girl, there was the Black Panther movement, and I remember my mom being very much involved in advocating for black rights. She was a human rights person. I remember her having meetings in our house, and going to polling places, and volunteering.

She got a job with the Army Corps of Engineers in Minnesota after she graduated law school. We moved to Maplewood when I was a senior in high school, in 1977. Back then, Maplewood wasn’t that nice to black people. I was the only black senior—I think there were two other black classmates at the school. I used to get name-called. I remember one day in my English class, a guy brought a really racist letter, and the teacher let him read it and didn’t do anything to reprimand him. He was calling people [the n-word] and things like that, and I thought it was just awful. I didn’t want to go back there anymore.

I told my mom, if she didn’t let me go live with my father in Gary, Indiana, I was going to drop out of high school. So, she let me move. My dad, a retired police officer, was what they called a precinct captain; he was kind of in charge of the neighborhood as far as politics goes.

When I look back, I think I’m a Democrat because my parents were Democrats. My stepdad helped people who were in social services—poor people—and I grew up pretty much in a working-class neighborhood. I believe there’s a need to help people, and I think I got that from my family, my upbringing.

My mom moved out of Maplewood into the city of Minneapolis, and she felt that I would like it a lot. So, I came back after high school.

I was an insurance underwriter, and pretty successful at it: I had started at the bottom and was promoted all the way up to senior. I got laid off because the company stopped serving my type of insurance. I knew that I wanted to do something that was meaningful to people. That’s how I came about opening up Olu’s. “Olu” is a Yoruba word that means “praises to God.” I was doing business in social services, supporting adults that are severely mentally ill or developmentally disabled, and I always felt like they were a community that has been tortured as well, like many other communities, like the black community. I felt like, we’re all God’s children, and He loves us all. Not that I’m a heavily religious person, but I felt that the name was appropriate.

When I think about it, when I started out as an underwriter, I did clerical work, and I didn’t make a whole lot of money. I used social services for child care, and now I run an early-childhood program. I used that support system to help me get to the next level in my life. I lived in subsidized housing when I first didn’t work, working my way up to where I paid market rent, because I was constantly growing myself.

I’m probably not as liberal as lot of Democrats, the way it’s going, but I’m definitely not a Republican.

I’m not about helping big corporations. Even as small as I am as a company, I still make sure that I try to support the area, not only in my work, but financially I give, too. And I believe that that’s a responsibility of us all, including businesses. –E.T.

Courtesy Jessica Mosloski

Jessica Mosloski, 24
Lives in Minneapolis and works in marketing for a small business owned by her family

My family when I was growing up weren’t huge voters, or really outspoken about that kind of thing. But I would say they leaned toward the Republican side. I don’t remember this many people being so passionate about politics. It’s been very interesting to watch.

Probably the biggest issues for me have to do with economics and things surrounding business owners. I grew up in a family where my mom started a business out of nothing and worked really hard, struggled a lot, and sacrificed. Owning a business is a joy but also a huge risk and source of stress, and I have seen in my own family what a relief even a small tax break can be in easing that burden.

I support the president as far as what I’ve perceived he’s doing for businesses. I don’t know a whole lot about some of the issues that are a lot more controversial. I try to stick to supporting what I know.

I think I feel criticism for supporting the president more in my online community rather than my close circle. People are a lot bolder expressing their criticisms online. But I would definitely agree, there are a lot of things that the current president has said that don’t sit well with me. I don’t think it’s very kind or very classy sometimes, just the way things are handled. But I agree with some of his policies and see good results, like lower unemployment rates for some groups. I can’t see one candidate as all good or all bad.

In the last few years, my boyfriend and his life experiences have contributed to my political opinions as well. He had a difficult life in a poor part of Bulgaria, immigrating to the Midwest when he was 8 years old. … He joined the military and has served for over four years now, and recently started working his way through college again. Together, we both have dreams of starting our own business someday.

That’s what I really love about this country—we can take the issues that are important and pick the candidate we agree most with. If someone has a political view different than me, I think that’s interesting and cool. But I’ve been hurt a few times because when I try to do that for myself I’ve been villainized just a little bit. –Q.S.