Dalila Ali Rajah
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Out Candidates See Groundbreaking Wins in Connecticut, Minnesota

Finke Russell Quade

From left: Leigh Finke, Erick Russell, and Erin Maye Quade; photos courtesty LGBTQ+ Victory Fund

LGBTQ+ candidates made plenty of history in Tuesday’s primaries, with groundbreaking wins in Connecticut and Minnesota.

Erick Russell, a Black gay man, beat two other candidates to become the Democratic nominee for Connecticut state treasurer. If he wins in November, which is likely given the state’s makeup, Russell would be the first Black member of the LGBTQ+ community to hold statewide office anywhere in the nation. There are currently just six out statewide elected officials, and none of them is Black, according to the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund, which has endorsed Russell.

The current state treasurer, Shawn Wooden, did not seek reelection, opening up the race. Russell won 57 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary and will face Republican Harry Arora in the general election, CT Insider reports.

One of the treasurer’s primary duties is managing investments for the state’s pension fund. He promised to invest in a progressive fashion. “I’m committed to maximizing our investment returns, providing secure pensions for public workers, continuing the long-term stabilization of state finances, and freeing up critical resources for education. Safety net programs and tax relief for working families,” he told supporters Tuesday night, according to CT Insider. “But I’m also committed to doing that in a way that aligns our money with our values.” His closest challenger in the race, Dita Bhargava, praised him as a “stand-up guy.”

Russell is a lawyer and longtime activist. He is the past vice-chair of the Connecticut Democratic Party and a member of the Democratic National Committee. He cochairs Connecticut Cares, a fundraiser for Lambda Legal. He is the past chair of the LGBTQ Section of the Connecticut Bar Association and a former director of the George W. Crawford Black Bar Association.

“Erick has the perfect combination of political chops, deep policy experience, and grassroots support to make an effectual state executive,” Victory Fund President and CEO Annise Parker said in a press release. “Voters are clearly eager to support his policy agenda to address racial and social wealth gaps and ensure all of Connecticut’s residents have a fair shot at the American Dream. His success tonight is also a strong rebuke to the wave of racism and bigotry sweeping our nation. For far too long, people of color and the LGBTQ community have lacked equitable representation in government. While we have a long way to go to tackle these representation gaps, we are confident leaders like Erick will inspire many members of our community to answer the call to service and run for office.”

In Minnesota, Leigh Finke won the Democratic nomination for the state’s House of Representatives in District 66A, which includes parts of St. Paul and nearby cities. She stands to become the first out transgender member of the body. She will face Republican Trace Johnson in November, but her district leans Democratic.

“For everyone to thrive, we must give everyone a seat at the table,” Finke said in a statement issued Wednesday, according to TV station KARE. “Today, Minnesotans took a big step towards a safer and more inclusive future for all its residents.”

“Minnesotans are ready for a leader who is prepared to disrupt the status quo and fight for real change,” Parker said in a press release. “From safeguarding abortion rights to addressing economic inequality to expanding protections for trans people, Leigh has a persuasive and critically important agenda that voters are clearly enthusiastic about. We are confident Leigh’s win tonight is a clear sign to our community — and LGBTQ kids in particular — that hate will not triumph. Leaders like Leigh prove over and over again that our community is strong, united and ready to lead our nation into a kinder and more accepting future. Backing down has never been in our DNA, especially when our freedoms are on the ballot.”

There are currently just eight out trans state legislators nationwide, according to Victory Fund.

Another groundbreaker in Minnesota was Erin Maye Quade, who won her primary for the state’s Senate District 56, located in a suburban area near the Twin Cities. If she wins in November, Quade, a lesbian, will be the first Black woman in the chamber. She easily beat Justin Emmerich, the endorsed candidate of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (as the Democratic Party is known in Minnesota) in the primary, and she will be up against Republican Jim Bean in November.

In April, Quade gave a speech to the party’s convention while in labor with her first child. She and her wife, Alyse Maye Quade, welcomed daughter Harriet Blake Maye Quade early the next day. Erin Maye Quade withdrew from the Senate race briefly but then reentered it.

“For far too long, people of color and the LGBTQ community have lacked equitable representation in government, particularly in state legislatures,” Victory Fund’s Parker said in a release. “The effects of these representation gaps are abundantly clear — from abortion bans to attacks on voting rights to concerted attacks on LGBTQ kids. Erin has the experience and diverse coalition of supporters and allies to stand up against this wave of injustice and enact real, meaningful reform for all Minnesotans. We are confident she will make an effective senator and will inspire countless others to follow in her footsteps and run for office.”

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