The boundaries of Minnesota’s 2nd Senate District were redrawn this year, moving east to include the Leech Lake Belt of the Ojibwe. The district now includes Red Lake, Leech Lake, and White Earth, the three largest tribal nations located in Minnesota.
DFL candidate Alan Roy expects to get strong Native support.
“Specifically for Red Lake, they decided on some races.” They primarily vote for more than 95 percent of the DFL consistently, and White Earth and Leech Lake, I think the groundwork we’re putting in place will make a difference,” Roy said. He grew up on the White Earth reservation before leaving to attend college and serve in the military. Upon his return, he was elected to the tribal council.
Roy was defeated in the 2020 race in the old Senate District 2, receiving about 35 percent of the vote.
He believes the new district elevates the importance of tribal governments.
“That cooperation with the tribes is important. “They are the economic drivers for the area, some of the largest employers in the area, and I can work with them not only on economic issues, but also on law enforcement issues,” he said.
Before you continue reading, please take a moment to donate to MPR News. Your financial support ensures that factual and reliable news and context remain available to all.
Republican candidate Steve Green did not respond to multiple requests for an interview.
During a debate broadcast on Lakeland Public Television — sponsored by Lakeland PBS, The Bemidji Pioneer, The Brainerd Dispatch and KAKSE Northern Community Radio — Green said he would work with tribal governments if elected.
“Because I’m a member of the White Earth like Alan,” Green said. “But the main thing to remember is that the issues that affect this entire county are the same whether you’re a tribal member or not.”
Since 2012, Green has represented House District 2B, a district that covered part of the new Senate district. As a result, it has wide name recognition there.
Bemidji State University political science professor Patrick Donne said the Republican candidate remains favored, despite expanded Native American representation.
“Even when we do that, putting the three together, I think it’s something like 21-22 percent of the county’s population, the voting population,” he said. “It’s still a long way from any majority-minority district.”
And the Native vote isn’t homogenous, though Donay said it’s likely to skew Democratic in most areas.
During their televised debate, the two candidates appeared to agree on many issues, even pausing once to shake hands.
Green often returned to what was his main focus, government regulation.
“And so there’s a huge backlog of red tape in Minnesota.” And there again, as my recurring theme, it comes through agencies. And so far, the Legislature has not been willing to go after the agencies and rein them in,” Green said.
Roy agreed that many businesses are over-regulated. The two also agreed on the need for tax cuts.
Green said the key issues he hears from voters are inflation, parental rights in schools and public safety.
Roy said he hears the most about inflation, abortion rights and adequate school funding.
Roy said abortion is the issue that most clearly divides the candidates. He supports abortion rights. Abortion did not come up during the debate, but on social media, Green praised his support from the anti-abortion group Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life.
Political scientist Donna says he doesn’t expect the abortion issue to drive large numbers of voters to the polls in the largely rural district.
Roy is also trying to establish himself as the candidate who will work best with tribal governments and collaborate across the board.
“I am a pragmatist first and foremost.” I want to finish things,” Roy said.
“He is a tribal elder and has served honorably in the legislature.” But his policy decisions to consistently vote no on anything are detrimental to the district’s progress.”
Green insisted during the debate that DFL lawmakers in the capital routinely reject his efforts to work across the aisle.
Donne said he has seen little outside money spent in the race so far, leading him to believe the landscape of the new district gives Republicans a decided advantage.
But he said there are unknowns: Will Republican voters turn out for a referendum on President Joe Biden, or are Democrats more energized on key issues?
“What will the turnout be like?” I don’t think anyone really has a good idea. “It doesn’t seem like a typical midterm,” he said.
Whatever the outcome of this race, it could result in a stronger voice for tribal peoples in northern Minnesota in the Legislature.