A new image of rural minnesota cheniqua johnson on her historic run for mn house mn spokesman-recorder msr news online

The 22-year-old University of Minnesota graduate has a background in public service and community organizing, including serving as a political organizer for the DFL Party and as a legislative intern for U.S. Senate and policy intern for Gov. Mark Dayton. One might think running for office would be the natural progression for Johnson, but she said she did not think about it until approached by Rep. Ilhan Omar (DFL).

Cheniqua Johnson (CJ): Bringing more individuals to this conversation when it comes to state governance. Our state government does not necessarily represent the state in its entirety, and I want to be able to bring more individuals to the conversation – whether that be farmers, or people of color, immigrants, young people. [I want to] bring that voice and that perspective to places where I feel currently there are none.


One of the things we are really trying to combat is [the idea] the metro does not care about rural Minnesota or that rural Minnesota does not have a voice at the state legislature. I will bring representatives from [the] metro – because there are some that have never been to rural Minnesota, southwest Minnesota – to my area to show them around and get them involved in the conversation so we [can be] on a united front.

CJ: I love Worthington. I love the people, the diversity, the activism, and the community. It’s my home. My district is in southwest Minnesota and is one of the most diverse districts in our part of the state. There are 50+ languages spoken in my district with families, cultures and backgrounds from all around the world. That’s the reason I believe we need to have leaders that can adequately represent that diversity in our district at St. Paul, in our city councils, and on our school boards.

CJ: We as a community and we as a state have to be united and understand that we aren’t going to back individuals with the most money or we aren’t going to follow the money. Right now, money is politics because people follow the money. We look for candidates with the most money, who have fundraised the most expenses, who have the best ads, who have the best videos, and we don’t necessarily get back to who has the best message.

So, if we can return to this idea or bring forth a new idea that money does not equal – and money doesn’t not equal – success, then we can understand that we will no longer be following money. We will follow the people, we follow what the community wants, we will follow our values as a state, and that’s what I will be working to try and get back to.

CJ: I ask them why not. In some capacities there is a valid reason in our community when people feel they are not included in a conversation to have a distaste [for] politics and political conversations. And, then I would explain to them that we are living in a day and age that it is not going to matter if you like politics or politicians – you have to be a part of this conversation.

We just need to be echoing that message of, personally, if you don’t like something, if you don’t necessarily see yourself in politics right now, the only way that aspect is going to change is by speaking up and being willing to have the conversation. Don’t dislike something so much that you think it doesn’t matter or become disengaged in what’s happening.

Decisions are still being made, laws are still being passed, regulations are still being put forward. You’re only doing yourself a disservice [by disengaging] because then there is only a group of people that continue to have this lack of accountability. And, if you feel like the issue is accountability in politics or accountability in politicians, you have to be willing to be part of the conversation and part of the discussion.

Rep. Ilhan and Moran are two people who have truly invested in my race. Rep. Ilhan is the sole reason that I had that push to run for office. She directly asked me about running for office, and I had not before. Just being both validated by Rep. Moran (DFL) and then supported [by Oman] helped me really understand this is where I should be.

I am the first person of color to do so in my community, probably in like a 60-mile radius, and we’re there. Yes, there are Black people in rural Minnesota. I want people to know that…we are individuals that are working and giving back to our economy and community, we’re parents, teachers, educators, nurses, labor workers. We’re just in every part of what’s happening in the rural economy. We are your farmers, we are your small business owners.