Former congressional staffer Liz Lee is running to represent the East Side of St. Paul in the Minnesota House. Credit: Ben Hovland | Sahan Journal

Liz Lee won the primary election Tuesday to represent her home turf–St. Paul’s East Side–in the Minnesota House of Representatives. If she beats her Republican challenger in the November general election, she would become the first woman and Hmong legislator to represent District 67A.

Lee secured 89 percent of the vote in a decisive victory against incumbent John Thompson, who earned 11 percent of the vote.

“We feel good. I’m really, really proud of our team,” Lee told Sahan Journal over the phone Tuesday night over a celebratory clamor in the background.

She called the upcoming general election the “election of our generation,” and said that her campaign hopes to drive up voter turnout to secure big wins for Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and Governor Tim Walz in November.

While she’s excited for what her historic victory means for the Hmong community in St. Paul, Lee made it clear that she wants to represent everybody.

“All of our liberations are tied,” she said.

Thompson came under scrutiny last July for domestic violence allegations and questions about his residency, which eventually prompted House Democrats to vote him out of the DFL caucus last September. Thompson ran as an independent, and served a single term.

Lee, 33, beat Thompson by nearly 45 percentage points in March to secure the DFL endorsement.

Lee, a first-time candidate, worked on Capitol Hill for roughly 10 years after graduating from Yale University. She first worked as a congressional staffer for Senator Amy Klobuchar, and then as an aide for former Representative Barbara Lee. She was also a staffer for Ellison for two years when he was a representative, and later earned his endorsement for the Minnesota House.

​​“She listens. She doesn’t need to be the one talking,” Ellison told Sahan Journal in April. “She seems like she would rather hear what someone else’s story is, and I can tell you, she’s taking all that in and she’s going to do something about it.”

Lee, the daughter of Hmong immigrants, will run against Republican Beverly Peterson in the general election. Peterson ran unopposed in the primary.

“The East Side has always been about welcoming immigrants, refugees, and new folks to the community,” Lee told Sahan Journal in April. “I thought it was really important to have a new voice to advocate for everybody on the East Side.”

Liz told Sahan Journal in April that her political philosophy is focused on people power and centering the people affected by policy decisions.

Lee has experience working on the House Appropriations Committee, a time during which she collaborated with Republicans to pass bills that put millions of dollars into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education for students of color. 

She has spent the last decade advocating for health equity, affordable housing, bridging the academic achievement gap, and reinvesting in public transit, according to her website.

Noor Adwan was an intern at Sahan Journal. She is a fourth-year journalism student at the University of Minnesota.