May Lor Xiong’s 16-year-old daughter called her during the protests against the police killing of George Floyd in 2020: She said her co-workers at a Roseville Cub Foods store were boarding up the store.
Although there didn’t turn out to be any violence in the area, Xiong recalled that, “As a parent, that’s a phone call that you never want to hear.” The experience prompted her to launch her political career, which made history when Xiong won the Republican primary on August 9. She is the first Hmong American to win a congressional GOP primary in the United States, according to CBS.
Xiong beat Jerry Silver and Gene Rechtzigel by earning 44 percent of the votes, or 9,574 votes. Silver placed second with 34 percent of the vote, earning 2,175 fewer votes than Xiong. Rechtzigel received 22 percent of the votes.
Xiong said the “lawlessness” she witnessed from protesters two years ago is a major reason she is running for Congress as a Republican in Minnesota’s 4th District, which encompasses St. Paul and most of its suburbs. She will run against Democratic incumbent and longtime Congresswoman Betty McCollum in the November 8 general election.
The district’s population is 13 percent Asian and 11 percent Black, according to census data.
“When we look into our elected officials, it’s like we don’t find leadership. We don’t find anybody who [is] willing to come and address these issues,” Xiong said. “I cannot sit around and wait for a miracle to happen.”
Teacher turned politician
While the Hmong community has both conservative and liberal elements, it leans toward the Democratic Party, said Lee Pao Xiong, director of the Center for Hmong Studies at Concordia University in St. Paul.
Lee Pao Xiong said May Lor Xiong is unlikely to win in November because of the Hmong Community’s Democratic bent and the national Republican Party’s lack of confidence in districts that have traditionally voted Democratic. McCollum has represented the heavily Democratic district since 2001.
But May Lor Xiong spoke confidently of her campaign and her plans to represent the Hmong community in a recent interview with Sahan Journal.
While her website doesn’t list any specific policy proposals, it highlights broad positions such as supporting small business and law enforcement, securing U.S. borders, and reforming education.
If elected in November, Xiong hopes to implement programs specifically for young people of color, specifically African Americans. While many point to poverty and bias in the criminal justice system, she said high crime rates among young people of color are due partly to a lack of leadership and engagement programs designed for them.
She also wants to create programs to educate police officers about how different cultures view law enforcement, which she hopes will result in law enforcement acting more equitably.
“Trust is really important,” Xiong said of the relationship between law enforcement and citizens.
Before entering politics, Xiong worked as an English as a Second Language teacher at Mississippi Creative Arts School and served as an interpreter at Humboldt Junior High School and Dayton’s Bluff Elementary School in St. Paul.
“I’ve always been a public servant,” Xiong said. “I feel like being a congressperson is just another form of public servant.”
Although Xiong’s worked on non-partisan, Democratic, and Republican campaigns in the past, this is the first time she’s run for office, she said.
She said voters shouldn’t be concerned with her lack of political experience.
“Someone with a background who is very knowledgeable about her community will do a better job than someone who has a political career,” she said.
Xiong’s Campaign volunteer, Michael Casey, said McCollum had lost touch with the district. He cited Xiong’s support for law enforcement, the military, and small business as some of her campaign’s strengths.
Xiong immigrated to the United States in 1987 as an 8-year-old refugee fleeing the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Her experience as a refugee also compelled her to enter politics.
“As a refugee coming to this country, I had the privilege to get an education, go to college,” Xiong said.
She wants other children to be able to do the same.
“We need to just focus on the reading and writing instead of talking about what gender they want to be or, you know, with the CRT, telling our students of color that they’re being oppressed,” Xiong said, echoing the nationwide conservative complaints about Critical Race Theory.
If Xiong were to upset McCollum in November, she said she hoped that would help open doors for other people of color, especially women, who hope to pursue politics–particularly Republicans.
Xiong said other people of color often tell her, “Wow, you’re a minority, you should be a Democrat.”
“And that’s absolutely not true. I think that you can be a Republican as long as your values align with theirs,” she said, adding that those values include freedom, faith, hard work, capitalism, and family.
Xiong’s campaign staffers reach out to Hmong, Karan, Somali, and other communities of color in District 4, she said at an outreach event on August 15. But the gathering of about 20 people was all white.
Although she is up against great odds in November, Xiong said she is “very excited” about her prospects.
“I’ve talked to a lot of business owners, and every business owner that I have met and spoke to, their business has been robbed or vandalized,” Xiong said. “They want a new leader that will be able to help them protect their business.
“We haven’t had a good candidate to challenge her [McCollum] in the last 20 years. Sometimes people just vote in a person that they know, that’s just been around and they feel like it’s safe. But right now it’s not about being safe, it’s about change.”
Xiong said her campaign workers are able to connect with the district’s Democratic voters by talking about issues such as gas prices and crime.
“We’re able to change minds,” Xiong said. “It is not about being a Republican or being a Democrat. It’s about issues that are concerning everyone.”
One of Xiong’s major priorities is immigration reform. She said the border should be closed to all but asylum seekers, which she argues would help protect women and children from being trafficked and also cut the flow of drugs into the country.
“A lot of people said, ‘You’re an immigrant, a refugee. How could you be thinking about closing the border for immigrants or women and children who are coming through here?’” Xiong said. “In fact, I am all about the women and the children because they’re being exploited down in our southern border.”
Xiong would also like to hire more workers at immigration offices to make the immigration process shorter, she said.