SAINT PAUL, Minn. – Rep. Carlos Mariani (DFL – Saint Paul) announced today his intention to not seek reelection to the Minnesota House this November. First elected in 1990 and now serving his 16th term representing Saint Paul’s Downtown, West Side, and West Seventh neighborhoods, Rep. Mariani currently chairs the House Public Safety & Criminal Justice Reform Finance & Policy Committee.
He issued the following statement:
“Today I announce that I will not be standing for re-election to the Minnesota State House of Representatives 65B seat I have represented since 1991.
Serving in the state legislature for over three decades has been the privilege of my life. Representing one of the most racially and economically diverse districts in the state honored me with the expectation to be on the front edge of lawmaking for social justice and policy transformation. As a proud Latino, I sought to bring forward the hopes and dreams of communities of color and Indigenous communities to make state government a meaningful tool to be used to help meet their, and all our needs for a better life.
My work as a legislator addressed many of the cutting-edge racial equity and social justice issues of our times encompassing major reforms of Minnesota law on immigration, education, and public safety. This included:
I also worked to tend to my district’s infrastructure needs including securing state investment in re-building the vital downtown Saint Paul Wabasha Bridge, building the Minnesota Children’s Museum, adding a performance wing to the Ordway Theater, and redesigning parks and trails along the Mississippi River. While proud of all of those, my work to capture state funds to build the Higher Ground shelter that provides dignified short-term housing and long-term support services for those who are without a home is particularly meaningful to me and for our broader community. This followed from the learnings of the statewide Minnesota Legislative Commission to End Poverty that I co-chaired in 2007.
Throughout my term in office, and with the encouragement of the voters in District 65B, I have often challenged conventions even if it means pushing my political allies and friends and risking losing the office I held. This was true in pushing my union friends and losing their endorsement when I sought new opportunities to address the racial education opportunity gap by championing alternative teacher licensing and charter schools. This has also been true in pushing law enforcement associations to address police accountability. I don’t believe it is possible to be an effective legislator without the willingness to innovate and change how to better serve citizens, even if it means taking on the resistance of powerful interests – including one’s own political base.
For eight years I was the only Latino in our state legislature. For over a decade there were only between four and six elected people of color in that branch of our government. Thankfully, there are now over two dozen total in both parties. I may well be the longest-serving Latino state legislator in the nation, but occupying that space came with little recognition and usually meant working from a perspective largely unknown to most other legislators. Often that meant leading far ahead of others – as we did with the first police accountability bill I authored two full years before George Floyd was killed by an officer.
Enacting new laws is designed to be a deliberative and slow process, even though the urgency to act may exist in the now. To be an effective legislator I have had to push the issues. Sometimes however, new ideas involve long engagements in order to shift how people view – and feel about – things they are uninformed and uncertain about. The Minnesota Prosperity Act took us a decade to enact as mostly white legislators fiercely resisted the acceptance of undocumented youth – who were mostly Latino – as part of their own responsibility to best serve our state. With few legislators of color at that time, I meticulously worked over years to set up learning opportunities for my colleagues so they could shift their views. While difficult to acknowledge, I saw that ‘keeping our eyes on the prize’ and having a commitment to a long struggle is often key to lawmaking success.
My approach to legislation has been fairly simple: listen to people’s hopes, claim the duty to boldly fashion policies and unapologetically use public resources to help citizens make their hopes happen, target those resources equitably across the diversity of our communities (for example, what rural or Latino communities need may differ from what suburban or white middle-class communities need), use social science and data to measure the impact of our laws, hold our delivery systems transparently accountable, and always build relationships – especially with those who differ from you.
The state legislative environment I entered three decades ago was a greatly different one than what exists today and while there is appropriate concern over the extreme partisanship we see today, I believe the Capitol is a stronger reflection of the fuller strength of our society and state. More women inhabit our legislature, more Black, Latino, Asian and Indigenous people serve, and there is more openness of members proudly claiming their GLBTQ identities. The ingredients for governance by and for the people have never been stronger.
I acknowledge the generation of legislators who proceeded and taught me, most of them were white, rural men who had a fierce vision for fairness and good governance. I am thankful for the racially diverse peers – both white allies and especially the People of Color and Indigenous (POCI) Caucus – I have since served with who sought new ways of thinking to meet the needs of all people. I am indebted to Minnesota’s labor and human rights movement, and to the faith and social justice communities. And I reserve my humblest gratitude to the citizens of Saint Paul who believed in me - as I believed in them - and supported me through 16 election cycles.
There is so much work to be done – together. Pa’lante Minnesota!”