Since North Dakota became a state 139 years ago, there shamefully has never been an African-American ever elected to statewide office or to the state Legislature. Not one. However, that could change this year. There are four African-American Democrats hoping to end that streak. All of them have felt the sting of racism, but all of them love living in North Dakota.
Laetitia Mizero Hillerud, 52, of West Fargo, is running for state senator in District 22. Hellerud came to the U.S. as a refugee. She escaped the Burundi Civil War, where 300,000 people were killed, including many of her family members. Hellerud has a master’s degree from the University of Mary, runs a consulting business, and has written two books.
“I’ve had opportunities here that I would never have in Burundi. It’s a place where I can dream,” Hellerud said. “I am running because I care about North Dakota, and want to see more inclusion, more perspectives, and alternative thinking. I am a voice for the homeless, women, children and immigration.”
Hamida Dakane, 30, of Fargo, is running for state representative in District 16. Dakane came to the U.S. as an immigrant from Kenya, and graduated from North Dakota State University. She works for Lutheran Social Services, where she helps people with special needs.
“The Fargo area community is welcoming and peaceful,” Dakane said. “I want to give back to the community that has given me so much. I strongly believe in diversity. My top priorities are high quality and affordable education, affordable housing, and a well-trained workforce.”
Travisia Martin, 59, of Bismarck, is running for North Dakota Insurance Commissioner. Martin was born and raised in San Diego, graduated from Arizona State University, and moved to North Dakota in early 2015. She is a respiratory therapist, who works with critically ill patients, including COVID-19 patients fighting for their lives.
“It’s time for change. There needs to be diversity,” Martin said. “I’m running to improve health care. What I’ve seen is criminal. We have a lack of providers and procedures. We need to keep the Affordable Care Act, and protect those with pre-existing conditions.”
Jenna Vanhorne, 32, of Steele, is running for state senator in District 14. Vanhorne has lived in the state since she was 3, graduated from Bismarck State College, has served as a North Dakota Senate page, and helps run a farm.
“North Dakota is in my blood,” Vanhorne said. “I am running because I’m fed up with the way things have been going. I came out of the last session incredibly disappointed. We need more transparency. Big Oil has too much influence. Farmers are not being listened to or treated right. We need better rural health care, and property taxes need to be lowered.”
North Dakotans should not vote for or against Hellerud, Dakane, Martin or Vanhorne simply because they are Black. However, it’s time to elect African-Americans in this state. It’s long past time.