Q&A: Rep. Kaohly Vang Her says her refugee status, career in finance help her represent

Rep. Kaohly Vang Her, DFL-St. Paul.

Rep. Kaohly Vang Her, DFL-St. Paul, came to the U.S. as a refugee and grew up in poverty. After getting her degree in finance from the University of Wisconsin, Her spent 15 years in the private sector, earning an M.B.A. from Northeastern University along the way.

Her is serving her second term in the Minnesota House, climbing to the position of majority whip late last year. She’s also vice-chair of the Minnesota Asian Pacific Caucus.  She now works as a policy director for St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter, which has at times drawn questions about whether the roles conflict. She sits on the Housing Finance and Policy, Taxes, Judiciary Finance and Civil Law, and Rules and Administration Committees. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Minnesota has the only divided Legislature in the country. How do you plan to reach across the aisle to pass legislation?

My office building is on the third floor of the State Office Building, which is primarily where Republicans have their offices. And so it has become much easier for me to interact with my Republican colleagues due to proximity. I am making it a point to really talk with my colleagues across the aisle on specific bills, but sometimes it’s really just trying to understand the issues that are impacting people right now through personal conversations and connecting on common values.

What are your top three priorities heading into this session?

  1. The first would be housing; I’m carrying a number of housing reform and tenant protection bills. 
  2. Protecting our small businesses and really looking at our economy and what we need to do in the pandemic situation.
  3. I continue to work on equity issues surrounding gender, equal rights and social justice. I know these are not caucus priorities, but these are my personal priorities that I’m working on, in addition to ensuring people are doing well during the pandemic and kids are being educated during this time. 

How do you plan to help close the expected deficit?

I will be carrying one of the large tax bills. I really do feel that this pandemic has impacted Minnesotans differently — some are doing really well and others have been negatively impacted by this pandemic. We need to address the needs of those who have been disproportionately impacted by the loss of jobs, lack of access to health care, etc. My personal responsibility is supporting the governor and his tax plan, but also considering how we have big corporations pay their fair share so that our students, families and small businesses are able to make it out.

How will you meet challenges that arise from the ongoing pandemic?

All I can do is lift up the voices of those who have been impacted by the pandemic — those who are needing support and resources, those who don’t know where to even turn — and ensuring that I stay connected to the community and to people. Also, making sure people understand vaccine distribution and closing the gap in access.

What about your background gives you a unique perspective that supports your constituents? 

I spent 15 years in the private sector working in investment and finance, and I was a stay-at-home mom for six years. I spent every day in a school building with my children, advocating for them to have access to equitable education and language resources. And advocating for my mother and her health care. Being a refugee coming to the country, growing up, I lived in poverty and I had to rely on food stamps, shelters and places that could give us free clothing. My whole life has prepared me to do this work, and so I feel like I have a really great understanding of our newest American generation. My experiences have led me to this place and give me the broad experience to really address the complex needs of Minnesotans right now.

This is the second of an ongoing series of Reformer interviews with lawmakers. You can find the first interview in the series here