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Minnesota Monitor: Republican, transgender and running for Minnesota House in Brainerd

MINNESOTA MONITOR

by Andy Birkey

Chrissy Nakonsky announced her bid to represent District 12A in the Minnesota House of Representatives last week. Her candidacy is unusual in politics and almost unheard of in the area:

She’s transgender and running for the Republican endorsement. Poverty and education top her list of campaign issues in a challenge against newly elected John Ward, DFL-Brainerd.

“This is a serious bid,” she told the Brainerd Dispatch. “I don’t want my transgender to become an issue.”

Undoubtedly, her transgender identity will, and Nakonsky admitted as much when I spoke with her Tuesday. Chrissy Nakonsky was born Jeff Nakonsky in Washington state and has lived in Brainerd for about 10 years. The area doesn’t exactly have a cohesive LGBT community, but the success of Sen. Paul Koering, the openly gay Republican who won re-election in 2006, gives Nakonsky some hope. Koering won despite a bitter campaign by social conservatives to beat him in the primary.

“His win was part of the influence in, but not the major reason for, [my candidacy],” she said. “But it does show it’s possible to get into office.”

She’s expecting similar reactions from social conservatives.

“When he ran, those groups threw such a fit, bashing him for being gay,” she said. “I foresee it happening to me.”

Nakonsky is not running on divisive social issues, however. Poverty and education are her top concerns. Having been unemployed after a bitter dispute with her former employer, Wal-Mart, over hostile working conditions, Nakonsky knows a bit about struggling to make ends meet. She plans on campaigning with just $1,000 in the bank.

“The media and politicians talk so much about helping the middle class. Low income and people living in poverty are people too,” she said. “I want to put a face on them.” She said that the talk of economic stimulus packages being debated and the tax refunds proposed would do little to help those living in poverty, and that she would bring that passion for the poor to St. Paul.

“My issues are poverty and education,” she said. “The education system is failing our kids; it’s broken.” She said it is getting especially dire in the Brainerd area, where residents are debating closing two schools.

Nakonsky says she’s running as a Republican because she’s been a lifelong member of the party and she views the GOP as the party of the people. Her candidacy, while surprising, is not unprecedented. A number of transgender people run for office as Republicans. Vermont and Missouri saw state and federal candidates for office in 2006. Susan Kimberly, who transitioned from male to transgender in the early 1980s in St. Paul, is a Republican and worked on the campaign of Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., after being his deputy mayor when he ran St. Paul. To date, no transgender Republicans have been successful in campaigns for office.

Nakonsky will try her best to run a successful campaign, with $1,000 in her pocket and a passion to take on poverty in greater Minnesota.

“Can I change everything in St. Paul? No. But I can try,” she said.

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