Meet Esther Agbaje: Advocate for Change in Minnesota Politics

Esther Agbaje, born on March 19, 1985, has emerged as a prominent figure in American politics, currently serving in the Minnesota House of Representatives since 2021. As a member of the Minnesota Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party (DFL), Agbaje represents District 59B, encompassing parts of north and downtown Minneapolis in Hennepin County, Minnesota.

Early Life and Education

Agbaje was born in Saint Paul, Minnesota, to Nigerian immigrant parents and spent her formative years in Brainerd and Faribault. She is an alumna of Shattuck-St. Mary's Boarding School. Her academic journey led her to George Washington University, where she earned a bachelor's degree in political science. Agbaje furthered her education with a master's in public administration from the University of Pennsylvania and a juris doctor from Harvard University. During her time at Harvard, she actively engaged in public service, working at the Legal Aid Bureau and contributing to the Volunteer Lawyers Network Housing Court Project.

Prior to law school, Agbaje served as a Foreign Service Officer at the United States Department of State, focusing on the Middle East. Currently, she is an associate attorney at Ciresi Conlin LLP, specializing in general civil litigation and medical malpractice. Her commitment to public service extends to pro bono work, where she assists renters facing housing insecurity and eviction challenges.

Personal Life

Esther Agbaje resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota, bringing a personal connection to the issues she passionately advocates for in the legislature. Her multifaceted background, legal expertise, and unwavering dedication to the community make her a dynamic and influential force in Minnesota politics. As she continues to shape policy and champion causes close to her heart, Agbaje stands as a beacon of change and representation in the state's political landscape.

Political Journey

Agbaje entered the political arena and successfully secured her seat in the Minnesota House of Representatives in 2020, winning reelection in 2022. Her journey to the legislature involved challenging and defeating four-term DFL incumbent Raymond Dehn, earning the DFL endorsement and prevailing in the primary election.

Within the House, Agbaje holds influential positions, serving as the vice chair of the Housing Finance and Policy Committee and participating in the Elections Finance and Policy, Taxes, and Ways and Means Committees. Since 2023, she has assumed the role of assistant majority leader. Agbaje also co-chairs the House People of Color & Indigenous (POCI) Caucus and serves as the vice chair of the Black Maternal Health Caucus.

Championing Key Issues

Agbaje is recognized for her advocacy on critical issues, including housing and tenants' rights. She emphasizes housing as a human right and has spearheaded legislation directing $45 million in funding to Minneapolis for the repair of affordable housing units. As the vice chair of the Housing Committee, she played a pivotal role in incorporating tenant protection provisions into the final housing budget, with a focus on expungement of eviction filings.

Her commitment extends to diverse areas, such as authoring the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act. This legislation adds a definition of race that includes natural hairstyles, offering protection against discrimination based on hairstyle. Despite facing initial challenges, the CROWN Act eventually passed both houses of the legislature and was signed into law by Governor Tim Walz in 2023.

Agbaje has also been a staunch supporter of public safety and criminal justice reform. Following the tragic events surrounding George Floyd, she joined U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar in calling for an expanded investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department. Residing in the building where Amir Locke was shot and killed by Minneapolis police, Agbaje advocates for police reform, including a ban on no-knock warrants.

In 2023, she authored legislation to eliminate fees for state inmate phone calls, emphasizing the importance of inmate-family connections for successful reentry into society. Another notable initiative is her law lowering the threshold for pardons and commutations.

Political Stance

Agbaje has made her mark by taking clear positions on various issues. During the 2021 Minneapolis mayoral election, she refrained from endorsing incumbent Jacob Frey, aligning with a letter advocating for a "new mayor" dedicated to addressing racial disparities and enhancing public safety. She also supported City Question 2, aiming to reform the Minneapolis Police Department.

Her stance on healthcare includes authoring a bill in 2023 that provides legal protections for patients traveling to Minnesota for abortions and the healthcare providers assisting them. Additionally, she sponsored a bill enabling undocumented immigrants to access MinnesotaCare, the state's health insurance for low-income families.

In matters of taxation, Agbaje has advocated against fully eliminating the state tax on Social Security income, emphasizing the need for targeted support to low- and middle-income seniors. Her environmental advocacy includes pushing for the closure of a metal shredder in North Minneapolis after a stockpile caught fire.

Electoral History

Agbaje's electoral victories in 2020 and 2022 demonstrate the strong support she enjoys from her constituents in District 59B. Notably, her commitment to progressive policies and community well-being has solidified her position as a trusted representative.

In summary, Esther Agbaje's journey from a Minnesota childhood to a prominent political figure underscores her resilience and dedication to public service. Her educational and professional achievements, coupled with legislative successes, highlight her commitment to key issues such as housing and tenants' rights, criminal justice reform, and anti-discrimination measures. Agbaje emerges not only as a representative but as a dynamic force driving positive change in Minnesota. Her story is one of determination and purpose, inspiring a vision for a more inclusive and just society through her continued advocacy.