Marienella “Mina” Davis is a 24-year-old data scientist and small business owner running to represent the 8th District in Nebraska’s unusual unicameral and nonpartisan State Senate — and become the body’s youngest woman and first Asian American. A Democrat, she is the only person of color running for office in the entire state.
Davis grew up in the overwhelmingly white Omaha suburb of Millard, and has said she got used to being an “outlier” and learned how to use her differentness as a tool for progress. People often try to “overlook” her race as a factor in the race in order to make themselves more comfortable, she says. But Davis prefers to talk about it openly. Avoiding the topic, she believes, means avoiding discussion of important ideas that she wants to bring into the light.
The 8th District, which covers part of Omaha, is currently served by Sen. Burke Harr, who is ineligible for re-election due to term limits. It is comprised mostly of working-class, low-income people and families — people who Davis says don’t have the time or resources to represent themselves and their interests in the state and national government. She aims to be their voice.
On Christmas Day, Davis’ office received a “glitter bomb,” or an envelope stuffed with glitter that’s designed to make a mess when opened. Though she was able to contain the glitter, Davis expressed concern to the police that hate mail could be next. “I’m a young woman of color … It’s the age of Trump and people have gotten much more malicious to express their displeasure,” she told a local news channel.
Davis was raised in a family that drilled into her the importance of being an active citizen. Her father is a veteran who served 6 years in the Air Force, and he strove to keep Davis and her sisters politically informed and enthusiastic about their educations. Davis’s mother is an immigrant who obtained United States citizenship when Davis was a young girl. Davis remembers helping her mother study for the citizenship test — an experience that impressed upon her the value of being a citizen of this country and planted a desire serve.
This is the recent college graduate’s first run for office. She credits the 2008 Nebraska Democratic caucus between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, which she attended with her father, as the event that inspired her political career. She worked on President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012 and became a fellow for him that year. In 2016, she became a Bernie Sanders delegate and traveled to Philadelphia with the Nebraska delegation to the Democratic National Convention. She received candidate training from the nonpartisan group, VoteRunLead.
Davis was an active member of her school’s debate team, where she developed skills that should prove useful for an aspiring politician. Today, she is a debate coach, works as a data scientist and runs a small clothing e-commerce business. “I have been fairly successful and have inspired others, who wish to grow and learn how to empower themselves through entrepreneurship, by encouraging them to grow their own business,” she says on her site.
What Davis lacks in political experience she makes up for in youthful determination. In her May primary, she won a spot on the general election ballot by a slim 34 votes. She plans to fight hard all the way.
The Latest on the Campaign
November 7, 2018:
A surge of women candidates this year resulted in record numbers of women securing political office. We saw it all — wins, losses and unclear outcomes — in our Running Women project. Read the full story.
Mina Davis fell short in her bid to join the state Senate; she lost to opponent Megan Hunt.
June 27, 2018:
Three Supreme Court Rulings, Three Priorities for Davis
Progressives had a rough start to the week. Conservative rulings in three major Supreme Court cases in two days amounted to significant setbacks. For candidates like Mina Davis running for election in November, it was a time to consolidate support and lay out positions on religious tolerance, abortion rights and unions.
In a 5-4 ruling Tuesday morning, the court upheld President Trump’s travel ban covering people from seven predominantly Muslim countries. The decision, according to Supreme Court analyst Stephen Varick, “reaffirmed the President’s sweeping statutory authority when it comes to deciding who may and who may not travel to the United States.”
The daughter of an immigrant, Davis promised to stand with those affected by the ban, who opponents say are being singled out because of their faith. “We cannot be silent on such injustices that do not speak to any of our values,” she said in a Facebook post.
Also on Tuesday, anti-abortion pregnancy centers in California won their case in a 5-4 Supreme Court ruling. The centers contested a law that required them to inform patients that California provides low-cost or free abortion services, provide contact information and disclose whether they have a California license. The ruling found that the Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care and Transparency Act restricted the centers’ right to free speech.
In her platform, Davis speaks about the importance of guaranteeing women are not restricted in making decisions about their healthcare needs. She addresses the women in her district who are concerned over the state of reproductive rights, saying “I am committed to ensuring we have the best information possible and best access to necessary facilities.”
Then on Wednesday, the court struck a major blow to the nation’s unions. In yet another 5-4 Supreme Court ruling, it said that public employees cannot be forced to pay dues to unions, even though they may benefit from collective bargaining agreements. Requiring due payments “violates the free speech rights of non-members by compelling them to subsidize private speech on matters of substantial public concern,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the majority opinion.
Working families are a top priority for Davis. She is in favor of policies that provide a living wage, affordable housing and protect the right to bargain collectively. In a tweet she promised supporters: “We can and will steadily work to protect our unions in [Legislative District 8].”
May 16, 2018:
In a Squeaker, Davis Wins Her Nebraska State Senate Democratic Primary
Mina Davis on Tuesday claimed a surprise win in the Democratic primary for an Omaha seat in the Nebraska state Senate by a slim 34 votes and will move on to the general election.
The 22-year-old newcomer in a post to supporters on Facebook called the results a “nailbiter” that “shows that grassroots efforts can win.” Davis, a freelance data scientist who also has a Poshmark shop, ran as a working class progressive who understands the “gig economy” that so many Americans work in today.
She will face Megan Hunt, owner of Hello Holiday boutique in Omaha, who had a comfortable lead on Davis and a third Democratic contender, Josh Henningsen, and placed first by more than 1,900 votes.
Davis, who is the only person of color running for office in Nebraska this year — she is black and Filipino — said she will now turn her attention to raising the money necessary to prevail in November’s general election.