A Nigerian woman, Esther Agbaje has been elected into the Minnesota House of Representatives in Tuesday’s United States general elections.
Agbaje will be representing District 59B in the 134-member House on the platform of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL), an affiliate of the US Democratic Party.
She won by a landslide polling 17,396 votes or 74.7 percent of the total ballots cast to defeat her closest rival, Alan Shilepsky of the Republican Party who polled 4,128 votes, representing 17.7 percent of the total.
Elections to the lower chamber of the state legislature hold every two years, and there are no term limits for the lawmakers.
The 35-year-old Nigerian woman graduated from George Washington University, Washington, D.C., with a degree in political science, holds a Masters in Public Administration from the University of Pennsylvania and also a law degree from Harvard University.
Agbaje who once served at the U.S. Department of State as a Foreign Affairs Officer, charged with managing the rule of law projects in the Middle East, currently works as an attorney in Minneapolis with a focus on general civil litigation and medical malpractice.
Her priorities as a lawmaker include affordable housing, environmental justice, police reform, public safety, and racial equality.
Everything you need to know Esther Agbaje
My name is Esther Agbaje, and I’m running to be the State Representative for District 59B. Our district covers a growing and diverse area in Minneapolis, including Near North, Harrison, Willard-Hay, North Loop, Bryn Mawr, and Downtown. The district is the heart of the city, from the vibrant communities of the North Side to the Hennepin County Medical Center and the Mississippi River.
I was born in St. Paul, lived in Brainerd, and went to high school in Faribault. After law school, I moved to downtown Minneapolis in 2017 to contribute to the place I call home. My parents came to Minnesota from Nigeria to further their education. They started a family here, and my brothers and I owe the opportunities we’ve had to their hard work, example, and inspiration.
My father is a priest in the Episcopal Church, and my mother has directed a homeless services center in the past. As a child of parents whose mission was to serve others, I have followed in their footsteps throughout my life. In college, I worked to advance labor rights. In graduate school, I helped build healthy and sustainable communities. In the State Department, I managed programs advocating for civil rights. And in law school, I defended tenants from eviction.
As a transit rider and renter, I am passionate about reliable public transit and affordable housing. Sky-rocketing rental costs affect everyone from senior citizens to young professionals and working families. I also advocate for environmental justice, serving on climate groups through TakeAction Minnesota and St. Mark’s Cathedral to promote renewable energy. Throughout my work, I make sure to center the voices of low-income people and communities of color.
As a negotiator, as a lawyer, and as a former program manager, I know how to advocate for the district and find common ground with other legislators in St. Paul. As a millenial, a generation that has suffered numerous setbacks, I will bring a fresh perspective and new ideas to government. I look forward to hearing from you about your ideas for the district and for Minnesota. Together, we can build the inclusive and just society we deserve.
About Esther’s lifelong work in law and justice
Esther Agbaje is an Associate with Ciresi Conlin LLP. She practices in general civil litigation and medical malpractice. She also has experience in class action lawsuits. This year she was part of a team that settled with the Minnesota Department of Corrections to allow prisoners who qualify access to potentially life-saving Hepatitis C medication. Minnesota Lawyer recognized her for this work when naming Esther a 2019 Attorney of the Year.
Prior to practicing law in Minnesota, Esther attended Harvard Law School. There, she spent two years as a student attorney defending tenants from eviction with the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau. Through this experience, Esther developed a passion for housing justice after seeing many of her clients living in unsafe or unhealthy buildings or paying rents they could barely afford. She continues supporting tenants by volunteering with the Volunteer Lawyers Network Housing Court Project in Hennepin County.
Before turning to law, Esther was a Foreign Affairs Officer with the U.S. Department of State. There, she managed rule of law projects in the Middle East focusing on Egypt and the Gulf states. She also facilitated exchange and scholarship projects for judges, lawyers, journalists, and students between the region and the U.S. In this role, she learned how to manage varied stakeholders while pursuing programs that focused on outcomes. Her work emphasized how the government can be a supportive partner to advocates and community members looking to build their own future.
While earning her Masters in Public Administration from the University of Pennsylvania, Esther worked with local government offices to develop their performance management systems. These systems helped to better track and report on the impact and outcomes of city programs. Additionally, Esther developed indicators for recreation centers and homeless shelter programs in the City of Philadelphia. She also presented a research project on best practices in city management to advance the goal of creating healthy and sustainable communities.
Esther studied Political Science at The George Washington University and was active in mentoring incoming students and advocating for labor rights in different internships. Upon graduation, she received the Thomas R. Pickering Graduate Foreign Affairs Fellowship which led to her career at the State Department.
Minnesota has always been home for Esther and she is glad to be back. She looks forward to contributing to a community that provided her with a strong foundation of support and values. Esther enjoys spending time with her friends and family and is also known to play the flute or dance salsa on occasion.