Friday June 8, 2018
By Kyle Potter
State Rep. Ilhan Omar, DFL- Minneapolis, files to run for the 5th district congressional seat that Rep. Keith Ellison is vacating. Lacey Young | MPR News
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Ilhan Omar escaped her war-torn homeland of Somalia
as a child and grew up in a Kenyan refugee camp before immigrating to
the United States as a preteen. She learned English by watching American
Years later, she became the nation’s first and only
Somali-American lawmaker when she won a seat in the Minnesota House. Now
she’s aiming for another spot in history: the first Somali-American
member of Congress.
When Rep. Keith Ellison launched a late bid
Tuesday to become the state’s attorney general, Omar rushed into a
crowded field of eight Democrats seeking to replace him. Her competitors
include a former state House speaker and two state senators as well as
Ellison’s ex-wife, Kim Ellison.
win for Omar would further elevate a rising star in Minnesota politics
who has positioned herself as a “counter-narrative” to President Donald
Trump and his efforts to clamp down on immigration.
“I know what
it feels like to be a young family looking for opportunity in the United
States,” the 35-year-old said moments after registering to run. “I am
excited to go and be a voice for the voiceless at the Capitol.”
family fled Somalia when she was just 8, as civil war tore apart the
country. They spent four years in a Mombasa, Kenya, camp with tens of
thousands of other refugees. At age 12, the family was sponsored to move
to the United States, eventually settling in Minnesota.That
story is familiar in Minnesota, which is home to the largest population
of Somalis outside Somalia, as well as a neighborhood dubbed “Little
Mogadishu.” In her campaign for the state Legislature, Omar harnessed
her community’s growing political power as well as the city’s younger
and more liberal voting base to make history.
She was not
available for an interview Wednesday, and she said Tuesday that she
could not answer reporters’ questions because she needed to start
Her brief tenure in the state Legislature has been
dotted with national exposure: She had a run-in with a Washington, D.C.,
taxi driver who she said called her “ISIS.” She also appeared on cable
TV talk shows and recently made a cameo appearance alongside celebrities
in a Maroon 5 video for a song called “Girls Like You.”
the minority in a chamber controlled by Republicans, Omar’s legislative
portfolio is relatively thin. She repeatedly sought money to help combat
a 2017 measles outbreak that wracked the Somali community. She also
worked to renovate a popular community center in her district.
said she’s found other ways to connect — not just with fellow Somalis,
but also the college students and other long-term Minneapolis residents
Mohamud Noor, a fellow Somali-American who lost a
primary to Omar in 2016 and is now running for her legislative seat,
credited her outreach on immigration issues and regular “coffee and
kulan” sessions. (Kulan is the Somali word for meeting).
are proud of her. Because of her accomplishment, because of her
commitment to the public service. She is seen as somebody, especially,
people see a role model for young children, their daughters,” Noor said.
“I think she will be a good fighter against the Trump administration’s
immigration issues in general.”
Entering the primary is also a gamble. If she loses, she cannot run for her legislative seat again until 2020. — (AP)
Kavy Botan, who lives in Minneapolis, supported Omar’s candidacy,
saying she could fight against the administration’s travel ban and be an
example of Somalis for the American people. He wondered if she would be
allowed on the House floor in her hijab or if Trump would give her a
derisive nickname such as the one he uses to refer to Sen. Elizabeth
Omar’s bid is far from a sure thing.
Anderson Kelliher, a two-term Democratic House speaker and 2010
candidate for governor, could generate enormous support in a district
that’s much larger, with more politically moderate suburbs, than Omar’s.
State Sens. Bobby Joe Champion and Patricia Torres Ray have both been
in the Legislature for far longer and represent much larger swaths of
In 2006, Ellison was the first Muslim elected to
Congress. His seat is safe territory for Democrats, which makes an Aug.
14 primary the de facto election to replace him. The six-term
congressman regularly cruised to re-election by 45 percentage points or