The Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL) has once again endorsed Rep. Ilhan Omar as she seeks re-election to represent Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District.
Omar and former Minneapolis city councilmember Don Samuels battled it out at the 5th Congressional District (CD5) Convention held Saturday at North Community High School.
“The Minnesota House of Representatives under DFL control argue for some of the most progressive policies, but we still have so much work to do,” said Governor Tim Walz.
Omar was first sworn into office in January of 2019. She is the first ever African refugee to be elected to Congress, one of the first Muslim American women to do so, and the very first woman of color to represent Minnesota.
Omar is a Somali-born immigrant whose family fled the country’s civil war when she was 8 years old. Her interest in politics began in her teen years. She was a policy fellow at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs before winning a seat in 2016 to represent District 60B in the Minnesota House of Representatives. From then, her political career continued to grow, and she has been re-elected each term since her first swearing into Congress.
Don Samuels was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and emigrated to the United States for college. Samuels said he felt called to a career in politics when a bullet shattered the window of his soon-to-be newborn son’s room.
“For some it would have been a reason to pack up and move, but for us it was a sign to organize,” said Samuels.
Samuels then began advocating for safe neighborhoods in Minneapolis, and when a city council seat became vacant, he swiftly took the opportunity. During his time on the city council, he continued to address issues of violence in local neighborhoods. Additionally, he founded Minneapolis’ “Ban the Box” policy, which eliminated the requirement for hopeful job applicants to disclose past felonies. Samuels has since left the city council but continues to volunteer at various organizations to improve issues of safety in his community.
During a question-and-answer session, the candidates participated in a panel discussion where they shared their stances on hot issues in their neighborhoods. The most pressing question was that of abortion, which has taken centerstage following recent leaked majority opinion that suggest the U.S. Supreme Court could overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade, would leave the issue to the states.
Samuels said while he had not had much opportunity to speak on the issue during his career, he supported Roe v. Wade wholeheartedly.
“Despite a popular rumor going around, I support a woman’s right to choose, and always have,” said Samuels.
Omar said women’s rights have been a key focus area in her career.
“Abortion is healthcare, and women should be the ones to make decisions pertaining to their bodies,” said Omar.
Another delegate asked the candidates’ position on President Biden’s initiative that would cancel student loan debt for thousands of college students and graduates in the country.
Omar said it was an issue she’d been working on for years, as young people struggle to buy homes and older Americans put off retirement to pay off the loans.
“I introduced that legislation in my first term and have been trying to get the president to use his executive power ever since,” said Omar.
Samuels said that while he agreed with cancelling student debt, it was important to apply an “income cap.”
“It is a worthy cause, especially for African Americans, Native Americans, and poor people, but we must make sure we don’t cancel the student debt of millionaires,” said Samuels.
On the issue of healthcare, the candidates were asked to share their stance on the idea of universal healthcare. Samuels said universal healthcare is a goal he’s continued to support and that he upholds the values of Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
“Much of my career has been focused on advancing the Affordable Care Act, which ultimately increased access to health insurance,” said Samuels.
“Much of my career has been focused on passing equitable healthcare legislation: for example, we capped insulin at $35,” said Omar.
The candidates were also asked about how they have worked to serve marginalized communities. Samuels said that his humble beginnings in Jamaica equipped him with the perspective necessary to be an effective public servant.
“I grew up in a poor community and saw the difference in the way people of color were treated, so I always advocate for resources to be allocated to marginalized communities.
“As someone who carries multiple marginalized identities, intersectionality is important to me,” said Omar. “That is why I have advocated for legislation to close disparity gaps.”
In the end, Omar got more delegates to clinch the endorsement. Primary elections in Minnesota will be on August 9 with the candidate filing period starting on May 17.
About Panashe Matemba-Mutasa, Mshale Reporter
Panashe is a general assignments reporter.