Ilhan Omar wins 60B, becoming the nation’s first Somali-American lawmaker

Omar will represent much of the University area in the Minnesota House of Representatives.

Campaign volunteer Habon Abdulle embraces Ilhan Omar on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016 at the  Courtyard Marriott on West Bank in Minneapolis. Omar won the seat for House 60B.

Chris Dang

Campaign volunteer Habon Abdulle embraces Ilhan Omar on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016 at the Courtyard Marriott on West Bank in Minneapolis. Omar won the seat for House 60B.

by Minnesota Daily Staff

Ilhan Omar became the first Somali-American member of the Minnesota Legislature, and first in the U.S.

Her campaign announced the victory after 9 p.m. Tuesday. She won the seat in District 60B, which includes the University of Minnesota’s East and West Bank campuses. She secured nearly 80 percent of the district’s vote.

Omar — who was born in Somalia and settled in Cedar-Riverside in 1997 — defeated longtime incumbent Phyllis Kahn in August during the Democratic primary. Kahn had served the district since 1973.

Her Republican opponent, Abdimalik Askar suspended his campaign in August.

In the primary, Omar also took on a challenger in Mohamud Noor, who Kahn beat in the 2014 Democratic primary. Omar won 41 percent of the August primary vote compared to both Kahn and Noor, who finished with about 29 percent each.

With her election, the Somali community now has someone to represent their district’s issues, she said at her Election Night party at the Courtyard Marriott on West Bank Tuesday.

“I look forward to working with the people of my district, and being a voice with them,” she said.

Omar made college affordability, criminal justice and police reform, economic equality and environmental issues the focuses of her campaign.

Scott Cray, a 28-year-old Prospect Park resident, attended Omar’s Election party and said he voted for Omar because her win would be a “morale boost” for the Somali community.

Omar’s win is important given the rhetoric in this year’s presidential election regarding immigration, Islam and women, said Omar campaign member Miranda Adams.

Adams’ involvement in Omar’s campaign stretches before the primary, she said.

“At the top of the ticket, there’s nothing really exciting to feel really passionate about a candidate, and Ilhan is … an amazing woman,” Adams said. “We really need Somali representation in the Minnesota legislature, and especially more women.”

Before running for 60B, Omar was Director of Policy Initiatives for Women Organizing Women, and a senior Policy Aide for Minneapolis Ward 12 City Council Member Andrew Johnson.

“I viewed it as a limited-time opportunity for me and for Ward 12 to have her talent and her drive working on our behalf because I knew that it was only inevitable that she would go on to higher places because she is so talented and such a leader,” Johnson told the Daily in April. “She has such a deep knowledge on issues and willingness to learn and to listen. You couldn’t be better represented than having her at the Legislature.”

Policy shaped by personal experiences

Omar, 33, also fills her time with her role as a working mother. Campaign Manager Conrad Zbikowski told the Daily in April this makes her attached to issues that affect families.

“What I’m hoping for is that the people don’t lose the hope in believing in the greater good and in continuing to celebrate our diversity, and continuing to see people regardless of their religion, their culture, their creed,” she said at the election party Tuesday. “They are still our neighbors, they are still our friends, they are still family.”

Another driving force in Omar’s politics is her experiences as a refugee, she told the Daily last month.

“I remember talking to my father and grandfather about going to the land of liberty and justice… and arriving here,” she said.

She supports free college tuition for those with household incomes under $125,000 — an especially relevant topic given many of her constituents are students at the University. Omar herself is currently paying off her own student debt.

Omar also wants to require police reforms and economic policies aimed at equality. She supports a $15 per hour minimum wage, requiring police to undergo de-escalation training and reinstating voting rights for ex-convicts.