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For Clairo, “the third time’s the Charm.”
Review: “Charm” by Clairo
Published July 21, 2024

Campaign Q&A with Ilhan Omar

Congresswoman Omar explains her priorities and past policies in light of the election year.
Image by Eleanor King
Ilhan Omar being interviewed in her office on Feb. 23, 2024. Omar sat down with The Minnesota Daily to discuss law enforcement, housing, drug addiction and student concerns.

Congresswoman for Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District, Ilhan Omar, sat down with The Minnesota Daily to explain her past and current priorities for the upcoming election.

The congresswoman answered questions about her previous work in Congress, concerns about law enforcement, affordable housing and drug addiction. Omar also discussed her past work for students’ rights and concerns and how she plans to continue to prioritize education in her leadership. 

The Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL) will have a caucus on Tuesday where constituents can meet and hear candidates’ plans for Congress. The candidates will run for DFL party endorsement at the primary elections on Aug. 13 before the general election on Nov. 5. 

Omar grew up in Cedar-Riverside after emigrating from Somalia in the late ‘90s. Omar was raised by her father and grandfather who stressed the importance of democracy and later taught at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. 

Minnesota Daily: Why are you re-running? 

Omar: “I know that in this particular moment in our nation’s history, we are facing threats to our democracy. We’re facing threats to reproductive rights. We are facing threats to America being seen as a beacon of hope in regard to our immigration policy. We are seeing a drawback in investments in things like Medicare and Social Security. People actually giving care and concern to our veterans, whether it’s in addressing homeless people. Or homelessness for them or healthcare. Or mental health access. We’re dealing with a ridiculous amount of crises in regard to public safety, and trust within our public safety institutions. The opioid crisis that has taken so many people who have been dear to me and my children. I am excited to go back and continue to do that work in fighting for all of those things that my constituents care about.”

Daily: How have you voiced student’s concerns in Congress before? What do you plan to do in the future for students? 

Omar: “It’s actually the reason I first decided to run for office, right? Because I still have student debt. And my daughter, my stump speech, I used to say, in four years, my daughter is going to college. I was like, deathly afraid of what that looked like because I knew so many other people were. At the time, we had a 44-year incumbent who was not really listening to university students. My House district included the University of Minnesota and I actually grew up in the neighborhood where the University of Minnesota and Augsburg is. So canceling student debt and making college affordable and accessible was one of my number one priorities. I think the way that I’ve approached the issue is to bring the voices of young people to say ‘Here’s your cause, help us fight and mobilize for it.’ One of the first few pieces of legislation I introduced when I got to Congress was the Student Debt Cancellation and College for All Legislation. Even though we haven’t been successful in passing that, we’ve utilized the progressive caucus, which I serve as the B.D. chair in pushing the Biden administration to cancel as much as possible. And trying to increase Pell Grants, trying to do everything that we can to create, to decrease the barriers that college students are experiencing. Then when I was in the Minnesota House, I served on the higher education committee. I did the student bill of rights legislation. I introduced legislation and was successful in passing to make sure that predatory landlords weren’t taking advantage of young people on college campuses.” 

Daily: How will you support LGBTQA+ students and their concerns?

Omar: “I was on the board of Stonewall, the DFL Stonewall Caucus, which is why I carried the conversion, getting rid of the conversion therapy, because a lot of my friends were impacted as young people by those policies. Now I am part of the equality caucus in Congress. We passed the Equality Act a couple of years ago. We’ll reintroduce it and pass it once we get back into the majority. But it’s about listening, peering about the challenges and trying to find unique ways to address that.”

Daily: Are there any specific issues or policies you want to continue to advocate for in Congress? 

Omar: “Our priorities have always been addressing the climate crisis because we know that environmental justice and sustaining our planet is really important to Minnesota’s 5th. We know that we are dealing with the housing crisis. That’s another area that I prioritize. Peace and diplomacy are really important to our constituents and that’s a priority of mine. As an immigrant who has grown up in a city that has welcomed so many people who are immigrants, working on immigration policy and fixing our broken immigration system is important. And I always tell people, I was raised by a father and a grandfather who really loved American democracy. It is a joy to work in not just sustaining but advancing our democracy and making sure that it’s preserved for generations to come. And as a former educator and someone who has four children, our education system is an important advocacy work that I engage in.”

Daily: What will you do to create more opportunities for affordable housing in Minnesota? 

Omar: “A couple of years ago we started a housing task force. The two chairs were representatives Mike Howard, who represents Richfield, and Aisha Gomez, who represents a district in Minneapolis. The goal of that task force was to have people who are working on housing advocacy agencies that are in charge of building and having those resources. Then those of us who are legislators that have the power of the purse to try to have a collaborative effort in saying, if we have majorities down the line, like what are we going to do? The billion dollars that have been invested in affordable housing was something that we brainstormed out of that task force. The tenants’ rights, the comprehensive one I was just talking about is something that comes out of that. But in Congress, I also carried the Homes for All legislation to invest a trillion dollars in creating more affordable housing. But it also gets rid of this technical thing that was put in the ‘90s to stop public housing from being built. So we continue to find new ways, not just collaboratively to do that work, but to also just introduce innovative legislation that we could use as a stand bearer to try to get people to see that this is possible.”

Daily: How do you plan to address concerns with law enforcement and accountability? 

Omar: “I think for me what has been valuable is to try to broaden the conversation. I think getting a lot of people to look at the different pieces that we need that will eventually lead to all of us being safe. What does it mean for somebody to respond to a mental health crisis? How do we respond differently to people who are experiencing a crisis in regard to chemical dependency? What are we looking at when we’re talking about domestic violence situations? How do we avoid it from being deadly, like the one that we just witnessed? How do we deal with truancy? How do we stop the school-to-prison pipeline? How do we utilize the limited amounts of resources that we have within municipalities to try to actually provide that care? What does prevention look like? So a lot of my work in Congress because we only deal with money mostly in allocating a lot of those resources. I was instrumental in the bipartisan gun violence prevention legislation in trying to make sure that we had a lot of violence prevention programs. The North Star program that Minneapolis has is in collaboration with different hospitals. We got them resources so that they can address trauma because we know that people who are hurting, hurt people. We know that especially in gang culture, retaliation is a thing.

I think when we think about particular police departments, because I have people who just think I represent Minneapolis. I represent Minneapolis and 13 other municipalities and their needs and challenges are drastically different. There are some like Hilltop that don’t have a police department. They have a contract with Columbia Heights. That’s another layer of challenge that those constituents of mine have. We represent Spring Lake Park and we realize that in order for one police officer to be trained, it’s tens of thousands of dollars. If we wanted them to be trained in sensitive domestic violence responses, handling great cases, all the training that we all push for as citizens because we want the people who are sworn to serve and protect us, to have the necessary tools to do that. We realize that a municipality like Spring Lake Park where they only have maybe 10 police officers, they don’t have that much money to onboard or to even provide new training for their police officers. So we help to negotiate these three pieces of legislation that would provide extra resources to smaller municipalities with a partnership with those smaller municipalities, listening to them, learning what some of their challenges are and then saying, ‘So you say if we want you to do these things, this is what you need. If we got you this, would it help for you to be there?’”

Daily: How will you combat widespread drug misuse, especially fentanyl-related misuse?

Omar: “We look at our work not as like, ‘I know what is best for you and here’s a bill,’ but sit down, have a conversation and you tell me what you’re seeing, what your needs are, and do you need legislation? Do you see funding problems? What is the challenge? We have worked with the Somali community and Cedar-Riverside, and we’ve convened multi-round tables, and these round tables included young people who are in recovery. It included parents and community members who were just shocked, and this is a thing, and then healthcare providers, and so a lot of that convening happened at the People’s Center. What we learned was that community-oriented solutions were the best way to go forward. We can do all kinds of legislation to stop the trafficking, all of that stuff, but once it’s here, how does the community respond? What kind of solutions are out there? Just creating the connectivity, because a lot of community members wanted help, who wanted to address this issue, didn’t know where to go, and how to do that. My focus and our staff’s focus has been how do we provide the tools and the connection within our communities so that they are dealing with what is in front of them today so that we have the space to deal with what could come tomorrow.”

This interview has been edited for clarity, grammar and length.

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  • Ken DeYoe
    Feb 26, 2024 at 1:02 pm

    Omar’s continued messaging has not resonated with the majority. It’s time for her to move on.