I first met Ilhan Omar in 2012. At the time, Republicans were pushing statewide ballot measures to outlaw marriage equality and suppress the vote across Minnesota. Omar was still an unknown Democratic organizer, but she threw herself headfirst into the campaign.
Omar was tireless, organizing door knocks and rallies, showing up to meetings and conventions, participating in marches, and developing messaging strategy. She was almost never the one delivering the message. No, she was an organizer, content to do the hard work without any of the glory. And it worked.
Thanks to a massive statewide effort and organizers like Omar, Democrats were able to defeat these two ballot measures, ensuring Minnesota remained a safe haven in a sea of states hostile to marriage equality and voting rights.
As most people know, she then became a policy aide at the City Council, then a state representative and finally the congresswoman representing Minnesota's Fifth District.
Over the last decade, I've seen Omar bring this same energy to everything she does.
When the pandemic struck, Omar was an indefatigable legislator on behalf of her community. She authored a bill to continue funding school meals — despite many schools closing their doors — and deftly negotiated to get that funding included in the CARES Act in March 2020, helping to feed over 30 million kids. When unrest hit our city in the wake of George Floyd's murder, Omar turned her campaign headquarters in Seward into a food distribution site, partnering with local organizations to pass out meals and supplies to folks hit hard by the pandemic.
As a leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, she helped make sure the American Rescue Plan met the moment, eventually steering over $2.5 billion in federal support to the state of Minnesota, including $500 million for child care. She's fought for local projects, too — delivering over $17 million to rebuild a health care center on Lake Street, fund clean energy jobs, food entrepreneurs and more. She was a supporter and voted to pass the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the first major gun legislation in nearly three decades, which President Joe Biden recently signed into law. And she authored the Amir Locke End Deadly No Knock Warrants Act to avoid tragedies like Amir Locke's killing.
This is the Ilhan Omar I know. She doesn't do this work for the glory or attention. She does it to serve the community she knows and loves.
The current moment is no different. When Roe v. Wade was overturned, Ilhan was immediately on the steps of the Supreme Court protesting and speaking out. But she backed it up with action, voting to codify Roe v. Wade into law, and authoring a detailed plan for how to reform the Supreme Court. When she put her body on the line and was arrested in front of the Supreme Court in an abortion rights protest, I immediately recognized the unrelenting organizer I've known for a decade.
But there's another reason, as the DFL Chair, that I believe it's so important to have Omar in Congress ("Samuels over Omar in DFL primary," Star Tribune Editorial Board endorsement, Aug. 2). Her district is the engine of Democratic wins for the state of Minnesota. Omar has turned her campaign into a turnout machine for Democrats up and down the ballot.
In 2018, Omar got more votes than any new member of Congress — juicing turnout for Democrats statewide. With the headwinds of a tough midterm election facing the DFL, we need as many Democratic votes as possible in the Twin Cities — especially from people who don't always vote.
There's no doubt that there are people inside and outside our state who have never given Omar a chance. As the first woman of color ever to represent Minnesota in Congress, she faces a constant barrage of hate from the far right and MAGA supporters. But here's one thing I know: They attack her because they fear her. They fear the America she represents; an America where a refugee who fled civil war can ascend to the ranks of the United States Congress; an America where you can be a Black, Muslim and immigrant woman and have a seat in the halls of power.
The question is how she responds to these attacks. And Omar has always used it to shine a light on the people she serves, on the most vulnerable among us. The attacks aren't on her, she says, but the refugees, the immigrants and the young women she represents in Congress.
That's the Ilhan I know. That's the Ilhan who works for us in Congress. And that's the Ilhan our DFL Party has once again proudly endorsed.
Ken Martin is chair of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party.