The whole state will benefit if the Fifth Congressional District — Minneapolis and its adjacent suburbs — is represented by a top-notch lawmaker in the U.S. House. That’s why the return of Margaret Anderson Kelliher to public life is good news, and why she’s our choice in the DFL nomination contest to succeed U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison.
Kelliher is one of five DFLers (actually six, but one, state Sen. Bobby Jo Champion, is not campaigning) and three Republicans who are on their parties’ respective Aug. 14 primary ballots. They are seeking a seat that has been firmly in DFL hands since 1962, and has been represented by only three individuals in 56 years. That history suggests that the winner of the DFL primary could occupy the district’s seat for a long time. It puts an onus on next week’s Fifth District DFL voters to choose a candidate who’s a good bet to be an able performer from the start and for years to come.
Kelliher, 50, fills that bill well. For 12 years she was an exceptional state legislator, becoming speaker of the House in her fifth term. In that role, she was key to noteworthy accomplishments. She engineered the 2008 veto override that broke a 20-year logjam on transportation funding, and played an important role in sending the Legacy Amendment to the state’s voters in 2008 and adopting aggressive state renewable energy goals in 2007.
In 2010, she was the DFL-endorsed candidate for governor, losing the primary to Gov. Mark Dayton by fewer than 7,000 votes. Since then, she has been CEO of the Minnesota High Tech Association, a trade association for some of this state’s most important businesses; taught at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs; served a stint as a Minnesota State Colleges and Universities trustee; and, at Dayton’s behest, chaired the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband.
That adds up to strong preparation for service in Congress. It distinguishes Kelliher in a field that includes state Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, state Rep. Ilhan Omar, engineer and community organizer Jamal Abdi Abdulahi, and Frank Nelson Drake, a Realtor and the 2016 Republican candidate for the seat.
Torres Ray, 54, is our clear second choice. She’s a native of Colombia whose experience as an immigrant to Minnesota 30 years ago informs her thinking about federal policy. Now serving her 12th year in the state Senate, she has made K-12 education her specialty. That’s a top state priority, but it’s a secondary matter for Congress. She’s well-versed in immigration policy and eager to combat climate change, but is not as attuned to other issues.
Omar, 35, also offers a compelling life story. But it includes just one term as a member of the Minnesota House minority. It’s been a highly visible term. Omar has received national notice as the first Somali-American state legislator in the country. The chance to send the first Somali-American to Congress undoubtedly appealed to Fifth District DFL convention delegates when Omar won their endorsement on June 17. (Kelliher and Abdulahi did not compete at the convention.)
But Omar’s accomplishments are lean compared with those of Kelliher and Torres Ray, and we’re bothered by their apparent overstatement on her campaign website. For example, it claims that she “negotiated over $200 million” in bonding for her district, when she did not serve on the House bonding committee. Similarly, her six-month delay and resultant fine in filing the financial disclosure required of House members — and her error in initially keeping disallowed speaking honoraria from two Minnesota community colleges — are of concern.
Abdulahi, 42, is less well-known than others in the race. An electrical engineer by profession, he’s the founder of the Somali American DFL Caucus. He’s not ready for congressional service, but we hope to see his name on future ballots. Drake, 59, says he wants to cooperate with President Donald Trump, prompting us to question whether he filed for office in the wrong party.
In varying degrees, a vote for any candidate on the DFL ballot other than Kelliher amounts to betting on the come. Kelliher offers the Fifth its surest shot at effective representation.
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The Editorial Board screened but cannot recommend any of the three candidates on the Republican Party’s Fifth District primary ballot. None of them is qualified to represent this state’s largest city and its suburbs in the U.S. House.
The party’s endorsee, Jennifer Zielinski, 35, is a business services worker for Allina Health with no prior government experience. She’s sincere in her desire to breathe life into the moribund GOP in Minneapolis but evinces little depth on issues. Christopher Chamberlain, 46, is a St. Cloud resident who started this political season as a candidate for governor warning about the evils of sharia law; he switched to CD5, says he plans to move to the district, and is now campaigning to withdraw the United States from the U.N. Bob “Again” Carney Jr., 64, is a perennial candidate who invites GOP voters to support his call to impeach President Trump.
It’s regrettable that the Republican Party has, in effect, ceded the core of the metro area to the DFL. Every region of this state deserves the democracy-enhancing benefits of two-party competition.