Two veteran DFL lawmakers are questioning the integrity of their virtual conventions after losing their party’s endorsements Thursday to a pair of younger progressive challengers.
Sen. Jeff Hayden and Rep. Raymond Dehn, both Democrats from Minneapolis, criticized how online votes were conducted after the two fell short against challengers representing a new generation of urban Democrats.
Hayden, the Senate’s assistant minority leader, lost to Omar Fateh, the son of Somali immigrants. Dehn, in his fourth term, lost to Esther Agbaje, the daughter of Nigerian immigrants.
On Thursday, Agbaje captured the endorsement after three rounds of voting, earning 132 of 217 votes cast. Dehn received 84 in the decisive round. Fateh won the endorsement on the first try, getting 420 of the 580 votes. Hayden picked up 153.
In the homestretch of a legislative session dramatically altered by the COVID-19 pandemic, Dehn and Hayden have both left open the possibility of running in the Aug. 11 primary or challenging the outcome of their respective online endorsement processes.
Dehn, elected in 2012, on Friday questioned how delegate alternatives received “automatic upgrades” to become delegates and cast votes during the online process. Hayden, first elected to the House in 2008, said his campaign could not verify many delegates as living in his district. He said the campaign raised the issue with a credentials committee that declined to remove the delegates.
“I just think it is worth it to at least examine those delegates to make sure that they were legitimate delegates,” Hayden said. “And if not, then I think the folks I’ve been representing for the last 12 years need to get a chance to weigh in a little broader.”
Dehn finished second in the Minneapolis mayoral race in 2018, chairs a House elections committee and is a longtime criminal justice policy advocate. His campaign has boasted endorsements by U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and Attorney General Keith Ellison.
“I think my progressive credentials are second to none,” Dehn said Friday. “I represent a very unique district, and I think representing a unique district comes with its wonderfulness and comes with its difficulties.”
Agbaje emerged last year as a challenger to Dehn as part of wave of younger, more liberal challengers emerging — mostly on the House side — to push for affordable housing, action on climate change, gun control and legal marijuana.
Agbaje has made transit and affordable housing pillars of her campaign, and she said her pro bono work underscored for her the human toll of rising rents and evictions in Hennepin County. She said Friday that her key priorities are election security, environmental justice and making sure jobs return to the district once businesses can safely reopen.
Agbaje was born in St. Paul. A Harvard Law School graduate, she now works at Ciresi Conlin LLP in Minneapolis and previously served in the U.S. State Department.
Fateh is the son of Somali immigrants and has worked for the city of Minneapolis as an outreach specialist to East African communities. He’s also worked for the state transportation and revenue departments. Fateh grew up near Washington, D.C., and earned a master’s degree in public administration from George Washington University.
Fateh ran unsuccessfully for the Minnesota House in 2018 and hailed Thursday’s endorsement victory as “decisive.”
“We are proud of building a multiracial, multigenerational districtwide coalition, because this is the type of movement we need to build progressive power and deliver the types of policy and change the people have been seeking for years,” Fateh said.
DFL Party Chair Ken Martin welcomed the results in both races as evidence that the party is a “big tent” capable of holding a variety of voices. He attributed the influx of Democratic primary challengers to increased enthusiasm and engagement among activists since 2016.
Martin said he was not aware of any irregularities with either the Senate District 62 or House District 59B votes on Thursday.
“Just as certain as the sun will rise in the morning is the fact that when candidates end up losing competitive endorsement races, they will blame the process,” Martin said.