The five DFL candidates vying to replace U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison in Congress mostly favored single-payer health care and stronger gun-control measures, such as universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons, during a forum on Monday night.
With similar positions on issues, candidates tried to distinguish themselves by touting their experience.
Former House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher and state Sen. Patricia Torres Ray pointed to their long legislative records, while state Rep. Ilhan Omar, a one-term lawmaker, called for a broader definition of experience that includes a career in civil rights and public policy along with being a millennial, a renter, and someone with student loan debt.
“I remember when Obama was running this question was asked … and I think we had a wonderful eight years,” she said.
Engineer Jamal Abdulahi said he does not believe that being a state legislator is a prerequisite for going to Congress and said there’s a need for more people with backgrounds such as nurses, teachers and other “mainstream life experiences.”
He highlighted his experience as an engineer for Lockheed Martin and other major corporations and noted that he’s also worked as a community organizer.
At the end of the event, Realtor Frank Drake drew boos from the audience when he said that his family goes back five generations locally.
“None of these other people can say that,” said Drake, referring to the fact that three of his opponents are immigrants.
More than 1,000 people gathered at Beth El Synagogue in St. Louis Park for Monday night’s debate a week before the Aug. 14 primary.
The rhetoric was decidedly anti-President Donald Trump, with every candidate except Drake confirming they would vote to impeach him and the audience applauding at criticisms of the president. Kelliher was especially forceful on the issue, saying that Democratic lawmakers should use subpoena power if they gain control of the House to get people to testify before committees.
“His administration is [committing] a systematic assault on our democracy. ... If I have the opportunity, I will vote to impeach Donald Trump,” Kelliher said.
Omar said Trump’s biggest tool has been miseducation and misinformation and that she is developing a counternarrative — particularly on people seeking asylum in America. She said it’s important to send someone to Washington who can educate the public and is “well-equipped to develop the kind of narratives that we’re going to need to get our country back.”
“I think we spend too much time talking about Donald Trump and I’m tired of it,” Ray said.
She said she wants to use the strength of the people in Minnesota and around the country against him.
The candidates denounced the recent rise in anti-Semitism, while offering only vague suggestions about how they’d oppose it. Omar, who is a Muslim Somali-American, has drawn controversy for criticizing Israel on social media. At Monday’s event, she drew parallels to Islamophobia and xenophobia, and pledged to work together with the Jewish community.