Opinion editor’s note: The Star Tribune Editorial Board operates separately from the newsroom, and no news editors or reporters were involved in the endorsement process.
The question this year for voters of the largely Democratic Fifth District, comprising Minneapolis and several inner-ring suburbs, has been whether to part ways with a one-term incumbent who reflects their progressive goals but skews those beliefs and ambitions in sometimes discomfiting ways.
If they indeed wished to unseat U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, their best opportunity was in the primary. The last time the Fifth sent a Republican to Congress was in 1960. No DFLer has been voted out of the position since.
Nonetheless, we make no endorsement in this race. It is the job of our elected leaders, all of them, to guide constituents through these divisive times — not to contribute to partisan division and incivility, nor wallow in that of others, nor take pride in being a target, but to rise above. The concerns we’ve raised in the past about Omar’s capacity for this task remain.
During her first term, Omar, 38, has been at turns careless (with comments, for which she apologized, that hinted at anti-Semitism) and incomplete (with dismantle-the-police calls that she insists do not suggest that citizens won’t be kept safe) but also constructive (with legislation to protect students’ access to school meals as part of COVID-19 relief). Though it is a mistake to define her solely by her flaws — she is friendly in conversation and searching in discussions about issues — she should be seeking, as should any rookie representative, to assuage doubts about missteps and the ability to grow in office. In conversations with the Star Tribune Editorial Board, she has seemed unwilling or unable to do so.
In August, we wrote that Democratic primary challenger Antone Melton-Meaux brought a different sensibility to the race. Omar’s Republican challenger in the general election, Lacy Johnson, 66, does as well. Johnson, an entrepreneur and former IT professional who has lived in north Minneapolis for more than 40 years, is affable and earnest and cites as a key skill his willingness to listen to all parties.
His campaign is focused on educational and economic opportunity, and while his version of Republicanism does not preclude collective action, his underlying philosophy is one of personal responsibility and minimal government. Those reliances simply aren’t an electoral fit for the district, nor sufficient to address its needs. It also does not help Johnson’s case that he portrays President Donald Trump, whose self-seeking and incivility are in plain sight, as a victim of media misrepresentation and underestimated achievement.
The third candidate on the Fifth District ballot this fall is Michael Moore, 50, of the Legal Marijuana Now Party.
If Omar wins as anticipated, the Editorial Board would like to see further evidence that she’s building varied, even bipartisan, relationships in Congress and, despite her national role and prominence as a symbol of the progressive movement, that she stands for the Fifth District foremost.
In an interview with the New York Times last month, Omar made a case for her broad focus. “On a federal level,” she said, “you are supposed to talk about big, structural changes. … If you want to have an impact only in Minneapolis and you want to have an impact only in the state of Minnesota, then there are seats you can run for there so that you can have that concentrated impact.”
Still, the fact that she faced a credible primary challenge in a district where past incumbents have not should be informative to her.
One final comment about this contest: Last month, the conservative activist group Project Veritas alleged that Omar is connected to election fraud involving the collection of ballots. The report was steeped in innuendo, and developments since have not enhanced its credibility. In the absence of verifiable evidence, voters should disregard the allegation.