By Dwight Hobbes
U.S. Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN), up for reelection this November, has represented Minnesota’s Fifth Congressional District since 2007 and is co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus for the 112th Congress. He is, it goes without saying, a household name in the Twin Cities, having established before entering politics a high-profile career as a North Minneapolis-based attorney and activist for civil rights as well as environmental protection.
In November 2002, Ellison was elected to his first public office as a member of the Minnesota House of Representatives serving House District 58B. At the time he took his seat, his party was the smallest House minority in Minnesota history.
During this session, Ellison was appointed to the Governmental Operations & Veterans Affairs Policy Committee, the Judiciary Policy & Finance Committee, and the Local Government & Metropolitan Affairs Committee. Also during that session he spearheaded an ethics complaint against Rep. Arlon Lindner concerning remarks about homosexuals in the Holocaust.
Ellison is the first Muslim to be elected to the United States Congress. He is also the first African American elected to the House from Minnesota.
A telephone MSR interview with Congressman Ellison (KE) began by reflecting on his chief opponent, first-time political office aspirant Chris Fields [“GOP fields challenger in 5th District, ”MSR, May 10].
MSR: Fields has been highly vocal as your detractor.
KE: Chris would be much better served by talking about his own qualifications. He spent 20 years serving our country, which I certainly respect. It’s a tactical error.
As much as he wants to run as this outsider, he has already bought into the first mistake of modern American politics — to demonize your opponent. Falling into the same old pattern of “My opponent’s a creep. That’s why you should vote for me.”
He has said publicly that I was absent at events that clearly I [attended]. I put out video of myself being there. He wasn’t at other events [where] I also was and there’re witnesses. Then, after I proved [that], he says I didn’t do anything at all [about] the tornado, which is ridiculous, and everybody who worked on [tornado victims relief] knows I was very active.
“How we feel about gay marriage is irrelevant. Americans have the right to make fundamental family decisions for themselves.”
I’ve proven him to be one who makes demonstrably false statements, hurting his credibility, not mine. I’m not here to say anything bad about him. I will say his campaign strategy is bizarre from the standpoint of someone calling himself a healer and a uniter.
He’d be better served to talk about who he is. And here’s the thing — he has a good story to tell. This man wore the uniform of this country and risked his life to protect it. Whatever Republicans are around him who are experts are probably telling him, “You have to run Ellison into the dirt.”
MSR: What should be done about taxes?
KE: We ought to at least allow the Bush tax cuts to expire to the top two percent. Next, we need to ask that people making over a million dollars a year have to pay at least 30 percent — not [only] job-based income, but dividend income, which is always taxed at a lower rate.
Then, we need to close loopholes. There’s a bill that [Senator] Bernie Sanders and I are working on pretty hard. It takes away all corporate loopholes from the oil, coal and natural gas industries. Those are a few ideas.
MSR: What’s the future of Affirmative Action?
KE: I hope that as long as we have people systemically burdened by America’s legacy of racial discrimination, we will continue to use Affirmative Action to make sure America’s workforce looks like America. What will the Supreme Court do? I think [it] will look for ever greater amounts of proof that the entity asked to engage in Affirmative Action has a specific legacy of discrimination. It’s going to be a tougher and tougher case to make.
This is too bad. America is increasingly made of people of color, but it doesn’t mean people of color have [comparable] opportunity.
MSR: Same-sex marriage — where do you stand on that?
KE: The government does not have a role in determining who you want to love and spend your life with. The government’s job is to treat everybody fairly. Anybody who says that marriage has to be between one man and one woman is basically using their religious beliefs to try to make policy for everybody else.
I don’t think you can do that in America. It [goes against] the First Amendment separation of church and state. The fact that most people are heterosexual should not determine the rights of the minority. When you think about gay marriages, they’re not hurting anybody.
This ballot initiative that is in front of everybody [Minnesota Anti-Same-Sex Marriage Amendment] is going to be defeated. [Which] is a good thing. I think it’s a shame that individuals’ rights are being defined by popular approval.
It’s inappropriate for this marriage issue to be on the ballot the same way it would be inappropriate to decide whether Blacks have the right to vote. Or have the right to sit on the bus where they please. By a ballot. It’s wrong.
But, it is what we have, so you have to be practical. It’s my job to tell people that this is not for any of us to approve or disapprove. How we feel about gay marriage is irrelevant. Americans have the right to make fundamental family decisions for themselves.
MSR: Why should Minnesotans vote for Keith Ellison?
KE: I was part of the team that helped get part of the $28 million for the Northside Achievement Zone. I got several hundred thousand for the Northside Economic Opportunity Network, which is a small-business revolving loan program for minority business people.
I helped get money for the Minnesota African American Museum, which opened recently. I’m proud to be a huge supporter of the Affordable Care Act. People call it Obamacare. I’m like, that’s right, because Obama does care. About your health care.
I’ve personally authored a bill to limit credit card abuse. That says, if you’re late on one card, they cannot raise you up on the card you are not late on. When renters’ landlords are in foreclosure, people have been evicted with almost no notice. I got a bill passed that gives them 90 days after foreclosure so [renters] can make plans for what to do.
When I first ran in 2006, I said I would be effective, and I have.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.