The MSR wanted to give readers an opportunity to hear one more time from the candidates. We asked questions we thought were of utmost importance to the Black community and Communities of Color.
MSR: What is your proposal for helping the District, especially its Black constituents, cope with the expected fallout from COVID (for example joblessness, homelessness, evictions, loss of small businesses)?
Johnson: I support a response where, first and foremost, the elderly and most vulnerable are protected. I support a response where the economy and job development is a focus. If we help bring in new sustainable jobs, many things such as homelessness and joblessness will despair. I support an extension of flexible rent payments to decrease homelessness as we roll out new jobs. I strongly support additional funding for small businesses.
Omar: In Minneapolis, the effects of the pandemic haven’t been felt equally—19% of people of color have filed for unemployment compared to 9.5% of White workers. Black people are dying at nearly triple the rate of other folks.
COVID-19 has exposed glaring racial disparities that have long existed in our state and in our country. And I think we have an opportunity to create policies that remake our system in a more equal way. That means fighting to tear down all the systems of oppression that keep our society unequal. In criminal justice, in health care, in education and housing and employment and in the very air we breathe.
I think if anything positive will come from this crisis, I hope it is that policies me and my colleagues have been advocating for—like Medicare for All, like universal cash assistance, like student debt cancellation—will be seen as reasonable and necessary.
MSR: What will you do to address the issue of police violence?
Omar: After George Floyd’s tragic death, I and other House Democrats moved swiftly to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act in order to establish new standards of policing, ban the use of chokeholds, stop no-knock warrants, prohibit racial profiling and end qualified immunity for police, among many other reforms.
I also introduced a package of bills to reform law enforcement at the federal level, including one which criminalizes police violence against demonstrators exercising their constitutional rights, and another to establish a federal agency responsible for investigating all nationwide deaths occurring in police custody or police shootings.
Johnson: I do not see a way for our communities to be safe without public safety. I am not in favor of defunding the police, but instead shifting some funds around to focus more on neighborhood psychological and community involvement training. Our officers nowadays live in different neighborhoods and often have great intentions, but rarely genuinely understand each neighborhood’s inner workings.
MSR: In the wake of the increase in crime during the pandemic, what will you do to ensure that people feel safe in their homes?
Johnson: I will always support our policemen and women because I believe our communities should still rely on public safety officials. However, when reviewing the world news and the nonstop #OromoProtests that I see in Minnesota against the Oromo people’s mass killing by the Ethiopian government, I am grateful that we have the Second Amendment in America. I will continue to advocate for it because Americans should always have the right to protect themselves from anyone if they are in danger.
Omar: Most problems arising from substance use disorders, mental health diagnoses, and poverty require medical professionals and social workers—not criminal enforcement or armed officers. Getting people the care and services they need is public safety. This is crime prevention. A new vision of what “first responders” look like will reflect that reality.
We can balance the need for protection from violent crimes with the need to address our policing system. A new system will allow our community to do the work that is needed—and employ the skills needed—to solve our most serious crimes and address some of the scariest situations that our communities can face.
MSR: Lots of people are struggling. They don’t have jobs or have limited income. What will you do to help?
Omar: A new stimulus bill which includes additional unemployment assistance and direct cash payouts, for starters. We also have to move to cancel rent and mortgage payments to make sure people aren’t just kept in their homes, but are able to survive once the pandemic is over. Further, increasing the federal minimum wage and protecting labor unions will help make sure that working people don’t have to struggle to make ends meet.
Johnson: My signature plan involves bringing over 50,000 high-paying jobs to Congressional District 5. My job plan involves three areas: new job development from entrepreneurship, existing job development through the use of opportunities zones, and rapid hiring while also eliminating job discrimination through my Jumpstart initiative.
MSR: Inequities and the limitations of health care in the U.S. have been exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. What is your plan to make sure people have access to adequate health care in the future?
Johnson: I favor a free-enterprise-based health care system where every American has access to affordable health care. My plan involves covering pre-existing conditions so that we can protect those in need. I am advocating for Individual options so people can choose what’s best for them; price transparency, so people know the actual price of care; increased competition in health care insurance across state lines; and decreasing the costs of prescriptions.
Omar: I believe health care is a human right. This pandemic is personal to me. I lost my own father to the coronavirus. And I know if we had Medicare for All, many lives would have been saved. I am not only a supporter of Medicare for All, I am helping to make it a reality.
As the vice-chair of Medicare for All Caucus, I helped secure the first-ever committee hearing of the Medicare for All Act. We have organized to the point that we now have over half the caucus’s support. It is unacceptable that millions of people are unable to seek care because they live without or cannot afford insurance.
MSR: Why should people vote for you to represent them in Congress?
Omar: Since I was elected I’ve made investing and supporting Black Minnesotans a core priority of mine. Last summer, I brought leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus to Minneapolis to talk to business owners on the North Side about what support they need. Black Minnesotans have been hit particularly hard by the three crises we face simultaneously—a public health pandemic, an economic crisis, and the crisis of systemic racism.
I visited North Side businesses in the wake of George Floyd’s protest to make sure they were protected. I joined the community in protest on a daily basis. In Congress, I have led the fight for justice. I will never stop fighting for you and I hope you never stop fighting alongside me.
Johnson: I am running for U.S. Congress because I care from the bottom of my heart. I’ve lived in this district for over 35 years, and I know the people better than my opponent. I will never be one-sided, but instead bipartisan, and will work hard to bring measurable results.