Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, does not withhold her opinion or soften its meaning. Not on the floor of the Minnesota House of Representatives, where, at 43 years and counting, she's tied for the longest career in House history.
And not as a campaigner, where the veteran lawmaker has faced a few bruising challenges. These have almost always come from inside the DFL party, given Kahn's entirely urban and almost entirely liberal district of Minneapolis.
This year might be her toughest fight yet. Kahn's rhetoric is rising to the challenge. Or is it sinking?
In discussing Ilhan Omar, the first-time candidate who poses the greatest threat to Kahn in the August 9 primary, Kahn told Alpha News something that reads like a salty backhanded compliment.
"The young woman," Kahn said, neglecting even to use Omar's name, "has done a very good job mobilizing students to get out to the caucuses and she's also very attractive to the kind of, what we call the young, liberal, white guilt-trip people."
These "people" might be a little surprised to hear that Kahn calls them that — at present, and for the past 43 years, those people might have thought Kahn called them "my constituents."
House District 60B includes a mix of neighborhoods, containing parts of Cedar-Riverside — the neighborhood largely populated by Somali and East African immigrants and their families — the University of Minnesota campus, Prospect Park, and Marcy Holmes.
According to the state demographer, its racial minority makeup as of 2014 was as follows: about 19 percent black, 12 percent Asian, and 3 percent Hispanic. The remaining 62 percent of the district is white. Turnout on primary election day is typically pretty low, even in a contentious race. The Somali turnout, with not one but two candidates on the ballot — Mohamud Noor ran a not-so-close third place in the DFL endorsement fight — will play an outsized role in the primary.
Assuming that Omar, Noor, and even Kahn (endorsed by Minneapolis City Councilman Abdi Warsame) each take some of the Somali vote, how the district's white majority votes will decide the election. Now those who were leaning for Omar know what Kahn thinks of their motivations.
Back in April, just after the stalled endorsement convention, Kahn was similarly dismissive — and just as backhandedly complimentary — of Omar's gifts as a candidate, saying she's "younger" and "prettier" than Kahn, and "agrees with anything anyone says to her."
Omar apparently drew a line when someone told her what Kahn had said about her fans.
"Ilhan and her campaign team run an issues-based campaign that works to unite our district, not divide it," reads a statement on Omar's campaign page. "Rep. Kahn's comments devalue the broad coalition of support we have worked hard to earn."
Election day's far off, but absentee voting, either by mail or at the in-person location in downtown Minneapolis, begins today. Click here to learn more.
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