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Ilhan Omar (Facebook).

Local politics

After big win, former Somali refugee now the favorite to win Minnesota state representative seat

By WITW Staff on August 12, 2016

A former refugee from Somalia made history this week in Minnesota when she knocked off a long-serving legislator in the state’s primary election. Ilhan Omar, 33, handily defeated incumbent Phyllis Kahn, who had served as a state representative for 44 years, on Tuesday. The historic victory made Omar the first Muslim American woman of Somali descent to ever win a state primary and it puts her on the cusp of becoming the country’s first Somali-American legislator. Omar, a Democrat, is the favorite in the November election, and her opponent is also an immigrant from Somali. “Tonight we made history,” Omar told supporters following her big win on Tuesday night. “Tonight marks the beginning of the future of our district, a new era of representation.” She delivered her victory speech in both English and Somali.

It’s been a long road for Omar, a community activist and mother of three. As a child, her parents fled Somalia and she lived with them for four years in a Kenyan refugee camp. Eventually, the family was granted the opportunity to become U.S. citizens when Omar was 8. After a brief stay in Virginia, the family settled in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where they began a new life. Nowadays, the Somali immigrant population has exploded to the point where her neighborhood is known as Little Mogadishu. Constituents there were largely overjoyed with her ascent. In Minneapolis, Somali immigrants have had recent successes being elected to local government posts, but Omar’s election on November would be a real breakthrough. Her grandfather, she said in her nomination acceptance speech, instilled in her what has become a deep interest in local politics. She also discussed some of the challenges including sexism and misogyny that she encountered through her campaign. Some community leaders, she said, “bought into the narrative of misogyny” and told her it was impossible for a Somali woman to win the nomination for that seat. She was happy to prove those skeptics wrong, she told supporters.

Omar is hopeful in her outlook toward the November election, where the opportunity to make history again awaits. “I hope our story is an inspirational story to many people,” she told The Associated Press in an interview. She went on to list “closing the opportunity gap in our educational system, working on criminal justice reform, taking on policing reform,” as some of her top priorities. Watch her emotional victory speech below.

Read the full story at The Associated Press.

*CORRECTION: A previous headline on this story indicated that Omar was running for a state senate seat, not a seat in the state House of Representatives.


U.S. woman launched bid to become president … of Somalia