State: Keith Ellison to be nation's first Muslim in Congress
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Keith Ellison never ran on his religion, or away from it. Ellison, a state lawmaker and lawyer, became the first Muslim elected to Congress on Tuesday, and the first nonwhite elected to Congress from Minnesota. His win was mos...
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Keith Ellison never ran on his religion, or away from it.
Ellison, a state lawmaker and lawyer, became the first Muslim elected to Congress on Tuesday, and the first nonwhite elected to Congress from Minnesota. His win was most noteworthy because of those milestones -- Republicans haven't carried that district since 1962.
Ellison said his race and religion weren't as important as issues such as Iraq and health insurance for all.
``We still have 43 million American uninsured. This is a problem for everyone in the United States,' he said.
Ellison said his campaign united labor, minority communities, peace activists. ``We were able to bring in Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists,' he said. ``We brought in everybody.'
Ellison focused on issues that resonate in the urban, liberal-leaning 5th District in Minneapolis, such as calling for an immediate withdrawal from Iraq and single-payer health care. And by favoring gay rights and legal abortion, Ellison cut a path away from Muslims who are more conservative.
Hayat Hassan, 30, a single mother and a Muslim, said she voted for Ellison because of his positions on health care and education.
``I didn't even know he was a Muslim until one of his campaign workers told me,' she said.
The seat was thrown open when longtime Rep. Martin Sabo said he would retire after 28 years. The Minneapolis-centered district is the most Democratic-leaning in the state; in 2004 seven of 10 voters went for John Kerry. That meant the real battle was the September primary, and Ellison, the endorsed Democrat, beat several strong candidates in that race, including Sabo's former chief of staff Mike Erlandson.
On Tuesday he beat Republican Alan Fine and the Independence Party's Tammy Lee.
Mahdi Bray, executive director of the Muslim American Society, compared an Ellison victory to Edward Brooke's election in 1966 as the first black senator since Reconstruction.
He said Muslims followed the campaign closely, and that they are more excited about seeing a Muslim in Congress than they are concerned about Ellison's strong liberal views.
``We are monotheistic, but we are not monolithic. There are things within our own community that we disagree about,' he said. Ellison's views ``might be a concern but I think the overall factor of having a Muslim voice in Congress overrides those types of concerns.'
Ellison's campaign had to deal with reports of overdue parking tickets, late campaign finance reports and unpaid taxes. He also faced questions about anti-Semitism because of past ties with the Nation of Islam, a black Muslim group led by the confrontational Louis Farrakhan.
Ellison, a criminal defense attorney who converted to Islam as a college student, denounced Farrakhan, and he won the endorsement of a Minneapolis Jewish newspaper.