Ilhan Omar on track to be first Somali-American legislator in nation

Updated: August 10, 2016 - 10:44 am

Ilhan Omar won the DFL primary election for the state House 60B seat Tuesday, defeating longtime legislator Phyllis Kahn and putting her on a path to become the first Somali-American legislator in the country.

Ilhan Omar
Ilhan Omar

The district, which includes Nicollet Island, the U of M area and Cedar Riverside, leans heavily DFL. The Republican candidate for the seat is Abdimalik Askar.

House District 60B
House District 60B

The DFL primary voter breakdown for the seat was 40.97 percent for Omar, 29.62 percent for Noor and 29.41 percent for Kahn.

Omar has worked as director of the Women Organizing Women Network, which advocates for East African women to get involved in the political process. She was born in Somalia and fled the war-torn country at the age of 8, later spending four years in a Kenyan refugee camp before coming to the United States.

“We are uniting the diverse voices of our district — long term residents, East African immigrants and students. I will make sure their voices are heard at the Capitol,” she said. “I look forward to winning the general election in November and then co-governing and advancing the shared progressive values of our district when the legislative session begins after the first of the year.”

Rep. Phyllis Kahn
Rep. Phyllis Kahn

Kahn was first elected to the Legislature in 1972. She has pointed to the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act and her record on the environment, gender equity and funding for parks and trails, among other things, as key accomplishments.

Noor is executive director of the Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota. He lost to Kahn in a primary race in 2014 for the 60B seat.

Mohamud Noor
Mohamud Noor

Former Mayor R.T. Rybak, an Omar supporter, wrote the following on his Facebook page after the primary results came in: “A country at a crossroads on immigration should see the shining example of Ilhan Omar who tonight becomes the 1st Somali state rep in the USA. From a refugee camp to the state Capitol with intelligence and insight. This is a wonderful story to tell as Americans and a great source of pride for the state of Minnesota’s open arms.”

Omar lives with her husband and three children in the West Bank neighborhood.