Yeah, this is the Ilhan vs. Antone race.
On the DFL side of the ballot (the race that actually matters):
This is a race between Ilhan Omar and Antone Melton-Meaux (which is pronounced Ann-tone Meltin Mewks. Pretend you’ve never heard of French and just read the name and you’ll probably get pretty close.) I’m sorry to say that I am really not happy with any of my options here.
When it comes to Ilhan Omar, there’s so much utter garbage out there it’s hard to tell the smoke that might be fire-related from the smoke that’s being belched out of smoke bombs hurled by the right so that they can scream “look at all that smoke! there’s DEFINITELY a fire there!”
First off: Antone has been complaining about her absenteeism. FYI, I dug up the “report card” that lists out the absence rate for all the congressional reps. I’d describe hers as not great but also not scandalous. I don’t know how many of her absences were because of this, but I do think it’s worth pointing out that her father died of COVID in June, and she’s a member of a religion where you don’t just get your major holy days off routinely.
Antone also suggests that she’s ineffective, and how you see that probably depends heavily on what you want from your representative. Here’s her overall report card, also from GovTrack. What it shows, overall, is that she has energetically introduced quite a lot of bills (some of which have bunches of cosponsors), none of which had a companion bill or made it out of committee. (A companion bill is a bill that’s introduced in the Senate. Since everything has to pass both places, if you don’t have a companion bill, this is probably not something that’s going anywhere.) You can see the full list of the bills she’s introduced here. I tend to prefer substance over symbolism, but “as one of the most left-wing members of congress, I’m going to dedicate myself to moving the Overton Window” is not the worst way to spend your time. But there’s absolutely a legitimate complaint here.
It’s hard to evaluate responsiveness. I will note that a friend of mine who is currently outside the US (but who votes absentee in Ilhan’s district) tried to reach Ilhan with a policy concern and ran into technical difficulties with her web page. She wrote in through the campaign address instead and got an extremely prompt and helpful response, apologizing for the technical problems, asking for a screen shot of the error message, and assuring her that the policy requests had been passed along. That was initially very frustrating to my friend but by the end of the interaction she felt like Ilhan cared a lot about hearing her voice as a constituent.
Here’s the stuff where I have real issues with Ilhan.
First: I was appalled by her “present” vote for the Armenian Genocide resolution. That was a symbolic vote but a huge WTF moment.
Second: the financial stuff.
Ilhan’s campaign employs her husband’s firm and paid them $500K last year, $300K in the first three months of this year. This is not illegal. I find it really ethically questionable, though, because it means that you can easily funnel campaign funds into your family’s pockets. Most people holding national public office do not do stuff like this because it raises questions you just don’t want people raising, and in Ilhan’s case, she got accused in the past of using campaign money to pay her divorce lawyer. There are accusations that get launched that are totally unfair and unjust but in this case, the lawyer she was paying is a family law attorney who specializes in divorce (and was handling Ilhan’s divorce). The lawyer said that no, the $2250 paid out of campaign funds was to handle a campaign matter. Which, okay, fine, but (a) it’s a really reasonable question to raise when a politician who’s getting a divorce and working with a divorce lawyer sends campaign fund money to that lawyer and (b) if you’ve run into this once, that really ought to be one of those things that makes you resolve to be more careful in the future about avoiding the stuff that looks bad to a reasonable person. And hiring your husband with campaign funds for almost a million dollars worth of work? Looks bad.
And honestly there’s kind of two layers of stuff here that bothers me. The first is the financial stuff itself. The second is the fact that she seems to brush off criticism of this sort of thing as just the result of people hating her, instead of taking it as an indication that maybe she should hire literally any other consulting firm than the one owned by her husband.
Third: the antisemitic stuff.
So I’m going to note before I dig into this: I am Jewish, and I hate discussing antisemitism, especially the creepy, dogwhistle-y bullshit. The only thing I hate discussing more than antisemitism is Israel. I would, in fact, rather have an in-depth conversation about the existence or nonexistence of Trump’s pee tape than discuss the Fucking State of Israel.As a specialist in local politics, it’s actually genuinely rare that either topic comes up at all, let alone turns into something I can’t just avoid. But if you’ve been wondering why it took me so long to write this, the fact that my novel is due back to my editor before the end of the month is one factor, the fact that I was going to have to talk about fucking Israel is the other.
Ilhan got criticized during her campaign in 2018 for stuff she’d tweeted or said in the past that hit antisemitic dogwhistles. My feeling in 2018 was that there are certain mistakes everyone should get to make once, and accidental dogwhistles are in that category. You don’t know what you don’t know; if you’re a politician, you may make some mistakes and get educated in public. But, she has kept right on making that particular mistake. This Vox article provides a decently balanced summary and explanation for why these various comments were problematic.
As a Jewish person on Twitter, let me just explain how this cycle has felt to me:
- Ilhan says something antisemitic
- The right wing comes down like a flock of completely disingenuous screaming harpies
- One of the many Jewish progressives in the state gently objects to whatever Ilhan said this time and as tactfully as possible explains why it’s problematic
- Ilhan grudgingly deletes/apologizes
- The rest of the left spends two weeks screaming at Minnesota’s Jewish progressives for saying anything at all / for not defending Ilhan against the right wing / DON’T YOU CARE ABOUT HOW MUCH WORSE THE RIGHT WING NAZIS ARE
Like, yes? we know that the actual literal fucking Nazis are a bigger deal than an ally who fucks up? that doesn’t mean we don’t get to talk about the ally fucking up? that doesn’t mean we don’t have the right to expect people on the side of decency and justice to try to do better? I don’t engage with Nazis, ever, by the way. (I tried once, in 1994, and it was unrewarding and not an experiment I’ve wanted to repeat.) People on my own side might be worth explaining this shit to but probably not, honestly, from what I’ve seen (repeatedly) over the last two years. I mean — part of the fall-out of Ilhan’s fuck-ups is getting to read people who are allegedly my political allies screaming at friends of mine who volunteered for the utterly demoralizing task of saying “hey, please don’t traffic in harmful stereotypes of my extremely small community that is being targeted for violence.” It’s fucking awesome.
And Ilhan has demonstrated by her apparently lack of interest in learning to do better that she does not give a shit. Like that brochure she put out this week that listed off Antone’s problematic donors, every single one of whom named in the flyer was Jewish. Raising concerns about billionaire hedge fund owners is super legit, but seriously, you couldn’t find a single shitty gentile person who sent a pile of money to Antone? For real, Ilhan?
But: Antone. Here’s what came by e-mail from Antone’s campaign on July 20th:
Q: Why do you have so much support from Jewish people/Pro-Israel community?
A: Unfortunately, Rep. Omar has said harmful and hurtful statements about our Jewish community. Her actions have caused many people to lose trust in her, including many who had supported her. In addition, I’ve spoken to many people who felt betrayed by Rep Omar’s inconsistent positions on sanctions and other issues related to Palestians and Israelis. Before winning the 2018 primary, Rep. Omar publicly stated she was opposed to BDS and supported a two-state solution. After winning the election, she reversed her position, leaving many people angry and confused, and their trust shaken. As a consequence of her actions, many people in the Jewish community are a part of the coalition of wide support we have. It’s also important to note that my positions on these issues are the same as the majority of progressives.
Q: Will the money you’ve received from the Jewish community influence your policy decisions?
A: No. I have been clear from the beginning of this campaign that I disagree with a number of Benjamin Netenyahu’s actions, including the unilateral annexation of Palestenian territory. I have also made it clear that I support more humanitarian aid to the Palestinians, and that I believe the U.S. must work towards strategic reforms of Israeli policy that will ease the pressure of the occupation on Palestinians. More importantly, I’ve always been clear that my policy decisions will always be based on what’s in the best interests of the people in our district.
(This was an e-mail to his mailing list; you can see screen shots courtesy of this person on Twitter.)
Things about this I really do not appreciate one bit:
- The little slash between “Jewish people” and “Pro-Israel community.” I am aware that Antone has support from a lot of the local Jewish community, regardless of their feelings about Israel, because of that utterly demoralizing cycle I discussed above. I am also aware that Antone has support from people who support Israel, which is not surprising, because Ilhan super duper doesn’t. I really strongly prefer that these two groups be treated as distinct! Or maybe as two circles of a Venn Diagram that overlap but do not form a circle! Not as a unit.
- The question, in a goddamn campaign FAQ, that goes, “Will the money you’ve received from the Jewish community influence your policy decisions?” I mean. I have no doubt that he’s gotten this question! (Frequently, even.) But I’ve written FAQs? And you are allowed to reframe the questions you get. You can rewrite them so that they’re not grossly offensive. Putting “so are you going to let the Jews and their money influence you” out there like this is not actually any better than that “all about the Benjamins” line! What the fuck.
- And then the answer to a question about Jewish money is about the State of Israel! For fuck’s sake. He could have re-written that question to read, “Will the money you’ve received from pro-Israel groups influence your policy making?” and kept the answer more or less the same and it would have been vastly less problematic.
(My apologies to the people at Circus Juventas who may have heard me yelling SO ANTONE, IS ALL THAT JEW MONEY YOU’RE GETTING GOING TO PUT YOU IN THE POCKETS OF BIG JEW as I was ranting about this to my 19-year-old while on a walk.)
Antone is not a secret Republican. He’s very definitely a Democrat. Most of his policies are less radical than Ilhan’s proposals but more radical than whatever’s going to get passed in the end anyway. Like, he does not support the Green New Deal but he wants to transition the electrical grid to carbon-neutral sources and he wants a carbon tax that funds investment in green energy. The Green New Deal theoretically includes free college, I think; he wants to expand K-12 to be K-14, basically, and cover the cost of the first two years of college, an associates degree, or two years of technical training. He supports a national wage theft law, union protections, more investment in public housing, gun control, abortion rights. His policy page emphasizes figuring out exactly how he’d pay for the things he’s proposing.
My biggest concern about Antone stems from the virtual town hall I attended; I don’t remember the exact question (it was something about middle east politics) but he launched into a whole thing about how untrustworthy Iran is, and how it’s a force for destabilization and chaos and trouble in its region (this is part of why he supports Israel, he sees them as a counter to Iran). I’m not a fan of the Iranian government but his response made me concerned he would lean hawkish.
US hawkishness toward Iran is one of those things that waxes and wanes, but ill-considered and unwinnable wars have relied heavily on hawkish Democrats to get started. A Democratic House rep from MN-05 can hold that seat for decades. There is a real possibility that sometime in the next 10-15 years there will be someone in the White House who thinks a war with Iran sounds like a terrific idea and wants congress to go along with it. I am more confident that Ilhan would hold the line against this than that Antone would.
Antone also made it really clear that while he disapproves of Netanyahu’s actions, he’s not willing to use US foreign aid for any sort of leverage to persuade Israel to not engage in completely horrifying acts.
There are three other candidates running. I think all you really need to know about Daniel McCarthy is that he wrote a rhyming poem to express his campaign platform. John Mason is married to someone who ran against Tina in 2018 (I wrote about Nick, who got endorsed by Our Revolution but somehow wasn’t able to translate that into any news coverage or attention whatsoever.) Les Lester is a journalist. I sat down to try to watch the campaign debate that didn’t include Ilhan because she had to go back to DC and the LWV refused to let her Zoom in (why are they doing in-person debates in the first place?) and I was unable to get through it; none of the minor candidates made me think “ah, I really wish this one could win! I’m going to endorse him because it would be so great if he did!”
If I lived in the 5th district, I think I would resentfully and angrily vote for Ilhan Omar, because political hawkishness feels more likely to result in worse outcomes for more people than casual antisemitism from someone who doesn’t hate Jewish people, but also doesn’t give enough of a shit about her Jewish friends and supporters to make any apparent effort not to kick off another exhausting round of “Ilhan Omar: antisemitic? SECRETLY A NAZI? let’s discuss this endlessly on Twitter!” This is a fucked-up calculation to have to make, and I’m furious that I have to make it. But that’s where I landed, after thinking about this a lot. There are still over two weeks until the election, though, so I might wait a bit longer to send my ballot back, just on the off chance there was another round of breaking news. (I mean, between the time when I started this and when I finished this, Ilhan’s flyer about Antone’s donors came out. Who even knows what’ll break tomorrow.)
I have friends who are not voting at all because they loathe their options here so much, and especially given that it’s a primary, that’s legit. If you decide to instead cross over and vote for Bob “Again” Carney in the Republican Senate primary in the hopes that he’ll beat Jason Lewis, there is in fact a Republican primary for this seat as well. Danielle Stella is the (alleged) shoplifter, Lacy Johnson is the person with the party endorsement, and Dalia al-Aqidi is an Iraqi immigrant who provides a bio but no issues statements and leaves out of her bio the fact that she only moved to Minnesota last fall.