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Background

Keith Ellison is a two-term congressman who represents the city of Minneapolis in the swing state of Minnesota.  Ellison has lived in Minnesota for over 25 years, but grew up in Detroit during the civil rights era.  He is a lawyer who has practiced civil rights, employment, and criminal defense law.  He has a reputation for community service and civic engagement at the grassroots level.  

Ellison holds the titles of being the first Black congressman from Minnesota, as well as the first Muslim elected to Congress.  He is a well-known proponent of consumer, voter, and environmental protection and justice issues.  He helped found the Environmental Justice Advocates of Minnesota, an organization that recognizes the connections between environmental degradation, racism, and health.  

Experience

Ellison currently serves as a member of the House Financial Services Committee (HFSC) and the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee.  In his position at the HFSC he watches over Wall Street and the housing industry.  He has been a leader in crafting legislation that protects consumers from unfair credit lending practices.  

Ellison’s focused political interests and progressive stance are demonstrated by his numerous congressional caucus memberships ranging from the Progressive, Black, Native American, and Human Rights Caucuses, to the Labor and Working Families, Pro-Choice, and LGBT Caucuses.  In fact, he recently revealed an ambitious, 11-point plan designed to increase the involvement of the LGBTQ community in the Democratic Party.   

Ellison also has an informed perspective on foreign affairs, having served on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.  He has been outspoken about human rights violations abroad, and leans toward the peace movement.  He has been called upon as a trusted diplomat and traveled to Africa and the Middle East as a delegate.  He generally opposes U.S. military occupation in the Middle East, and has encouraged a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  

Pros and Cons

Overall, Ellison is viewed as a radical within the Democratic Party.  He has helped increase Democratic voter turnout in his district, he supports debt-free college, and opposes the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement.  Several millennial leaders of color got their start in politics working in Ellison’s Minnesota office.  They believe that he would be instrumental in recruiting and inspiring young leaders as DNC chair.  

An early frontrunner in the race, Ellison’s campaign has come into question as several controversies have surfaced.  Many see Ellison’s Muslim identity as honorific, but in the current social climate of cultural backlash and Islamophobia, some members of the DNC may unfortunately consider it a con.  

Ellison was raised Catholic but converted to Islam when he was 19.  While in law school, he wrote articles in support of Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Black Nationalist group “Nation of Islam.”  The Nation is listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and denounced by the Anti-Defamation League – who initially endorsed and later un-endorsed Ellison.  

Ellison claims to have distanced himself from the Nation long ago when he realized that his support was “undeserved.”  He has publicly apologized for his former association, but accusations of anti-Semitism are being fueled by quotes revealed from a recent speech where Ellison rhetorically questions our nation’s pro-Israel position.  Also contrary to popular belief, Ellison supports closer ties with Iran.  And there was a period of time when he didn’t pay his driving tickets and taxes, a failure his ex-wife has claimed responsibility for.  

Endorsements

One look at Ellison’s legislative docket reveals that he pushes for policies that support job growth and anti-discrimination.  He is endorsed by key progressives Senator Bernie Sanders (VT), Senator Elizabeth Warren (MA), incoming Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer (NY), and Rep. Luis Gutierrez (IL).  Ellison has racked up an impressive list of endorsements from numerous other State Senators and Representatives, including 50 women of color.  

Ellison’s broad spectrum of support is a direct reflection of the vision of inclusiveness that has defined his career.  His service on such a wide range of committees has garnered him endorsements from a variety of organizations including Democracy for America, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organization (AFL-CIO), Moveon.org, and 350 Action.

Sources

Author Vicki Summers is a freelance writer, editor, and feminist teacher.  She resides in Cincinnati with her spouse and two clever and energetic daughters.  Vicki has an MA in Gender Studies and was a founding mother of Cincinnati’s retired feminist publication called “The Rag.”