The Somali breakthrough in Minnesota politics

The Somali immigrant community in Minnesota, the center of the Somali diaspora in the United States, has been nibbling for years at entering the state’s politics. Heavily concentrated in central Minneapolis, in the old Scandinavian neighborhood of Cedar-Riverside, their first political success came in 2010 on the city’s school board, followed, in 2013, when a Somali immigrant was elected to the city council, and then, in 2016, when a Somali woman handily beat a long-time incumbent to get elected to the State Legislature.

These new Americans political success had come slowly and over a number of years, but last night’s primary election results in Minnesota were the definitive breakthrough of the Somali immigrant population in the state’s politics.

Not only did Ilhan Omar, a Somali refugee woman, who came to American when she was eight years old, win the Democratic primary for a seat  in the US House of Representatives, but her seat in the State Legislature will be filled by a fellow countryman, Mohamud Noor.   They both handily won their Democratic primaries, Omar capturing 48 per cent of the vote and beating the experienced former Speaker of the State House, and Noor winning with 40 percent of the vote. Both of them will represent heavily Democratic districts, and there is little doubt that they will be elected in November.

The Somali election victories are truly historic and they underscore the fact that the Somalis are in Minnesota politics to stay. These first victorious Somali politicians are all first generation immigrants, born in the old country and arriving in America at various ages. As they settled in central Minneapolis, the neighborhood that used to be heavily Scandinavian and called “Snoose Boulevard” the area became known as “Little Mogadishu.” And just like the Scandinavian immigrants before them, these new Somali immigrants sought political clout using their ethnic concentration in the center of the city.

(For more on this, please see my book, Scandinavians in the State House: How Nordic Immigrants Shaped Minnesota Politics. Minnesota Historical Society Press)

But what is new, as Ibrahim Hirsi recently wrote on the Minnesota news site, MinnPost, and what he called a “milestone,” is that there now is a second generation Somali-Americans, born in America — “Somalis without the accent” — entering Minnesota politics. 28-year-old Omar Fateh, born in Washington, DC, is one of them, and he is like all the other Somali-American political candidates, well-educated with bachelor’s and master’s degrees,

But last night, Fateh only came in third in the State House District 62A, south of downtown Minneapolis. He was narrowly beaten by two other Somali-Americans competing in the Democratic primary, which was won by Hodan Hassan, a clinical worker, immigrant and a single mom. In a tight race, she captured 28 percent of the vote, beating also another Somali immigrant, Osman Ahmed, long active in Minnesota politics.

As the American-born political generation is starting to knock on the door, the first foreign-born Somali generation clearly still have political clout. But the fact that a new generation seems to stand ready to take over is a most encouraging sign.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Yes, indeed, it’s an astonishing political turn for the Republican Party

No issue is more important in American politics right now than to get a complete picture of Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S elections.

But, instead, as the prominent, conservative, foreign policy scholar Robert Kagan writes in the Washington Post today, the Republican Party, traditionally hard-line anti-Soviet and anti-Communist, is “astonishingly” running interference for Russia and is becoming Putin’s accomplices by its actions, or, rather, inactions, on the vital question of Russia’s role in the elections.

This question is a national security issue, according to Kagan, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and it is “essential to get a full picture” of what Russia did and is capable of doing well before this year’s European elections and the 2018 mid-term elections here in the United States.

“It’s time for the (Republican) party to put national security above partisan interest…The stakes are too high for politics as usual,” Kagan concludes.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/republicans-are-becoming-russias-accomplices/2017/03/06/8616c2f4-027a-11e7-ad5b-d22680e18d10_story.html?utm_term=.d62e989c8ff2

Iowa and New Hampshire solved nothing — and that’s good!

Two down but no end in sight. Iowa and New Hampshire solved nothing.

That’s the only conclusion to draw after the first two contests in the American presidential election campaign.

And maybe that’s a good thing. Iowa and New Hampshire are not representative of today’s multi-cultural, multi-ethnic America. How can they be when 95 percent of New Hampshire’s population are white and when two thirds of the Republican voters in Iowa are evangelical? That’s not today’s America.

At least, the candidates in both parties are fewer than before. Among the Democrats, it’s now a real race between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Who would have thought just a short time ago that Bernie Sanders, who sounds like a good Swedish social democrat like Olof Palme, would capture such enthusiasm and support among American voters? As someone who has grown up in that northern European political culture, much of what Sanders says sounds right: basic fairness, health care for all, income equality, free education. But is it a sign of something new in American politics? Is it a sign that a “democratic socialist’’ all of a sudden is acceptable, maybe even mainstream? Or is it more an indication of the country’s voters so desperately seeking something new, and fresh, that even a 74-year old Senator can symbolize this?

Still, in today’s America, his vision is politically completely unrealistic, and, I believe, will only carry him so far. In the end, Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee. But the fact that Sanders won 83 percent of the voters between 18 and 29 years of age while Clinton only won among those over 65 and failed to win the women’s vote must be most worrisome. Is America ready for a woman president, or is Hillary Clinton the wrong female candidate?

That depends, largely, on who the Republican nominee is. Right now, it could be Donald Trump or Ted Cruz or one the so-called establishment candidates, if one of them catches fire. If not, the Republican Party will be led by either the chief clown, Trump, or the chief spokesman of evangelical America, Cruz, the most conservative nominee since Barry Goldwater in 1964. We know how that ended. And that’s what worries the establishment in the Republican Party, but can they do anything about it? So far, no.

Both Sanders and Trump are outsiders, and, ironically, both have no chance in realizing their vision of America. Trump plays the strong man with an enormous ego who thinks he can solve all the problems. His message is fool’s gold and he should not be taken seriously. It’s sad to see so many do, that two thirds of the Republican primary voters in New Hampshire agreed with his proposal to bar Muslims from entering America, or that Trump, a man with zero foreign policy experience, is the best man to handle an international crisis. Unfortunately, the Republican voters, at least so far, seem to listen to what David Brooks calls the “pornography of pessimism” among the Republican candidates about of the state of affairs in America. Will that last? We don’t know.

Uncertainty before Iowa, no matter what the polls say

Whatever the polls might say, the outcome of the Iowa caucuses next Monday is far from certain among both Republicans and Democrats.

In the Republican so-called establishment the nervousness is growing as a Trump victory or a Cruz victory seems ever more likely. But it’s too late to do anything about it now or even before the New Hampshire primary on February 9. The Republican Party is reaping what they have sown. Later, possibly, as the primary campaign goes on to bigger and ethnically more diverse states, the Republican voters might come to their senses as they realize that the course the party is taking is a suicide mission. Or at least, that is what many establishment Republicans are wishing, for a Republican Party with Trump or Cruz as its presidential nominee cannot win the general election in November.

On the Democratic side, the race is even, surprisingly so. A Town Hall last night from Iowa with the three candidates, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley and broadcast on CNN, was forceful, energetic, positive, and informative. The issues of America were discussed seriously and the negative attacks on the opponents were largely absent.

A confident, relaxed, articulate Hillary Clinton made a strong case for herself as the most knowledgeable and experienced of the three, yes, of all the candidates, including the Republicans. Her knowledge of foreign policy, in particular, impressed, and should impress the voters, in these times of upheaval and uncertainty around the world. I think this is the Hillary Clinton that the voters want, and should, see, and staying positive and upbeat. She needs to make sure the voters know of and understand what she stands for. Attacking Bernie Sanders is not what she should be doing. Sanders is running his race and he is doing it well, talking about the serious issues facing America. It might pay off handsomely in Iowa and New Hampshire. But…beyond that? He is no threat.

Sanders, the senator from Vermont and the self-proclaimed democratic socialist, whose campaign has developed into a popular movement that no one predicted, including Sanders himself. He, also, did well, as he continued to hammer forcefully on his main themes of economic inequality, healthcare for all Americans, and reigning in Wall Street’s excesses. As a progressive, born and raised in Europe, I agree with much of what he says. The political revolution that Sanders urges might be a revolution for America, but not in my old home country of Sweden, or in Europe as a whole. It is far out to the left for America, and although Sanders certainly has many Americans supporting him, they are not enough for him to win in November. America is not ready for a political revolution.

Martin O’Malley, finally, the former governor of my home state of Maryland, has strong progressive credentials, and in another year, without Sanders, he might have had a chance. Not this year.

In all, the Democrats are in better shape than the Republicans, keeping the big picture in mind — the general election in November — regardless of what happens in Iowa and New Hampshire. Hillary Clinton will be the nominee, and whoever the Republicans choose, they will have a formidable opponent.

“Please don’t go quietly into the night”

Today, on the same day, two of America’s leading Republican columnists, New York Times’ David Brooks and Washington Post’s Michael Gerson, plead for their party to take a different route, away from Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.

In his rally cry, Brooks writes that it’s time to get together and for a new coalition of the forces of the “hopeful, practical, programmatic Republicans.” “Please,” he ends, “don’t go quietly and pathetically into the night.” For Gerson, the only good outcome for the Republicans of Trump vs. Cruz is “for both to lose.” And he ends, that “for the future of the party as the carrier of a humane, inclusive conservatism now depends on some viable choice beyond them.”

Neither Brooks nor Gerson recognize their party today. Gerson describes it under Trump and Cruz as a party that undermines religious liberty and encourages an ethnic basis for American identity that, in turn, strengthens prejudice. And for Brooks, alienating every person of color in the 21st Century is “borderline insane.”

As the showdown in Iowa and New Hampshire quickly approaches, Brooks and Gerson have grown visibly more frustrated and nervous. They fear not only for the future of their party but also for the outcome in the November elections. It’s a nervousness and fear they share with many in the Republican Party establishment, or governing Republicans, as Brooks calls them. The reality is that they are facing a new party, a party full of anger, as David Leonhardt writes in today’s New York Times. This unhappiness among Republican Party members and voters is unprecedented in the last two decades. Its reasons are both economic and cultural, and, in addition, racial.

We’ll soon know if the Republicans primary voters will diverge from the polls and turn their backs on the demagogic messages of Trump and Cruz.

It’s more than uncertainty, it’s chaos

Actually, the list of possible Republican presidential candidates is even longer than I indicated previously. The total number is eighteen — 18!  But the ones I left out are even more of “come-on, why are you running?”

So, why waste our time?  Still, here they are, for the record:

Former New York governor George Pataki — out of the blue; retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson — no political experience; former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee — Fox News host too long; former business executive Carly Fiorina — forced out at Hewlett Packard; real estate developer Donald Trump — mad man; former senator Rick Santorum — already ran and lost; former UN ambassador John Bolton — foreign policy hardliner; former Texas governor Rick Perry — already ran and failed spectacularly; and, finally, Senator Marco Rubio, Florida, squeezed out by Jeb Bush, also from Florida.

This is more than Republican “uncertainty,” it’s actually chaos.

Democratic inevitability vs. Republican uncertainty

Inevitability on one side, uncertainty on the other.

I am talking about the American presidential election campaign and about the Democrats, on the one side, and the Republicans, on the other, jockeying for positions as that race, which in America never really ends, is heating up.

I had hoped to avoid this topic, at least for a while longer and maybe until the beginning of next year, while glancing longingly at other democracies in West Europe and Canada with their three-week or even month-long election campaigns, but…here we go!

The inevitability among the Democrats and the likelihood of Hillary Clinton running was underscored today in a Politico article by Mike Allen. She really is preparing and will likely announce her candidacy in April.  Does she have any opponents? Vermont’s grumpy, but charming, independent, democratic socialist U.S. senator, Bernie Sanders, Maryland’s former governor Martin  O’Malley, who could not even get his own lieutenant governor elected last year,  or Virginia’s quirky former US senator Jim Webb are all sort of — come on!

So the Hillary Clinton juggernaut keeps rolling on, and, unless something extraordinary happens, the only interesting discussion is who will be her running mate?

And as to the Republicans, there are a lot of names and a lot of — come ons! Who do these people think they are? First of all, Mitt Romney. Enough said. And then Sarah Palin, who said the other day that she was seriously interested in running.  And then the Canadian-born Texan Ted Cruz, the libertarian Rand Paul, the South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham. And then there are the governors: Chris Christie from New Jersey, Scott Walker from Wisconsin , and John Kasich from Ohio, plus one former governor, Jeb Bush from Florida.

To learn more about Jeb Bush,  I recommend the recent article by Alec MacGillis in The New Yorker called “Testing Time.”  It’s not a flattering profile, on the contrary, some of the things he stands for a pretty scary, but I believe he has a real chance to capture the Republican party’s nomination.

And so, as much as I hate to admit it, it looks like a battle next November between two dynasties, the Clintons and the Bushes, two legendary juggernauts fighting for their place in history. It’s a sad verdict on American politics that there really are no new and exciting names at this time who have a real chance to win, but that is the way it is.

So enjoy, or despair!