In the United States, all of us have a right to be represented in government, right?
Until now, one group of Americans has been grossly underrepresented. Just who is this underrepresented group? Gang members and cop killers.
Think about it: we discriminate against gang members and cop killers all the time. In most states, we don’t even let felons vote! And what could explain that except the fact that nobody has chosen to represent their interests in Congress.
Luckily, that is about to change. In their wisdom, the Democrat Party in Minnesota (known here as the Democrat-Farmer-Labor Party, or DFL) has endorsed Keith Ellison as their candidate to replace 28-year incumbent Congressman Martin Sabo in Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District.
Much attention has been lavished on Ellison for likely being the first Muslim elected to Congress, and much controversy has surrounded his ties to the Nation of Islam and the Council on American-Islamic Relations. The papers have also looked into his personal finances, discovering that he failed to pay his income taxes for 5 years, leading to an IRS lien on his house that only got paid once he decided to run for office (nobody knows the source of the funds which paid off those taxes, by the way). He violated campaign finance laws more often than any other candidate in Minnesota history, and racked up fines for willfully violating those laws.
But almost nobody has focused on Ellison’s most interesting behavior and connections — to gang members and people who assassinate police officers in political violence. The first public discussion of Ellison’s ties to criminals finally made it into the mainstream media October 19th, in a column written by Katherine Kerstin in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
What makes Ellison’s ties so interesting is not that he has relationships with criminals — after all, his primary career has been as a criminal defense attorney — but rather the nature of those ties. Ellison doesn’t represent criminals because in the American system of justice everybody deserves the best defense, but rather because in his view gang members are part of a misunderstood and improperly vilified group.
According to Ellison, gang members, domestic terrorists like the Sybionese Liberation Army, and cop killers like Assata Shakur (one of the FBI’s most wanted terrorists) and Kathleen Soliah (an SLA member who pleaded guilty to murder and robbery in recent years) are really “good people” and freedom fighters trying to keep the spirit of the ‘60s alive and well in the midst of a repressive corporate culture. You can read a speech that Ellison gave at a fundraiser for the defense of admitted murderer Kathleen Soliah here.
A bit closer to home, Ellison has championed the cause of youth gang members here in Minneapolis. After the brutal execution of a police officer by four gang members, Ellison led a demonstration against Minneapolis police officers in which he charged that police were persecuting gang members merely to get more money for the union. He concluded his contribution to the rally by leading the crowd in a chant — at a rally defending those accused of the assassination of a Police officer — of “we don’t get no justice, you don’t get no peace.”
Ellison’s warped notion of criminals and cop killers as freedom fighters might strike some as a disqualification for office, but apparently not here in Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District. The Star Tribune has generally treated Ellison with kid gloves, airing some of the stories of his questionable conduct (not focusing on the gang and domestic terrorist affiliations, though), but their columnists and Editorial writers have generally dismissed criticisms of Ellison as evidence of racism (Ellison is black) and religious bigotry (Ellison is Muslim).
Alan Fine, Ellison’s Republican opponent, has been vilified as a crank and a bigot for criticizing Ellison’s ties to CAIR and the Nation of Islam (read for instance Nick Coleman’s column). And in a district in which the Republican vote rarely exceeds 25%, it is difficult to see how he could cobble together a coalition of Republicans and Democrats to defeat Ellison.
Not all Democrats are sanguine about Ellison’s views, however. The incumbent Congressman Martin Sabo has implicitly endorsed Independence Party candidate Tammy Lee, taking a picture with her last week, and allowing his District Director to endorse her in a blast email to Democrats. Some business executives, nervous about an Ellison victory, have also jumped on board. John Stanoch, President of Qwest Communications for Minnesota, has held a fundraiser for Lee and getting other businessmen to invest in her campaign.
Lee has an advantage that Alan Fine lacks: Democrat credentials in a largely Democrat district. Lee was spokesman for the 1998 Gubernatorial campaign of Skip Humphrey (son of Hubert), and was Press Secretary for U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan. What Lee lacks is a Party apparatus to help drive voters to the polls this November.
So while it is clear that Ellison’s ties to criminals and admiration for domestic terrorists makes some very prominent Democrats nervous enough to jump ship and endorse the Independence Party candidate, it is not certain that the defections will be enough to doom Ellison’s campaign. Ellison won his primary contest because the establishment vote was split between two other candidates, and that is his formula for victory in the general election.
Unless something changes soon for Fine or Lee as part of a bid to stop an Ellison victory, it’s quite likely that gang members and domestic terrorists will finally break into the big time in national politics. Ellison will become the nation’s first Congressman who represents their interests.