Shaun Laden speaks at a Minneapolis Public Schools press conference during the teachers strike on March 9, 2022. Credit: Ben Hovland | Sahan Journal

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A union leader for Minneapolis educators, Shaun Laden, filed notice Friday that he’ll run against state Senator Omar Fateh, who faces an ethics investigation.

The two are campaigning to represent District 62 in south Minneapolis. Omar made history in 2020 when he was elected as the first Somali American and first Muslim in the Minnesota Senate. He defeated DFL powerbroker Jeff Hayden in the August 2020 primary, and easily won the general election that November. 

But Omar’s conduct in that primary and his work as a legislator have recently come under scrutiny: his campaign volunteer was convicted of federal perjury charges earlier this month, and Republican lawmakers filed an ethics complaint against Omar this week.

Laden told Sahan Journal he wanted to bring his union leadership skills to the legislature. Laden served as president for the education support professionals’ chapter of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (MFT) during a historic three-week strike of educators earlier this year.

“I am running to bring my experience in creating progressive change that has improved people’s lives to the Minnesota Senate, like when I recently helped successfully lead the first MFT strike in 52 years that significantly raised wages for our union of hourly educators, the majority of whom are women and people of color,” he said.

Laden said his priorities as a lawmaker would include fully funding schools, improving access to housing, and creating “safe communities for everyone.”

Omar did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday.

On May 10, Omar’s brother-in-law, Muse Mohamed, was convicted in federal court on two counts of lying to a grand jury about mishandling absentee ballots. Muse volunteered for Omar’s campaign.

Omar told Sahan Journal after Muse’s trial that he was “troubled” by the conviction. Omar declined to answer questions about whether his campaign was involved in voter fraud, whether he is reviewing his campaign’s conduct, and whether he had been questioned by authorities, among others.

The alleged fraud apparently involved campaign volunteers turning in absentee ballots for voters who had not requested it. No one has been charged with voter fraud in the investigation.

On May 22, a group of seven Senate Republicans filed a formal ethics complaint against Omar. The complaint alleges that Omar “failed to expressly address his involvement in the unauthorized delivery” of those ballots.

It also states that Omar continues to retain his campaign staffer who allegedly directed this activity as his legislative assistant. That aide, Dawson Kimyon, was placed on administrative leave from the Senate on May 11, according to the complaint.

Kimyon did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday. Previously, he also did not respond to queries about Muse’s trial and federal authorities’ allegations of voter fraud in Omar’s campaign.

The Senate Republicans’ complaint also alleges that Omar failed to address a conflict of interest when he proposed a bill to allocate funds to Somali TV of Minnesota, which endorsed him.

In March, Laden and Greta Callahan, the union president for teachers, led the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers and Education Support Professionals’ first strike in more than 50 years. As their top priority, educators demanded higher pay for education support professionals, a diverse group of educators who earn significantly less than teachers.

The final contract, settled after three weeks of a strike, resulted in significant gains for education support professionals through a combination of pay raises, additional hours, and additional professional development days.

“We have historic agreements that have significantly raised pay for education support professionals,” Laden said March 25 when he announced the tentative resolution.

Omar filed paperwork on May 24 to run for reelection.

Becky Z. Dernbach is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.