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Two second-generation immigrants won upset endorsements late Thursday from Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party delegates to represent their districts in the state legislature.
Omar Fateh gained DFL support over state Sen. Jeff Hayden, who was running for a third term to represent his south Minneapolis district. And in the state House of Representatives, Esther Agbaje won the DFL endorsement over state Rep. Raymond Dehn, who was running for a fifth term in a district that represents parts of downtown and north Minneapolis
The endorsements originally were to be made at party conventions, but were moved online because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Both incumbents questioned the process and held out the possibility that they would challenge the result in the August primary.
Both Omar and Agbaje cited ground-level efforts to engage their districts, which they said the incumbents had ignored. Omar emphasized that his staff and volunteers were “as diverse as our neighborhoods,” many of them from indigenous, Latino and East African populations.
“We reached out to every community, every precinct within the district,” he said. “My platform isn’t just something I came up with myself. I talked with folks in the community who care about health care, who care about housing and homelessness, and incorporated those ideas and thoughts into my platform.”
Omar dominated with 72.4 percent of support from DFL delegates on the first ballot. He needed 60 percent to win the endorsement. His campaign said 582 delegates voted overall.
Omar is the son of Somali immigrants and grew up in the Washington D.C. area. He moved to Minnesota five years ago, but said he’s been coming to the state to visit family over the summers since he was a child. He has been involved in local issues and public policy, taking part in the 15-Now campaign and serving as vice chair of the Hennepin County 2040 plan advisory committee. He currently works as a business systems analyst at the University of Minnesota.
Describing himself as a democratic socialist, Omar supports policies like a $15 statewide minimum hourly wage, free public transportation and single-payer health care. He said that the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has shifted Minnesota from seeing years of budget surpluses to a now projected $2.4 billion deficit, has only strengthened his campaign’s priorities.
Agbaje won the endorsement against Dehn on the third ballot. “Our campaign is about the future of the district and moving forward, making sure we are really getting to the heart of the matters,” she said.
A lawyer for the Ciresi Conlin law firm in Minneapolis, Agbaje said one of her priorities if elected to the state House would be to pass a law making it easier for people who have been evicted from their homes to expunge it from their records. Agbaje’s parents are from Nigeria and moved to Minnesota three decades ago.
Hayden’s role as an elected official dates back to 2008, when he was one of two black lawmakers elected to the state House that year. In 2011, he ran successfully in a special election for the Senate seat he currently holds.
Dehn was first elected to the state House in 2015. In 2018, he ran for mayor of Minneapolis and came in second to Jacob Frey.
Reached by phone Thursday night, both Hayden and Dehn questioned the process of the DFL delegate election, which was held online from April 25 to May 4. Hayden said that his campaign conducted a sample of delegates who voted online and could not determine whether they lived in the district or not.
“This process has been very flawed,” Hayden said. “I’m really, really concerned about voter integrity.”
Hayden was non-committal about whether he’d officially challenge the endorsement process or run against Omar in a primary this summer. He said his campaign would publicly release more information in the coming days.
Similarly, Dehn criticized the delegate election process, specifically over how delegate alternates got “automatic upgrades” to become delegates and cast votes.
Dehn said he’d decide in the coming days whether to challenge the results or run in a primary.
“The first time I won, I won in a primary,” Dehn added. “So I’m really familiar with how to run a primary race.”
If both Hayden and Dehn decide to remain in the race, they’ll face off against their opponents in the DFL primary on Aug. 11.