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Omar Fateh defeats challenger Shaun Laden in DFL state Senate primary.

Wednesday August 10, 2022

State Senator Omar Fateh. Credit: Courtesy Omar Fateh

State Senator Omar Fateh easily won the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party primary election Tuesday night despite months of scrutiny about his previous campaign two years ago.

With more all precincts reporting, Omar lead challenger Shaun Laden, a union leader for Minneapolis educators, by 21 percentage points Tuesday night.

Omar claimed victory on Twitter shortly before 9 pm.

“It’s official: WE WON!” Omar wrote. “SD62, it is the privilege of a lifetime to serve as your Senator. I will never stop fighting for our Southside community. Thank you for your support. Onwards!”

Laden conceded on Twitter shortly before then.

“Tonight, I called to congratulate Senator Fateh on his victory and a successful campaign,” Laden wrote on Twitter. “It is never easy to lose, but I am grateful for the voters who chose me in this primary because they agreed getting public education right in Minnesota must be a top priority and that right now we are not getting it right. Thank you to my volunteers, supporters, and donors for your generosity.”

Omar lead Laden with 60 percent of the vote Tuesday night, with Laden claiming 39 percent.

Omar will advance to the November 8 general election and face off with Republican candidate Andrew Schmitz, who ran unopposed in the Republican primary, to represent part of south Minneapolis.

Omar first came to public office two years ago, defeating incumbent state Senator Jeff Hayden in an upset primary victory to represent Senate District 62, which includes the Phillips, Powderhorn Park, and Kingfield neighborhoods. Omar is the first Somali to serve in the Minnesota Senate. A Democratic Socialist, Omar supports progressive causes like free college, a statewide single payer healthcare system, and a statewide $15 minimum wage.

Controversy surrounded Omar this year when a federal jury convicted his brother-in-law, Muse Mohamed, of lying to a grand jury about how he (Muse) handled three absentee ballots while volunteering for Omar’s 2020 primary campaign. Muse testified that he collected the three ballots from each voter, but two of them subsequently testified that they had never met him nor had they authorized him to submit their ballots.

Muse’s conviction led to an ethics complaint filed in May against Omar by seven of his Republican Senate colleagues. On top of failing to disclose his alleged involvement in the absentee ballot mishandling, the Republican senators accused Omar of attempting to pass legislation giving money to Somali TV Minnesota, an online community media outlet, after it aired commercials about his 2020 campaign. They accused Omar of receiving free advertising and then attempting to reward Somali TV with public money.

During an ethics hearings before the Senate Subcommittee on Ethical Conduct, Omar testified that he didn’t partake in or know about any alleged mishandling of ballots in his 2020 campaign. No one was charged with voter fraud as part of the investigation that led to Muse’s conviction for lying.

At the ethics hearings, Omar also disclosed two payments his campaign made for the advertisements on Somali TV Minnesota, and accepted fault for not disclosing them in 2020. That proved that his bill earmarking money for Somali TV—which never passed—wasn’t quid pro quo, he testified at one of the hearings.

As the Senate Subcommittee on Ethical Conduct began holding hearings on the ethics complaints in June, Laden, an organizer with the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, jumped into the race to challenge Omar.

Laden declared his candidacy after Omar already secured the DFL nomination for reelection. Along the way, Laden tallied endorsements from unions like Education Minnesota and some elected officials like state Representative Sydney Jordan, a DFLer who represents northeast Minneapolis.

In his campaign launch, Laden touted his role in helping MFT successfully negotiate a contract in the teacher’s strike earlier this year.

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

Laden campaigned on police accountability, abortion access, and funneling more state dollars to public schools, aligning with much of Omar’s political agenda. Although he  refrained from attacking Omar during the campaign, Laden’s strategy wasn’t enough to defeat Omar.

As the ethics hearings progressed and the Senate ethics subcommittee eventually dismissed the most serious charges against Omar, several of Omar’s DFL colleagues lined up behind him for reelection. This included a high profile endorsement from Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, as well as endorsements from state representatives Hodan Hassan and Mohamud Noor, two Somali state House members who both represent south Minneapolis.

Omar avoided questions from reporters throughout his ethics hearings, often exiting the hearing through a backdoor with his attorney. The subcommittee cleared him in late July of the more serious charges but recommended that Omar attend additional campaign finance training.

Omar released a prepared statement at the time calling the outcome “both relieving and a reinforcement of what I have said all along: There is no evidence of, nor was I involved in, any unethical advertising exchange or any electoral interference, intentional or otherwise.

“I look forward to moving past these complaints and dedicating more focus to my top priority—fighting on behalf of the needs and interests of working class families.”

Omar is heavily favored to beat Schmitz in November in the  DFL-dominated district.


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