A key debate for the August 11th primary election took place Friday on WCCO radio.
Fifth district congresswoman Ilhan Omar squared off for the first time against challengers Antone Melton-Meaux and John Mason. They're on the Democratic ballot in next month's primary. The debate was moderated by WCCO's Chad Hartman and political analyst Blois Olson.
Minnesota's fifth congressional district covers all of Minneapolis, and parts of Anoka and Ramsey counties.
Omar, who just completed her first term, opened the debate by saying, "I have been able to think big and fight for progressive values of Minnesota's 5th."
One of her two main challengers in the DFL primary, John Mason, said he holds true Midwestern values. "I know people of the 5th want to be part of a more united Minnesota. When we have controversy on one end and big money on the other. We need someone in the middle."
Antone Melton-Meaux said, "I have a calling to solve big problems. The toxic nature of Washington won't end, and I have the right experience and capability to get things done."
Omar added, "I don't have the support of people because they like me. I have their support because I get things done."
The debate got somewhat contentious when the issue of money and donations was raised by Chad Hartman. Melton-Meaux has been criticized for where he has been getting millions in donations, seemingly aimed at simply removing Omar from office according to the congresswoman.
Melton-Meaux said, "I'm very proud of the support we've gotten from this district. It's hypocritical for the Representative (Omar) when she gets a significant amount of money from out-of-state. Most importantly, we have 1,700 individual givers in this district which is more than Omar or Mason. We have momentum and people can see that."
Mason talked about how how uncomfortable he is with where those donations come from. "That was a very good spin by Antone, and I don't believe it. As an openly gay black man, I'm very aware of where these donations, and dark money, comes from. Many of them are xenophobic, anti-Muslim, and very homophobic. I feel like Antone has sold us out."
Omar fought back against Melton-Meaux's statements on where his donations come from. "I appreciate John Mason and what he said. The Republican running in this district has raised more money than anyone has raised collectively. That money is based on that chant from the president and supporters to send me back to where I came from. They would support Mickey Mouse if he was running against me. They are invested in creating a toxic environment."
Omar defended the fact that her husband has benefitted by getting agency money. "I don't pay my husband. I pay the firm to do work. That money is an example of that work. They carry out the contractual work we do with other vendors, to do mailings, to do ads, digital work, and fundraising work."
Melton-Meaux finished that back-and-forth by saying, "I think it's ironic that I'm the only person on this panel that doesn't have a campaign finance violation."
The candidates also addressed the rising crime in Minneapolis, and the move to restructure law enforcement.
Melton-Meaux says, "This creates an opportunity for us to transform public safety in a meaningful way. The first thing we should do is demilitarize the police, and we can do that at the national level."
Omar talked about some of the legislation that has been introduced and is currently being debated. "Tranformative change needs to happen in our police and criminal justice system," said Omar. "We need to look at how we address the issues that persist in our communities. This idea that we need to criminalize poverty needs to be done away with."
John Mason talked about individuals affected by COVID. "I'm a supporter of the Heroes Act. We need to make sure all of us get $3,000 a month during this pandemic. We have a national crisis, but we don't have a national strategy. That is our reality. And this growing disparty between people of color, LGBTQ, the elderly, needs to be fixed. They're the ones getting hit the most, and getting hit the quickest. It's a crisis, but a deep-embedded situation that needs a complete rebuilding of our civil rights bill."
Omar, who just endorsed Joe Biden for president, said, "We've moved his platform to be more progressive, the most progressive any candidate has ever been. I look forward to us pushing forward in our party to address disparities in our economy."
Mason takes a more middle-of-the-road approach, saying, "We have on our left more of an activist, progressive agenda. They bring up a lot of issues, but the movement in regards to getting things done is really slow. Then the other side, you have the convservative hard stop. I think we need progress. We need to take a pragmatic approach to move the ball forward. These ideas are excellent, but we have to find a way to move forward."
Melton-Meaux also says we need to figure out how to get things done. "We have to have a strategy to getting things done in this community. We need to move things forward for people in the 5th District."
Mason also called out Omar's voting record, saying, "She's missed 40 votes. Those are important and she missed those. I'm going to show up for the vote. I'm going to show up for the residents. And yes, actually doing real town halls. Not a panel, not with my staff, but answering real questions. The congresswoman hasn't done that one time."
Omar responded by saying, "Cleary someone hasn't been paying attention because we've done 32 town halls."
In her closing statement, Omar said, "It's clear this election has become about personalities, not the fight for progressive values in Congress. I have done the work to try to make sure we have our voices implemented in every piece of legislation introduced. I listen to you, I listen to your concerns, and I look forward to continuing not only fighting for a unified country and district, but across our progressive values."
Antone Melton-Meaux says in his closing statement, "We have a wonderful district here. We have wonderful residents, strong local elected officials, that are hungry for a congress-person who will listen to them and work with them every day. That comes from relationships, and that's what I've done my whole life. We have to be honest. The toxic nature in Washington has kept us from getting things done. We don't need more dividers."
Wrapping up the debate, John Mason said, "I think really what we're looking at is the Minnesota 5th District has on their left, an activist progressive. She's Trump's worst nightmare, but really in actuality, in many ways she's Trump's best dream. And Trump is a racist, but really the only one benefiting from Omar is Omar on lots of things. But on the right, we have a wealthy, moderate who's full of ambition, and really saying that he's a progressive, but we find that he sold women out and it's taking dark money. So I think that we have an opportunity in the middle to really look at both of this and choose a real Minnesota progressive. And I'm the first openly gay man to run for us Congress. And I'll be the first to serve. And I think this is exactly what we need to move us forward in the fifth."