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Minnesota Legislator Keith Ellison Becomes First Muslim Elected to Congress

November 08, 2006

As the Democrats take control of the House for the first time in 12 years, California Rep. Nancy Pelosi is set to become the country’s first female House speaker. Tuesday was a day of others firsts across the country. Among them, Minnesota Democrat Keith Ellison was elected as the first Muslim to serve in Congress. He is also the first person of color from Minnesota to be elected Congress. Ellison joins us on the line from Minneapolis. [includes rush transcript]

Tuesday was a day of 'firsts' across the country. In Massachusetts Deval Patrick became the state’s first African-American governor. He is only the second elected Black governor in the nation’s history. In Vermont, Bernie Sanders became the first self-described Socialist to win a U.S. Senate seat. And in Minnesota, Democrat Keith Ellison was elected as the first Muslim to serve in Congress.

  • Keith Ellison, Minnesota state legislator who won the Congressional race in the state’s fifth district making him the first Muslim member of Congress.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Nancy Pelosi is poised to become the nation’s first female House Speaker. Tuesday was a day of other firsts across the country. In Massachusetts, Deval Patrick became the state’s first African American governor. He is only the second elected black governor in the nation’s history. In Vermont, Bernie Sanders became the first self-described socialist to win a US Senate seat. And in Minnesota, Democrat Keith Ellison was elected as the first Muslim to serve in Congress. He joins us now from Minneapolis. Welcome to Democracy Now!

KEITH ELLISON: Well, how are you doing there, Amy? It’s really an honor to be on Democracy Now! again.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Can you talk about this victory. You’re not only the first Muslim elected to Congress, you are also Minnesota’s first non-white representative in Washington. Can you talk about the significance of both?

KEITH ELLISON: Well, you know, I think it represents that a whole new group of folks can feel welcome to get involved in American politics and shape it within their own image, in an image that they believe reflects their values and their needs, as well. That’s a great thing. I mean, the fact is, is that people of all colors, all cultures came together to help us in our bid for Congress, and we were able to succeed. You know, my campaign office, since the very beginning, looked like the UN. We had everybody in the room, people of all faiths, all cultures, all colors, working together behind a progressive agenda to challenge this Iraq policy, to raise the issue about the 47 million uninsured, to talk about fair working and middle class economics, to talk about the right to organize in labor unions, clean renewable energy, behind a progressive agenda.

AMY GOODMAN: Keith Ellison, you were a two-term state representative, a former criminal defense attorney. What are your main issues that you will bring to Washington?

KEITH ELLISON: Well, you know, in terms of my own personal things that I’m really concerned about, the war in Iraq is probably, you know, top on my list. I got into the race, because I was so opposed to the Bush policy. I opposed it from the very beginning, and then as this — and I knew this war would never come to a good end. And unfortunately, well, and I was right, and I’m not proud of being right, but those of us who opposed this war from the beginning were right.

And so, now what we need to do is help the American people find their way out of this thing. So many feel like we can’t get out, and we can’t stay. You know, but I’m in favor of trying to organize people to bring the troops home, because I think this thing has been an abysmal failure.

I also think we need to stand up for the civil and human rights of the American people. The Military Commissions Act is just another example of how this war has had a corrosive effect on our civil and human rights. And we need to really begin to stand up for the Constitution again. So those are just a few things that I really feel strong about.

AMY GOODMAN: Keith Ellison, finally, this victory in Washington for Democrats — Democrats joined with Republicans in authorizing the invasion, not all, of course, but many. What do you take this victory for Democrats as? What is the message, do you believe, that’s being sent?

KEITH ELLISON: Well, I just heard Nancy Pelosi say that the issue was Iraq, and the problem was the Republican drive toward war. So I think the message is clear, that the American people want peace to be the guiding principle of this nation. They want America to be a source of peace in the world, not warfare and militarism. And I think that that’s unmistakable in this election.

AMY GOODMAN: Keith Ellison, I want to thank you very much for being with us, and congratulations. Minnesota state legislator who won the congressional race in Minneapolis, he becomes the first Muslim member of Congress and the first non-white representative to be sent from Minnesota to Washington, D.C.

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