Rep. Phyllis Kahn at the Capitol | Steve Timmer photo
by Steve Timmer
Aug 7, 2016, 7:00 PM

Noor or Kahn? a reprise

The Strib recently endorsed Mohamud Noor in the primary race for representative in House District 60B. This is a rematch of the primary contest a couple of years ago that was won by the incumbent DFLer, Phyllis Kahn. I wrote about the race then; it is reproduced below.

It stunned me then and it stuns me now that the residents of District 60B would consider replacing a senior member of the Ways and Means Committee and the DFL lead (and with luck chair, after the election) of the Legacy Committee with a complete neophyte.

I’d ask my Range friends: after you disseized Jim Oberstar from chair of the Transportation Committee in the Congress, have you seen a yard of federal concrete since? (Well, okay, I asked the same question below, but it’s apt.)

My own representative in the Minnesota House, Ron Erhardt, had a DFL endorsement challenge this year. He made a point that I think it entirely correct. “You replace a sitting legislator in your own party if s/he is doing bad things.” Otherwise, it is foolish to do that. Neither Phyllis Kahn’s challengers nor the Strib pointed to “bad things” done by Rep. Kahn. Quite the contrary, really.

“It’s time,” as Mr. Noor said to me a couple of years ago, is not a reason. The real reasons are: I’m a Somali, and she isn’t — a proposition not even seriously refuted by the Strib — and besides, I want the job. It reeks of opportunism.

If you like identity politics, Noor is your man. If, however, you are looking for someone with a long and distinguished career in the Legislature, serving the residents of her district and the State of Minnesota, you will stick with Phyllis Kahn.


Here’s the earlier story:

First of all, I don’t live in House District 60B. And second, this is not an endorsement; it is merely some observations. I have been thinking about some of these things for a while, but Lori Sturdevant beat me to writing about them; perhaps she prompted me to finally write about the race myself.

I’ve met Mohamud Noor once; I’ve met Phyllis Kahn many times. It is hard not to do that if you have any interest in politics or travel in political circles at all. The memories of most people do not run to a time when Phyllis Kahn did not sit in the Minnesota House. She is the longest-serving House member. (There may be one other member who was also elected for the first time in 1972, but I can’t remember who it is. [Lindy Carlson] And no, that is not a typo; I meant to write 1972.) She isn’t the oldest, though. That’d be my representative, Ron Erhardt.

I’d like to remind my Minneapolis and District 60B friends about two committee assignments that Rep. Kahn has.

First, Rep. Kahn is the chair of the Legacy Committee, the committee that passes on all the requests for fund allocations of the dedicated monies raised by the special sales tax for arts, cultural, and environmental projects.

Remember how the metro used to regularly get zeroed out on Legacy projects? And how that’s no longer true?

Second, Rep. Kahn sits on the Ways and Means Committee, the most important budget committee in the House. You need seniority before you get to sit on Ways and Means. Freshmen, and maybe sophomores, and juniors, too, need not apply. It would be a looooong time before Rep. M. Noor got close to Ways and Means.

The situation is not completely analogous, but I am reminded (and Sturdevant was, too) of when the voters in the 8th Congressional District turned out the chair of the Transportation Committee, Jim Oberstar, in 2010. It would be interesting to see if the 8th District has seen a yard of new concrete since then.

Here are a few grafs from the Sturdevant piece:

But, plainly, she is not a Somali immigrant. She’s a New York-born, Yale-educated, Ph.D. biophysicist whose career hit a gender-bias speed bump at the University of Minnesota in the late 1960s. It diverted her into politics.

Noor’s line acknowledges Kahn’s skill as a legislator. Her credits range from the 1975 Clean Indoor Air Act to the protections for pregnant workers in the 2014 Women’s Economic Security Act. There’s so much in between that Kahn was designated a Public Official of the Year in 2009 by Governing Magazine, a distinction no other Minnesota legislator has won.

But Noor seems to be suggesting that being good at enacting legislation isn’t good enough — and maybe isn’t so important. What voters should value is a sort of kinship — staying close to one’s constituents and speaking for those constituents in St. Paul. It’s more about politics than it is about governance.

There is an unmistakable whiff of identity politics emanating from the Noor campaign; you can sense it when you listen to him speak, or when you read his campaign website. The only thing I’ve heard him say about why Phyllis Kahn should be removed from office is that “it’s time.” Not very persuasive.

No, not at all, when you consider the career-long record of service and accomplishment for her constituents and the State of Minnesota of Phyllis Kahn (and no reason offered to suggest that wouldn’t continue), compared to a man who got appointed to the Minneapolis School Board to fill a vacancy, and then decided, after attending a single meeting, that he wanted a different post.

To me, that suggests a level of unseriousness and opportunism that would not serve the constituents of the district or the state very well.

But as I say, this is not an endorsement; do what want you want people.


Since I wrote this, the Star Tribune has endorsed Phyllis Kahn, saying there was a lot more she could do. (Which is what she said at DL, too, that she had more things she wanted to accomplish.)

And on the same page is a letter of support for Noor, from David Wheeler. He offers the same dunderheaded reasoning that Noor himself offers for defeating Kahn:

The incumbent has contributed much to our state, but the time has come to let another newcomer with a fresh and progressive agenda represent House District 60B. Noor’s dedication to representing everyone in a growing and changing district is admirable.

In other words, change just because Noor wants the job, coupled with the unmistakable dog whistle of identity politics.

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