ILHAN OMAR (Minnesota Democrat)
The nation’s first Somali-American state legislator has carved her place in history again as the first Somali elected to Congress and one of its first Muslim women.
Omar, a Democrat who served a single term in the Minnesota Legislature, easily won Tuesday’s election for the Minneapolis-area congressional district being vacated by Rep. Keith Ellison.
Omar was born in Somalia but spent much of her childhood in a Kenyan refugee camp as civil war tore apart her home country. She immigrated to the United States at age 12, teaching herself English by watching American TV and eventually settling with her family in Minneapolis, home to the world’s largest Somali population outside of East Africa.
Her political rise began in 2016, when she unseated a 44-year incumbent in a Democratic primary en route to winning her legislative seat later that year.
Omar’s win was a near lock because Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District is heavily liberal. But her campaign was still dogged by some questions, including allegations that she used state House campaign funding for personal expenses such as a divorce attorney and international travel. She denied the allegations and said the Republican state lawmaker behind them was “using taxpayer dollars to harass a Muslim candidate.”
RASHIDA TLAIB (Michigan Democrat)
When Rashida Tlaib won the Democratic primary to run for the Detroit-area congressional seat long held by Rep. John Conyers, her relatives in the West Bank greeted the news with a mixture of pride and hope that she’d be able to take on a U.S. administration widely seen as hostile to Muslims and the Palestinian cause.
Tlaib, 42, was elected Tuesday to Michigan’s 13th House District seat. Her win was all but guaranteed because the Republicans did not even field a candidate. Tlaib and Somali-American Ilhan Omar of Minnesota will be first two female Muslim members of Congress.
Tlaib, the eldest of 14 children, is an attorney aligned with the liberal wing of the Democratic Party and has said that if elected to the House, she’d push for higher wages and better worker protections.
As the first Muslim woman to serve in the Michigan Legislature, Tlaib sought to defend Detroit’s poor, taking on refineries and a billionaire trucking magnate she accused of polluting city neighborhoods.
Tlaib fills a seat representing parts of Detroit and its suburbs that was long held by Conyers, who resigned last year amid complaints that he had sexually harassed former female staffers.
DONNA SHALALA (Florida Democrat)
After serving in President Bill Clinton’s Cabinet and running major universities, Donna Shalala is starting a third career with her election to the House.
The 77-year-old Democrat won Tuesday in a Miami district that had long been in Republican hands. Shalala has sought to turn her age into a positive by stressing her experience with this slogan: “Ready on Day One.”
Shalala served as Clinton’s secretary of Health and Human Services for his entire presidency and has made health care a centerpiece of her agenda. She was president of the University of Wisconsin before that, and after Cabinet service she ran the University of Miami until 2015.
After that, Shalala was president of the Clinton Foundation until 2017. She counts the Clintons as close friends; Hillary Clinton campaigned for her this year in Miami.
Asked in a recent interview why she chose to take this fresh path after such a long career, Shalala said: “What I decided in my mind was that I wasn’t finished with public service. I wanted to take a shot.”
Shalala is originally from Cleveland, is of Lebanese descent and has a twin sister. She has lived in the Miami area since 2001.
DEBBIE MUCARSEL-POWELL (Florida Democrat)
Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell emigrated from Ecuador at age 14, lived for a time in a one-room Miami apartment with her family and is now headed to the U.S. House after defeating a Republican incumbent.
Mucarsel-Powell ousted GOP Rep. Carlos Curbelo in Tuesday’s election in her first try for federal office, representing a district that stretches from south of Miami to Key West. She ran unsuccessfully for the Florida Senate in 2016.
Her first job as a teenager was at a doughnut shop, but she worked to get a bachelor’s degree and a graduate degree from Claremont University in international political economy.
Mucarsel-Powell has spent most of her adult career working for nonprofit organizations in Miami such as the Coral Restoration Foundation and the Zoo Miami Foundation. She was an associate dean at Florida International University college of medicine.
Among her top issues are expanding access to health care, addressing climate change, curbing gun violence, making college affordable and providing workers with a living wage. She has also pledged to hold the Trump administration accountable.”