Almanac A members-only database of searchable profiles compiled and adapted from the Almanac of American Politics

Rep. Keith Ellison (D)

Minnesota District 5

Leadership: Chief Deputy Whip

N/A

ellison.house.gov

Biography

Elected: 2006, 4th term.

Born: August 4, 1963, Detroit, MI

Home: Minneapolis

Education: Wayne St. U., B.A. 1985, U. of MN, J.D. 1990

Professional Career: Practicing atty., 1990-2002.

Ethnicity: Black/African American

Religion: Muslim

Family: divorced , 4 children

Keith Ellison, a Democrat first elected in 2006, is the first Muslim to serve in Congress and the first black representative from Minnesota. He is an outspoken liberal in the mold of the late Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone, whom Ellison has called his inspiration in politics.

Ellison was raised Catholic in Detroit, the son of a psychiatrist and the third of five boys. (Four became lawyers and the fifth a doctor.) Ellison studied economics at Wayne State University, and it was there that he converted to Sunni Islam. He moved to Minnesota in 1987 to study law at the University of Minnesota, worked in private practice, and ran a nonprofit criminal defense firm while also hosting a public affairs radio show. Ellison won the first of two terms in the state House in 2002.

The retirement of Democratic Rep. Martin Olav Sabo, who had held the seat since 1978, unleashed a torrent of pent-up political ambition. Nearly a dozen Democrats sought the party endorsement at the May 2006 Democratic-Farmer-Labor district convention. But the main contenders were Ellison, longtime Sabo aide Mike Erlandson, and former state Sen. Ember Reichgott Junge. Ellison, who strongly opposed the war in Iraq, attracted support from war opponents and Wellstone backers. “I have the passion of a Wellstone and the practicality of a Sabo,” he told convention activists. Ellison easily won the DFL endorsement, but Erlandson and Reichgott Junge competed anyway for the Democratic nomination in a seven-way September 12 primary.

Ellison campaigned on his opposition to the war and support for government-funded universal health care. But he had to overcome a number of unhelpful personal revelations: Unpaid parking tickets and moving violations had led to multiple suspensions of his driver’s license, and he once owed $25,000 in back taxes. Most damaging were his ties to the controversial Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and Farrakhan’s anti-Semitic pronouncements. Ellison said his association with the group was limited to the 18 months he spent helping organize the 1995 Million Man March in Washington, D.C., although his writings about Farrakhan were traced back to his law school days. Ellison reached out to local Jewish leaders, insisting that he’d been unaware of the group’s anti-Semitic views. Despite the personal baggage, Ellison won the primary with 41%, followed by Erlandson with 31% and Reichgott Junge with 21%.

Heavily favored in the general election, Ellison faced two third-party candidates and Republican Alan Fine, who described Ellison as “an embarrassment to our district, our state, our country, and our world.” But Ellison won with 56% of vote, while Fine and Independence Party candidate Tammy Lee each got 21%.Controversy followed Ellison after the election. A conservative commentator stirred up opposition to Ellison’s plan to take the oath of office with the Quran, rather than the Bible. In a politically adept move, Ellison borrowed a Quran from the Library of Congress that was once owned by Thomas Jefferson.

Ellison quickly established a strongly liberal voting record; he was elected co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus in 2010. He has led efforts to end racial profiling and enforce voter ID laws that he and others say are thinly-veiled attempts to suppress minority voting. He has continued to be a frequent target for conservatives. Judson Phillips, founder of the Tennessee-based Tea Party Nation, called for his defeat in 2010 because of his religious beliefs. Former Rep. Allen West of Florida in January 2011 called Ellison “the antithesis of the principles upon which this country was established.” But Ellison also has won recognition for his legislative work. In Washingtonian magazine’s anonymous survey of Capitol Hill staffers in 2010, he placed third in the “surprise standout” category.

On the Financial Services Committee, Ellison has challenged predatory lending practices and foreclosures by credit card and mortgage companies, which he said “have torn holes in the fabric of neighborhoods” in Minneapolis and elsewhere. He introduced a bill in December 2012 to replace the mortgage interest deduction with a 20% flat rate tax credit, which he said would bring in $27 billion in new federal revenue while increasing the number of participants from 43 million to 60 million. A month later, he joined other Democrats in introducing a measure to abolish the federal debt ceiling. In 2007, the House passed the Anti-Predatory Lending Act, which included provisions he helped craft. He also added to the 2009 credit card overhaul bill a provision to stop companies from raising rates on people with unrelated debt problems.

Ellison is frequently called on as a spokesman for his faith. (Indiana Democratic Rep. André Carson joined him in 2008 as another Muslim in Congress.) He has decried attempts by conservatives, including his home-state GOP colleague Rep. Michele Bachmann, to demonize Muslims. Bachmann in July 2012 told radio host Glenn Beck that Ellison is associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, which some say is tied to the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas. He dismissed the charge. When Homeland Security Chairman Peter King, R-N.Y., called hearings to explore al-Qaida’s attempts to radicalize American Muslims in 2011, Ellison offered examples of Muslims who had thwarted several plots by reporting them to law enforcement officials. In March 2011, he broke into tears as he testified before the King panel, recounting the death of a Muslim-American firefighter on September 11. “The best defense against extreme ideologies is social inclusion and civic engagement,” Ellison said. “I fear these hearings may undermine our efforts in this direction.”

Ellison was among a group of U.S. Muslims in 2011 who appealed to Hamas to release Gilad Shalit, an Israeli who was abducted and held for five years. Shalit subsequently was released in a prisoner exchange. In December 2008, he became the first member of Congress to make the Hajj pilgrimage to the Muslim holy city of Mecca, later describing it as a “transformative” experience.

He made headlines in 2012 when he called his Republican opponent Chris Fields a “lowlife scumbag” during a radio debate. Fields accused Ellison of hiring a political research firm to dig up dirt on Fields, whose ex-wife had sought a restraining order against him in 2006. Ellison denied the accusation but apologized for his remark. In February 2013, he got into another confrontation, with Fox News conservative talk show host Sean Hannity, whom he called “the worst excuse for a journalist I’ve ever seen.”

Office Contact Information

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 225-4755

(202) 225-4886

RHOB- Rayburn House Office Building Room 2263
Washington, DC 20515-2305

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 225-4755

(202) 225-4886

RHOB- Rayburn House Office Building Room 2263
Washington, DC 20515-2305

DISTRICT OFFICE

(612) 522-1212

(612) 522-9915

2100 Plymouth Avenue North
Minneapolis, MN 55411-3675

DISTRICT OFFICE

(612) 522-1212

(612) 522-9915

2100 Plymouth Avenue North
Minneapolis, MN 55411-3675

CAMPAIGN OFFICE

(612) 522-4416

PO Box 6072
Minneapolis, MN 55406

CAMPAIGN OFFICE

PO Box 6072
Minneapolis, MN 55406

Staff

Sort by: Interest Name Title

Abortion

Abby Schanfield
Legislative Assistant

Appropriations

Maria Laverdiere
Legislative Assistant

Budget

Maria Laverdiere
Legislative Assistant

Energy

Maria Laverdiere
Legislative Assistant

Environment

Maria Laverdiere
Legislative Assistant

Foreign

Sara Sudetic
Foreign Affairs Staffer

Homeland Security

Carol Wayman
Legislative Director

Housing

Carol Wayman
Legislative Director

Internet

Brett Morrow
Communications Director

Labor

Maria Laverdiere
Legislative Assistant

Medicare

Carol Wayman
Legislative Director

Social Security

Carol Wayman
Legislative Director

Tax

Carol Wayman
Legislative Director

Telecommunications

Sara Sudetic
Foreign Affairs Staffer

Transportation

Maria Laverdiere
Legislative Assistant

Welfare

Carol Wayman
Legislative Director

Election Results

2012 GENERAL
Keith Ellison
Votes: 262,102
Percent: 74.7%
Chris Fields
Votes: 88,753
Percent: 25.3%
2012 PRIMARY
Keith Ellison
Votes: 30,609
Percent: 89.63%
Gregg Iverson
Votes: 2,143
Percent: 6.28%
2010 GENERAL
Keith Ellison
Votes: 154,833
Percent: 67.69%
Joel Demos
Votes: 55,222
Percent: 24.14%
2010 PRIMARY
Keith Ellison
Votes: 55,424
Percent: 81.55%
Barb White
Votes: 7,963
Percent: 11.72%
Gregg Iverson
Votes: 4,575
Percent: 6.73%
2008 GENERAL
Keith Ellison
Votes: 228,776
Percent: 70.88%
Barb White
Votes: 71,020
Percent: 22.0%
Bill McGaughey
Votes: 22,318
Percent: 6.92%
2008 PRIMARY
Keith Ellison
Votes: 33,988
Percent: 84.47%
Gregg Iverson
Votes: 6,251
Percent: 15.53%
Prior Winning Percentages
2010 (68%), 2008 (71%), 2006 (56%)

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