Ilhan Omar And The Bellwether Election In Minneapolis

AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

If you haven’t already grown weary of the phrase “Virginia is a bellwether election”, you will be by the time Election Day rolls around a week from now. And to a large degree it’s true; there will be plenty of trends and takeaways from the elections, including the state legislative races taking place next Tuesday, that will portend disaster or opportunity for both Republicans and Democrats as the 2022 midterm election cycle kicks off in earnest. But the Virginia elections aren’t the only bellwether races that will be held next week. A vote on whether to disband and replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a re-imagined Public Safety Department is shaping up to be both a big test of where the energy is in the Democratic Party and a reminder of how far Left the party has drifted in recent years.

Rep. Ilhan Omar is among those on the far Left backing the referendum to nix the city’s police department, and over the weekend let loose the ridiculous argument that crime is rising in the city because police aren’t doing their job.

U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar told constituents Saturday at a town hall meeting that Minneapolis’ rise in gun violence and carjackings can be blamed on police who “have chosen to not fulfill their oath of office and provide the public safety they owe to the citizens.”

The congresswoman spoke before a mostly friendly gathering of about 50 at her alma mater, Edison High School in northeast Minneapolis. She was responding to a resident who said she had been on the verge of moving because of the increase in crime and scores of officers who have quit or claimed post-traumatic stress since George Floyd’s killing last year at the hands of police.

Omar, a Democrat, said she understood the desire for safety and reiterated her call to voters to approve a Minneapolis City Charter amendment that would remove minimum police staffing requirements and give the City Council authority over a more holistic public safety department.

“When you have a system that refuses to work for the people it’s supposed to serve, you have to go back to the drawing board,” she said. “At some point, you’ve got to walk away.”

Think she’s ready go back to the drawing board when it comes to gun control laws? Yeah, me neither. Something tells me that no matter how “holistic” law enforcement looks in Minneapolis, Omar’s down with the idea of using armed agents of the state to enforce laws criminalizing the right to keep and bear arms. That doesn’t make her unusual among Democrats these days, of course. But on the issue of disbanding the city’s police department and starting over from scratch, Omar is at odds with many other high ranking officials in her party.

Omar and DFL Attorney General Keith Ellison support the amendment, while fellow DFLers such as Mayor Jacob Frey, Gov. Tim Walz and U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith oppose it.

Omar recently stepped into the Minneapolis election, endorsing mayoral candidates Kate Knuth and Sheila Nezhad while urging residents not to mark Frey, who is seeking re-election, on their ranked-choice ballots.

Minneapolis is a deep-blue city in a pretty blue state (Richard Nixon was the last Republican to win the state in 1972, though Donald Trump came within about 1.5 points from taking the state in 2016). It’s sent Ilhan Omar to Congress, and on more than one occasion. It was also the epicenter of the George Floyd riots, and violent crime has been shockingly high ever since the streets exploded last summer. If there’s any city in America that would be more amenable to scrapping the police department and replacing it with a far Left vision of public safety, it would be Minneapolis; and polling shows the referendum could pass despite the objections of the governor, the mayor, and the state’s two Democratic senators.

According to a new KARE 11/MPR News/Star Tribune/FRONTLINE Minnesota Poll conducted before early voting began, 49% of Minneapolis voters support replacing MPD with a new policing model that may include officers, but also focus on public health and give the city council more authority over public safety, while 41% of voters oppose the idea and 10% are undecided.

The poll, conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy, interviewed 800 registered likely voters in the city of Minneapolis between Sept. 9-13. The citywide poll has a standard +/- 3.5% margin of error.

Male and female voters evenly support replacing the MPD (48% and 49%), but there is some noticeable divergence in support among white and Black voters. The poll found more white voters, 51%, support replacing the department, while just 42% of Black voters support the measure.

That’s the most recent poll I could find, and it’s not great news for Democrats on either side of the issue. In fact, it suggests a divisive election that is sure to leave almost half of Minneapolis Democrats ticked off about the outcome no matter who wins. But if Omar and her cohorts do pull this out, their messaging is going to be that the Left needs to go big with their policies and plans instead of trying to moderate them (if only in the name of political pragmatism). They’ll be even less inclined than they already are to bow to political realities, and they’ll stridently push the Democrats to the Left in the midterms, even though something that gets 50% of the vote in Minneapolis is likely to be far less popular with voters overall.

If the “establishment” Democrats keep the Minneapolis Police Department in place, on the other hand, it will enrage the far Left and could even lead to calls to primary Klobuchar when she runs for re-election in 2024. Either way, the divide between the two wings of the party is going to grow deeper once the votes are tallied, but the outcome of the referendum should also give us a better sense of whether the radical rhetoric from Omar and her fellow Squad members is turning out voters or turning them off instead.