How long should Keith Ellison have to answer for his past writings?

MinnPost photo by Bill Kelley
For Rep. Keith Ellison's political opponents, of course, the moment has offered another opportunity to bring up his past involvement with the Nation of Islam.

When a person announces they will be a candidate for public office, one of the standard reactions from the media or political rivals is to examine their record for any past newsworthy statements or conduct.

During the presidential campaign, of course, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump spent a considerable amount of time reacting to statements and actions they made decades earlier. And President-Elect Trump continues to be reminded on nearly a daily basis about how his current statements and actions conflict with previous statements.

All of which brings us to Keith Ellison. Days after Election Day, the Minnesota congressman was mentioned as a possible a candidate for chair of the Democratic National Committee. And even before Ellison formally announced his candidacy, there were numerous stories which dredged up things written and said by Ellison as far back as 1989 — 27 years ago.

Back then, Ellison was a law student at the University of Minnesota, writing articles under the name “Keith E. Hakim.” And for many Minnesotans, the articles were not news. When Ellison first ran for Congress in 2006, those writings were widely examined by the media, and were a source of considerable debate during the campaign.

That’s as it should be: voters decide the fate of candidates, not unlike jurors determining the outcome of a trial. And like jurors, it is the responsibility of voters to make a determination based on the information they are provided. 

And in Ellison’s case, it’s pretty clear what his constituents’ decision has been. Fifth Congressional District voters have elected him to represent them in Congress for ten years, and he’s consistently rolled up huge vote totals in those victories.

Given all that, is it fair that Ellison is being forced to explain stuff he said so long ago, all over again?

I’d argue that it is. While the voters in his district have made their decision about the relevancy of the material, he’s now running for a different office, one in which his past statements and behavior are set to be examined by a new group of voters. In other words, he’s facing a new jury. 

For Ellison’s political opponents, of course, the moment has offered another opportunity to bring up his past involvement with the Nation of Islam. And, just as he did a decade ago, Ellison has been forced to explain the reasoning for his involvement and his decision to disassociate himself with the group. 

But the moment has also given Ellison and his supporters an opportunity to offer more context and perspective on his words and actions back then, one that he did not have when he first faced questions about the issue. More importantly, a decade in Congress has provided Ellison with ample opportunity to balance any questions about his writings with his actual record. 

And whether Ellison wins or loses his bid to become DNC chair, once the election is over, the opposition research file on him will again be placed on a shelf, soon to be forgotten by all but his most zealous supporters and committed adversaries.

At least until he runs for another office. 

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Comments (26)

  1. Submitted by Pat Berg on 12/09/2016 - 11:42 am.

    And when are they satisfied?

    In any current cycle, how many times is he expected to repeat the same explanations as if it were the first time the question was being asked?

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 12/09/2016 - 12:46 pm.


      The problem is that some people won’t ever be satisfied, and maybe they shouldn’t be. Just because he has explained it doesn’t mean it’s gone.

  2. Submitted by chuck holtman on 12/09/2016 - 01:15 pm.

    Yes, they’re “fair game.”

    Though fairness would consider when they were written. Things I wrote when I was a student make me cringe now when I come across them. Not so much the position as the expression. They wouldn’t look great under a national microscope.

    That said, the Minnesota Daily made Ellison’s earlier opinion pieces available, I read them, and there isn’t anything objectionable in them, to the contrary it’s some pretty good advocacy for a young lad. The only objection would be that Ellison expressed support for folks like Farrakhan. The objection would be that Farrakhan was anti-Semitic, but Ellison’s remarks themselves weren’t anti-Semitic and he says he wasn’t aware of Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism at the time.

    And that said, with neo-Nazism all the rage in the new administration, perhaps Farrakhan will be Trump’s next cabinet appointment.

  3. Submitted by Paul Rider on 12/09/2016 - 01:33 pm.

    Not a fan

    I’m as progressive as they come, but am not a fan of Ellison. I was part of a contingent of Outfront MN constituents back when he served in the State House. We had set up a meeting with him on Outfront’s Day on the Hill and he stonewalled us all day. Finally agreed to meet him in chambers and he was a no show. Three times that day he set up to meet us and failed to show. No explanation. I haven’t trusted him since.

  4. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 12/09/2016 - 01:57 pm.


    For any politician asking you for a job, it’s always fair for you to ask him any question you want. He isn’t obligated to answer, but then you aren’t obligated to give him the job.

    In this case, it isn’t about Keith, it’s about the Democratic Party, it’s future, and the future of our country. It’s up to Keith to persuade us that he can be an effective leader despite whatever issues he might have in his past. If he can’t do that for whatever reason, however fair or unfair it might be to Keith personally, we should pick someone else.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/13/2016 - 08:53 am.

      deja vu all over again… Clinton lost.

      ” It’s up to Keith to persuade us that he can be an effective leader despite whatever issues he might have in his past.”

      This is of course “true”, but it’s also exactly what rank and file democrats said about Bernie Sanders before they went on to put Clinton on the ballot, and Trump in the White House. Sure, Ellison has to “win” but in the background where are the party elite? If the party elite are doing all they can to block Ellison the way they blocked Sanders then let’s not pretend this is some kind of fair contest based purely on Ellison’s powers of persuasion.

  5. Submitted by Roy Everson on 12/09/2016 - 02:57 pm.

    Here is a parallel

    If one supported Trump but not his bigoted views I’d still say it was disqualifying. But if you renounced it and it was 20 years ago I’d look at the recent record.

  6. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 12/09/2016 - 04:30 pm.

    Was this

    a paid political announcement?
    And I seem to recall that Brodkorb has had his own ethical problems.

  7. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 12/10/2016 - 07:00 am.


    It’s not about Michael either. He isn’t asking anyone here for a job.

    To me, the election of Donald Trump has ushered in a new era of lowered ethics and responsibility. Whatever Keith’s many grievous failings might be, the guy we elected president has done a lot worse. For Republicans to suddenly go all prissy and high minded after what has happened is a very rich form of hypocrisy.

    • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 12/10/2016 - 11:41 am.

      Agree with your wonderful last sentence.

      Same applies to the DNC, crawling with lizards.

      I’m afraid these folks intend to use Keith as a front man, to give a false impression the outfit is going to change. I hope they don’t drag him down to their level.

      I’ll bet, though, that Keith realizes they need him more than he needs them.

      Let’s face it: there’ll be plenty to call out in the President’s and the Republicans’ behavior over the next 4 years – and Mr. Ellison is a fine call-and-response kind of speaker, just what’s needed.

      As far as the Nation of Islam, how many good people have been drawn in to its orbit, and then separated from it when they discovered its internal workings ?? Who can forget the price Malcolm X paid ?? I take Keith’s withdrawal as an act of maturity and bravery -a positive, not a negative, on balance.

    • Submitted by chuck holtman on 12/10/2016 - 07:25 pm.

      Good point, Hiram.

      It’s hard to think how a person could have lower character than Mr Trump, or associate himself with others of more questionable character. It seems that character and with whom one has associated have been taken wholly off the table, at least for those who supported him.

  8. Submitted by Steve Rose on 12/10/2016 - 10:45 am.

    Isn’t the real question….

    Is this the person to lead the party as they try to regain lost ground with the white working class and rural America? Perhaps, no.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 12/12/2016 - 05:46 am.

      Most Rural White Voters

      Like most voters in general, have no knowledge of who chairs either party, any more than they know who chairs the House sub-committee on parking tickets. Stop 10 people at random at the Mall of Hysteria, and ask them to name one person who has chaired either party in the last 10 years. My next paycheck against yours says you’ll get blank stares.

      This is an insiders game, and insiders have already decided which party they support.

      • Submitted by Steve Rose on 12/12/2016 - 03:40 pm.

        It is not about the name …

        It is not about the name, it is about the leadership and the strategy. If you think that he has what it takes to lead his party to regain the lost white working class and rural America, give him the job.

  9. Submitted by Doug Duwenhoegger on 12/10/2016 - 05:40 pm.

    Support for MinnPost

    I was just about to pledge some support for MinnPost then read this article. Any site that employs and gives a salary to this author will NEVER be supported by me.

  10. Submitted by joe smith on 12/11/2016 - 09:02 am.

    Conservatives need to get off Keith’s

    back and hope he gets the DNC chair. If you think the Democratic Party has lost touch with regular folks just let them hear good ole Keith for a few minutes. His views on globalization and open borders will turn off the very folks they claim they need. Keith is ideologically an extreme progressive, bigger government, more regulations, more government handouts, less personal responsibility. That ideology has been soundly defeated in states across the country the past 8 years.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 12/12/2016 - 05:47 am.

      Look In The Mirror

      Gov’t handouts? Like, uh, Carrier? Which extreme progressive was behind that?

      • Submitted by joe smith on 12/13/2016 - 08:36 am.

        Frank, states should fight and compete

        for good jobs just as Indiana did. The Federal Govt is there to set policies that encourage manufacturing/production here in the USA. Simple formula, lower corporate tax to a level that companies can compete, remove excessive regulations and respect the businesses that employ middle class blue collar folks. The anti-Obama platform!

  11. Submitted by Dave Arneson on 12/11/2016 - 09:41 am.

    Does Brodkorb have different standard for himself

    Maybe Michael Brodkorb should also be held to the same standard he says Ellison should be. We all remember the Amy Koch situation and driving episode, while he still writes about politics.

  12. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/12/2016 - 09:28 am.

    Two things…

    First, the DNC isn’t a “public” office in the sense that we have any kind of general election to decide it. That means the DNC chair doesn’t have to votes from the general population, he just needs the support of democrats. What republicans and conservatives think of him is irrelevant.

    Second, given the fact that the “D” in DNC stands for “democrat”, and democrats are supposed to be our liberal party, Ellison’s past shouldn’t be an issue for serious liberals. The only reason it’s an issue for some democrats is because some democrats are moderate republicans, and/or complacent liberals that actually feel threatened by liberal agendas. It’s important to note that democrats like this and their hostility to liberal policies just put Donald Trump in the White House.

    Ellison shouldn’t actually have to “explain” anything because if you’re a liberal, you don’t need an explanation because Ellison was just being a liberal. If you’re a liberal, someone like Clinton has FAR more explaining to do than does Ellison because democrats like that have been pushing back against liberalism.

  13. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/12/2016 - 10:39 pm.


    Refresh my memory… What statements did Wasserman Schutlz have to live down and where was the big discussion when she ran for chair? What were outrageous statements did Howard Dean have to “explain”?

  14. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/13/2016 - 08:41 am.

    By the way…

    I’ve seen the comment a couple times that a black Muslim progressive can’t lead the party towards a better connection with white working class American’s. It needs to be said that this is an explicitly racists assumption that should have no currency with anyone who claims to be a liberal.

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 12/14/2016 - 12:36 pm.


      Not all Democrats, particularly voters, are either liberal or progressive. Voter party affiliation for a large part of the population has nothing to do with being conservative or liberal. Those are things that the “elite” (college educated, middle class) people have the luxury to think about. Much of the working class Democratic voter population are aligned with the Democratic party because of the traditional alignment of Democrats with worker issues, not other social issues. It’s a fair point that Ellison might not be able to bridge the gap between white working class Americans and the Democratic party, but not because the person saying it is racist or bigoted, but because working class white people are not terribly comfortable with (non-white) race and (non-Christian) religion. That said, the DNC chair wouldn’t have been front and center had it not been for the apparent party bias against Bernie. With the exception of us politinerds, most people have never known who the DNC chair is (or the RNC chair, for that matter). If Ellison becomes chair of the DNC and he becomes a big deal, we’ll know that he’s either done a good job or the right is using racism as a tactic. Again.

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