(pictured above: U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison speaks to the audience.)
U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota’s Fifth Congressional District fired up the party faithful at the Forsyth County Democrats gala Friday night at the Millennium Center.
Ellison made history in 2007 when he was sworn in on Thomas Jefferson’s Koran, becoming the first Muslim in Congress and the first African American elected to the House from Minnesota. He blasted his Republican colleagues in Congress and those guiding GOP-led statehouses throughout the country.
“They’re not responding to the needs of the people; they’re not responding to the needs of the many; they’re responding to the needs of the money,” said Ellison, the brother of local attorney Eric Ellison.
Polls and pundits predict a gloomy midterm election season for Democrats this year. Ellison said Republicans are ensuring that they will win as many seats as possible with gerrymandering and by changing election laws in states like North Carolina to make it more difficult to vote. But Ellison sees hope in the levels of Democratic enthusiasm and progressive hope. He praised the North Carolina NAACP-led Moral Monday movement, which has staged a litany of protests at the General Assembly and around the state, calling it a “truly American movement” that is earning kudos around the country.
He urged local Democrats to get out the vote, calling it the key to victory in November.
“Our superior numbers can overcome their superior dollars,” he said.
Ellison also charged the several hundred gala attendees to be proud of ObamaCare, despite its relative unpopularity and horrendous rollout.
“Don’t you run from the Affordable Care Act!” said Ellison, who said the ACA’s positives, such as the more than seven million Americans who are now covered because of it, far outweigh the negatives.
“It had the normal type of kinks that any new program is going to have, yet people exploited those normal and foreseeable problems for political advantage, which is really too bad because what they really ended up doing is putting the people’s health care in the backseat and that’s what they should have been focused on,” he said before his public remarks.
Ellison, who is seeking his fifth term in November, told The Chronicle that he was very optimistic about his chances. The stir his religion created when he was first elected has long since died down and opponents who tried to use his faith as a campaign issue were soundly defeated.
“So I ran four times and won four times,” said Ellison, who has just released his memoir, “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.” “The first three times, my opponents would make my religion the key feature of why they should be elected and why I should not be. The last time the election was just a typical Republican versus Democrat election.”
Forsyth County Democratic Chair Susan Campbell echoed Ellison’s optimism. Locally, she likes Democrats’ chances in School Board and state races and hopes public dissatisfaction with the GOP-led General Assembly translates to Democratic victories. Nationally, she believes there is plenty of time for the party to change its fortunes. She agreed that Democrats should embrace the ACA.
“I don’t understand why Obamacare would be a negative thing to campaign with. It’s wonderful; the stories are terrific,” she said. “My daughter said she and all her 20-something friends are all thrilled they got signed up. How can we not want people to have healthcare? I just don’t understand how that’s a good thing to run against.”
During the gala, lifetime achievement awards were bestowed upon Annie Brown Kennedy, a trailblazing local attorney who was the first African American woman in the N.C. House of Representatives, and Bert Bennett, a former campaign manager for Sen. Terry Sanford who was instrumental in the election of Governor Jim Hunt. Though neither could attend, both history-makers made remarks via brief video interviews. Kennedy listed the election of Barack Obama as her proudest moment as a Democrat because it showed how inclusive the party had become.
“It pleases me that I have done something through my activities to enhance the Democratic Party,” she said.
Bennett, who is also a former N.C. Democratic Party chair, reflected on rubbing shoulders with the biggest names in politics. He said both Sanford and Hunt had similar drives to serve.
“They were dedicated like people who wanted to be a good lawyer, a good preacher, whatever, they were dedicated to being in office.” he said. “I think that’s why they thought they were here.”
The gala was attended by a plethora of Democrats whose names will appear on primary and General Election ballots this year. Proceeds from the gala, which had a base ticket price of $40, will be used to help the party win victories this election season.