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INTERVIEW (Part I): Army Veteran Chris Kelley Rises To Challenge Ilhan Omar In 2020

In July, Minneapolis Police Officer and U.S. Army veteran Chris Kelley announced his intention to run for office as an independent in Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District (CD5). Kelley will not only be facing Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar, who has occupied the seat since 2018, but also the Republican who wins the party’s primary (there are currently four who have announced a run).

In 2018, Omar defeated Republican opponent Jennifer Zielinski 78% to 21.7% (a whopping 56.3% difference). That said, according to a July 2019 Economist/YouGov poll conducted on 1,500 American adults, Omar’s national favorability is low among those who know who she is.

The poll asked: “Do you have a favorable or an unfavorable opinion of [Ilhan Omar]?” Only 10% said they had a “very favorable” view, and 15% said they had a “somewhat favorable” view. 26% said they had a “very unfavorable” view, and 8% said they had a “somewhat unfavorable” view of Omar. 42% didn’t know.

The following is part one of a two-part interview with Chris Kelley in which the candidate speaks about his decision to run as an independent, his priorities if elected, and Rep. Ilhan Omar’s deficiencies as an elected official.

In part two, which will be released on Saturday, Kelley speaks about the border crisis, how his experience in the military and police force will shape him as a legislator, the extreme partisanship in Congress, and President Trump.

DW: What made you decide to run in this race?

KELLEY: Well, the initial thing was the dismissive comment that was made from Ms. Omar about 9/11. I felt it was dismissive and disrespectful to the people who lost their lives. You can complain about things, or you can decide to throw your hat in the ring and do something about it – and that’s why I wanted to run, and I really felt people needed to oppose her and that kind of an attitude.

DW: You’ve sought political office before, correct?

KELLEY: In 2016, yeah. I ran with the GOP for state Senate. I didn’t get the endorsement. It was the first place where I jumped into politics. So, that was kind of an eye-opener. It was a good experience. There are a lot of passionate people out there. I had a good time for the brief time I was running. There was a definite spark of interest in politics at that point.

DW: Why have you decided to run this time as an independent rather than try to join the Republican primary?

KELLEY: That’s a good question. I am running as an independent for two primary reasons. The first is that CD5 in Minnesota is a D+26 District. Minnesotans by and large still believe that “Politics is the art of compromise.” I am willing to negotiate and find common ground to create solutions and better the district. Both parties have become so extreme and polarized that it has rendered them ineffective, especially in Minnesota.

The second reason is that I do not subscribe to 100% of the GOP platform. I was reared in a union house; I have been a member of a union for over 20 years, and I believe in collective bargaining. I also support a modified pathway to citizenship. No one wants to take children away from families, and I don’t blame anyone for wanting to come to America for a better life — but do it legally. And let’s find a legal, equitable option for those who are here, who are not criminals, and give them a pathway toward citizenship, which, in turn, will continue to rejuvenate and enhance our country. The GOP establishment has lost their way and they need to perform some hard-core self examination and fix it. President Trump cannot and should not have to do it all himself.

I think the independent bid is probably the best bet for me. Where I stand, there’s some flexibility, and you have to work with both sides of the aisle, and we’re not seeing that right now. That’s kind of primarily why I chose that.

DW: Why do you believe that Rep. Ilhan Omar is unfit to serve in her district?

KELLEY: She is distracted and ineffective. Ilhan Omar has made this election a national referendum on her. She is constantly engaging in Twitter wars with the President and others, and it does nothing to help the district. She is more worried about Palestine than the opioid crisis and crime in her district. The FBI has designated her district the number one terrorist recruitment center in the country. What kind of a leader just blows past that as though it were incidental? She has a right to be passionate about any issue she wants, but when it supersedes her primary responsibility to her constituents and her district, then she is simply a failure in the academic sense.

And I am acutely aware that the opposition will try and make this about race, religion, gender etc. They will bring out their usual bag of tricks. The reality is, in the U.S. Army, we all wore green. I never noticed the color of someone. In the police department, we all wear blue — same thing. The only thing this is about is, she is a failure and an embarrassment. Minnesotans like to make news, but not for bad reasons. I hope that my skill set and my years of public service across cultural boundaries will serve me well, but more importantly, serve the district will if I am elected.

DW: What is your mission if elected? What are your priorities?

KELLEY: Terrorism recruitment in Minnesota has to be stopped. Rep. Omar failed the district her first day in office. She should have immediately asked for a meeting with the President and said, “I know we are not on the same side on most issues, but they are recruiting children out of my district to destroy our country. Help me stop this.” I have no doubt that President Trump would have done just that.

Immigration reform — my position on this is on my website, but we need more judges, 24 hour courts, E-verify needs a significant revamp, and mandatory DNA testing to stop human (child) trafficking. Additionally, ICE and Border Patrol need tactical support and supply chain support. There is a crisis and it needs to be managed.

Mental health reform is a must. Mental health care coverage should be part of all insurance packages — it currently is not. Furthermore, due to a mental health professional shortage, I would like to see an incentive package put together for college students who are willing to go into the mental health field.

Term limits — I believe in no more than three terms (six years total for Congress) and two terms for Senate (12 years). Our government is stagnating, and so will our country. It’s one of the few areas where turnover is probably a good thing.

School and worship safety is a must. I believe that we can enhance both by developing a network of veterans and retired police officers who have specialized training, which has been funded by taxpayers by the way, which can benefit all parties concerned.

Election integrity — we simply cannot have foreign powers interfering with our election, nor can we have ballots disappearing in janitor closets or car trunks. I believe strongly in voter ID. You cannot get a prescription without an ID. Why can we vote without one? It makes no sense at all.

I’m not for single-payer health care, but I really believe we can have a hybrid system where you do have a government option. And I’d still like to bolster Medicare, and I definitely don’t want to eliminate private health insurance. I think that’d be bad. And I think really in the long run, with more competition, you will drive costs down.

In the district right now, crime has jumped up, especially in the South Minneapolis area where I work. We’re seeing a lot of things going on. Downtown is unsafe. I would like to be a voice, bring attention to, or be able to help the cities – not only Minneapolis but St. Paul and the surrounding cities with the crime.

Maybe we can get some more money to these police departments so we can hire more people. That would be my goal. Maybe we could deal with the opioid crisis a little better than we are. We have a really big surge of homelessness in the last three years. It’s really exploded in the Minneapolis area. So, I think as a representative, I definitely can bring more light to the problem and hopefully help get resources to help the cities out.

Part two of this interview will drop Saturday. For more information, visit Chris Kelley’s official campaign website here.

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