DFL U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar's toughest opponent this year is Antone Melton-Meaux, a Democrat and professional mediator/attorney making his political debut in a primary challenge to a nationally known incumbent.
Omar has become a major figure in the Democatic Party and a political lightning rod in her first term in Congress. She's a member of the infamous "Squad," and has remained outspoken, even while repeatedly targeted by conservatives and the president -- though they're not her only critics. Some of her stances, particularly on the pro-Israel lobby, have put a wedge between her and her fellow Democrats.
Melton-Meaux’s approach appears to draw from his mediatory experience. He calls himself a “practical progressive” – someone with ideals, but willingness to work with the other side. He supports divesting funds away from law enforcement and toward education reform – but not abolishing the police. He supports a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine, but not the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction Israel (BDS) movement.
And he eschews notions of divisiveness. In an interview with MPR, he dismissed Omar’s supposed proclivity for “Twitter fights” and said the 5th District needs “someone who’s going to unite us.”
“We don’t need any more dividers,” he said.
Nuance and moderation aren’t always more palatable or more favorable positions, especially not with the progressive leftist voters that elected Omar in the first place.
Last month, The Intercept took it upon itself to revisit some of Melton-Meaux’s old writings, including a 2015 Star Tribune editorial in which he criticized Black Lives Matter organizers for not coming down on supporters who chanted “Pigs in a blanket/fry ‘em like bacon” at a peaceful demonstration.
“As a Black man living in Minnesota, even with the vestiges of racism in America, I cannot understand why anyone would defend such hate-filled statements targeted to incite violence against police officers, as occurred during the recent protest at the Minnesota State Fair,” he wrote.
“The chant crossed the line. Gov. Mark Dayton’s decrying of this chant deserves broad support.”
In another section, Melton-Meaux wrote:
"When did Black Lives Matter march on the Minneapolis school board or administration? It didn’t happen. When did Black Lives Matter march on the St. Paul school board or administration? Again, it didn’t happen. There is no more impactful way to say 'you matter' than to invest in the mind of a young person and tap in to his or her potential as a human. Education is the most critical piece of the fragmented puzzle. Key issues in the black community also include joblessness, low wages, crime and the broken family structure."
The Intercept also brought up a 2018 piece that appeared in Bench & Bar of Minnesota, which has since been taken offline. In the wake of the burgeoning #MeToo movement, Melton-Meaux was speculating on the possible effect its momentum and overall visibility might have on harassment settlements, particularly when it comes to non-disclosure agreements.
“If employers decide to settle a sex harassment claim, they expose their organization to the likelihood that it will be branded by the public and media as a harasser, the stain of which will be hard to remove,” Melton-Meaux wrote. He compared it to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, in which the protagonist is forced to wear a red “A” on her breast to mark her as an “Adulturer.”
In a later passage, Melton-Meaux addressed harassment complaints from a viewpoint that was decidedly slanted toward employers instead of victims:
"Until recently, it has been common practice for settlement agreements in employment disputes to contain confidentiality and non-disclosure clauses. The importance of these provisions to the parties is significant. For the employer, these clauses protect the brand and reputation of the organization by preventing negative publicity and the prospect of further exposure in a lengthy public trial. In addition, maintaining confidentiality and preventing disclosure of the terms of the settlement minimizes any “slippery slope” perception that the employer is an easy target for additional claims.
Some employers have taken the additional step of incorporating arbitration clauses—which often include class act ion waivers—in their standard employment agreement, thereby requiring employees to arbitrate any employment dispute, including sex harassment claims. For the employer, one of the critical benefits of arbitration is that the proceedings are private and the results of the process are often confidential. "
Looking back now, Melton-Meaux says his 2015 piece came from a place of “love and respect” for Black Lives Matter. He marched with members of the movement the day after George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police officers.
“I’m an African American man, and I’ve had encounters with the police myself over the years,” he says. But he “stands by” his words.
“I think the movement has been powerful,” he says. And he believes people are entitled to “anger” at the failures of law enforcement. But he feels the movement has to “build coalitions to be successful,” and “you don’t do that by making violent chants toward police officers.”
He added that “No Black Lives Matter leader took issue with my article then and hasn't since,” and that “Any controversy surrounding my article is fiction created by Ilhan Omar to suggest that there is friction between me and Black Lives Matter.” (Black Lives Matter organizer Rashad Turnder did tell the AP in 2015 that focusing on a "chant that lasted 30 seconds" was an attempt by critics to "minimize the movement," and that organizers would not let it "distract" them.)
As for the 2018 piece, he says he was writing from the perspective of a professional neutral mediator.
“That’s who I was at the time,” he says. “That was my business.” Now that he’s free to share where he stands on the matter, Melton-Meaux says he supports banning the use of non-disclosure agreements in workplace sexual harassment or discrimination cases, except when it’s requested by the complainant.
Besides an impressive fundraising effort, Melton-Meaux has also amassed a heap of endorsements – including that of civil rights activist Josie Johnson, and activist and former NAACP president Nekima Levy Armstrong.
Omar, who won the DFL endorsement in May, faces Melton-Meaux and other DFLers Les Lester, John Mason, and Daniel Patrick McCarthy in the August 11 primary.