When Keith Ellison and Virgil Goode meet each other on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives these days, they are almost chummy.

“I say, ‘How you doin’, Virgil?’ ” said Ellison. “He says, ‘Doin’ fine, Keith. And yourself?’ ”

Ellison started laughing while we talked.

“I understand ol’ Virgil,” said Ellison. “He’s what you call a panderer. I don’t mean that in a bad way. It’s just the way he does things. If he thinks his constituents want him to behave in a certain way, that’s the way he’s going to behave. He didn’t know me from a can of paint when he said all of that stuff.

“He’s never apologized to me, but that doesn’t matter. Sometimes, people say something, but then they look you in the eye in a way that says, ‘I didn’t mean all that stuff.’ Besides, it’s not within me to carry grudges. Grudges hurt you more than they hurt the other guy.”

Stunning two-year climb

It’s been two years this month since Ellison started his stunning climb from being a young, back-row state legislator to becoming the world’s best-known member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Two years ago, Martin Olav Sabo announced he was retiring after a long, distinguished career. Along with a bunch of other DFL hopefuls, Ellison, well-known only in North Minneapolis, threw his hat in the ring. He beat ’em all for endorsement.

Then, he won again in a bruising DFL primary. And he won again in the general election, becoming the first Muslim elected to Congress. Then, he chose to be sworn into office with his hand on the Quran.

That’s what set Virgil Goode off. The Virginia Republican sent a letter to his constituents: “When I raise my hand to take the oath swearing-in day, I will have the Bible in my other hand. … The Muslim representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters from that district and if American citizens don’t wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office …”

Now Ellison is preparing to run for his second term, and he’s virtually unopposed in the 5th Congressional District. (MORE)


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