Congress' first Muslim, DFLer Keith Ellison, has drawn an independent challenger with a lot to say — particularly about Islam.
Lynne Torgerson charts her own course, telling the Minnesota Independent in an interview that she considers herself almost "apolitical."
The Minneapolis criminal-defense attorney unsuccessfully sought election as an independent to the Minnesota House of Representatives in District 59A last year. Republican Party delegates endorsed Felix Montez over Torgerson in that race, and the Independence Party candidate, David DeGrio, says he ran in part to keep her views out of the IP. Incumbent DFLer Diane Loeffler won re-election with 13,785 votes (75 percent), to Montez's 2,530, Torgerson's 1,238 and DeGrio's 723.
Torgerson said she won't seek endorsement by a political party this time around. (Barb Davis White, who challenged Ellison last year as the Republican endorsee, will again attempt to unseat him next year.) That's partly why she describes herself as a "stateswoman," rather than as a "politician" — the kind of candidate who she says too often toes a party line rather than stands for deeply held principles.
Her views on Islam dominate the "Issues" page at her new campaign website, but they weren't what Republican and Independence party officials remembered about her when MnIndy asked.
Carleton Crawford, who chairs the Republican Party of Minnesota's Fifth District committee, told MnIndy by email that Torgerson failed to get the GOP endorsement in 2008 because delegates sought someone more in line with U.S. Rep. Ron Paul's presidential candidacy.
"Felix Montez associated his campaign with the Ron Paul movement. I don't think Ms. Torgerson's defeat had much to do with the strengths or weaknesses of her campaign (or for that matter of Mr. Montez). She simply was not part of the movement that happened to be steering local Republican politics at the time."
The IP's DeGrio told MnIndy that a meeting he had with Torgerson about IP backing led him to seek (and win) the endorsement himself. "I had many reasons for running but one of them was to keep Lynne Torgerson from poisoning the IP brand," DeGrio wrote in an email.
He explained: "When I told her that a winning campaign would need to incorporate a platform of equality and inclusion she told me, to the effect, 'Well I don't support those ideas.' When I pressed her further for a little more understanding of her position she told me that her views were 'consistent with the Catholic Church.' She used that answer quite often when discussing issues such as GLBT equality, a woman's right to choose, etc."
Torgerson told MnIndy she is a Christian but not a Catholic. She said she points out when her own views align with Catholic doctrine as a convenient way to communicate to voters her approach on some issues.
Torgerson counts herself among "people who say where they stand rather than deceive people" — – even if that means offending some, for which she apologizes in advance at her website. She offers an extensive 18-topic platform on the "Issues" page at her campaign website.
Torgerson would oppose bills that support abortion or research with embryonic stem cells. She is for animal rights and against cloned beef cattle and genetically modified agriculture. She favors health care reform with a public option and wants credit card companies reined in. She advocates substantial tax credits for alternative energy. She would ban or restrict American companies from outsourcing jobs beyond America's borders. She decries the auto bailout, which she sees as payback to labor unions who funded President Obama's campaign.
On gay marriage, Torgerson states on her campaign website: "I would uphold laws instituting one (1) man one (1) woman marriage. Marriage was actually created by God, and God created it between a man and a woman. Thus, anything else is actually not marriage, even though some would try to call it that."
That's all she writes on the issue at her website; in person she adds only that she wants to be upfront with how she would vote.
Torgerson's views on Islam make up a third of the text on her "Issues" page, falling mainly under a single heading: "Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religion."
And, what do I know of Islam? Well, I know of 911. Nineteen (19) men from Saudi Arabia, all Muslim, hi-jacked planes, and flew into the two (2) World Trade Towers murdering thousands of people, and tried to fly into our Pentagon, and some believe they also tried to fly an airplane into our White House. From this, what I perceive is Islam conducting an act of war against my country.
People say that we can't include the moderate, peace loving Muslims. Well, I agree. But, who are they? They need to stand up and identify themselves loudly and clearly say that they oppose Jihad and terrorism, etc. Who are these people? I cannot tell. It is not for me to go and try and find them. Rather, it is their duty to stand up and identify themselves, if there are any.
Torgerson told the Minnesota Independent that for this, her second run at elective office, she set her sights on Congress because she has "an interest at the national level." She also said inspiration to run came from constitutional issues she deals with in defending the accused in criminal courts — including a current case in which she accomplished the rare feat of convincing a federal circuit court to reverse a Minnesota Supreme Court ruling on habeus corpus grounds. (The U.S. Supreme court is now considering an appeal by the State of Minnesota.)
Indeed she frames several of her objections to Islam in terms of the U.S. Constitution. Islamic teachings advocate murder of non-Muslims, she charges, putting the religion at least partly outside the protection of the First Amendment, which is also contravened by Islam's goal to "Islamize the entire world," as she puts it. Islam's oppression of women, she contends, violates the Constitution's equal-protection clause.
On her website and in person, Torgerson stresses that she doesn't mean to hurt or offend anyone. Rather her intention, she writes, is "to advance the protection of freedom of speech and religion in America."
"I think we as Americans are very tolerant. I'm very tolerant," Torgerson told MnIndy. "There's a problem of a good number of Muslims being intolerant. … They need to become tolerant of us."
She cited examples such as the uproar in 2005 and 2006 over the publication of editorial cartoons depicting Mohammed in a Danish newspaper. Criticism of Islam "is pure speech," she said. "It's protected. Nobody gets to riot because of it. Nobody gets to kill people because of it."
Torgerson cites as well the 2004 assassination of Dutch director Theo Van Gogh for making a short film based on Islam critic Ayaan Hirsi Ali's book "Infidel."
Muslims "have teachings that are essentially criminal," Torgerson said. She didn't have a ready citation from the Quran but followed up by email to MnIndy:
"Slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them captives and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush." (Sura 9:5)
Idolaters are anyone who is not Muslim. Slay means to kill. Therefore, the Quran says to kill anyone who is not a Muslim. Simple.
In America, the recent decision by Yale University Press not to include the cartoons in a book about the controversy is evidence of Islam's threat to American liberties, in Torgerson's view.
"I don't want other cultures coming into the United States and chilling our freedoms," she said, adding that it offends her to see Muslim couples downtown walking with the man several paces ahead of the woman.
Under Islam "women aren't treated very well," Torgerson says. "I don't want that influence on my life. It concerns me."
"We went too far with Keith Ellison"
None of her objections to Islam, Torgerson said, amounts to any kind of "personal animosity" towards Ellison, who she used to see in courthouse hallways when he, too, was a practicing criminal defense attorney.
Nevertheless she doesn't like Ellison's links to leaders of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), which also drew fire from Ellison's opponents during the 2006 campaign for Congress. "A United States legislator shouldn't be cozying up with people … that are friendly to terrorists," she says, referencing charges that CAIR supports Hamas.
That leads her to this conclusion on her campaign website:
Now, with all due respect, America, and its people, should be lauded for its goal of promoting to public office and other high ranks, people of color, African Americans, women, minorities, etc. However, quite frankly, in our zeal, we simply went too far with Keith Ellison. Keith Ellison simply is not a proper person to have in our federal government. … Keith Ellison has no business in our federal government.
Won't unseating a DFL incumbent in a heavily Democratic U.S. House district be even more difficult than unseating a state House incumbent? Torgerson expressed the same determination in her chances as in her beliefs and her right to express them.
"I'm not a quitter," Torgerson said. "I'm relentless and it's served me well. You never know what can happen in the United States."