Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib on track to become first Muslim woman in Congress

Rashida Tlaib (Courtesy: Twitter)

Former Michigan state legislator Rashida Tlaib is poised to become the first Muslim woman elected to Congress after winning the Democratic nomination for the 13th District seat previously held by Rep. John Conyers Jr.

With 95.7 percent of precincts reporting from Tuesday’s primary, Tlaib led a six-candidate Democratic field with 33.2 percent of the vote in the race for a full two-year term beginning in January. No Republicans ran in the Detroit-centered district, which backed Hillary Clinton by a wide margin in 2016.

Results in a separate special primary to fill the remaining months of Conyers’s term through January were too close to call as of Wednesday morning.

Tlaib, a native of southwest Detroit, became the first Muslim woman to serve in Michigan’s legislature in 2008. The oldest of 14 children and the daughter of Palestinian immigrants, she was the first in her family to attend college; neither her father, a Ford assembly line worker, nor her mother attended high school.

Tlaib graduated from Wayne State University and Thomas Cooley Law School and worked in the nonprofit world before entering politics.

In August 2016, she was among more than a dozen protesters who made headlines when they interrupted a speech by President Donald Trump to the Detroit Economic Club.

Tlaib later described her reasons for protesting in a Detroit Free Press commentary:

As Trump delivered his speech, “the titles that ran through my mind were: American, parent, Muslim, Arab-American, and woman,” Tlaib wrote. “As I thought about my identities, I felt more and more that confronting Trump was the most patriotic and courageous act I could pursue.”

She added that it was “heartbreaking” to see her 11-year-old son become increasingly anxious upon hearing from friends about Trump’s remarks during the campaign.

“So when I heard Trump was coming to Detroit to speak only a few miles from our home, I couldn’t say no when I was offered a ticket to attend his speech,” she wrote.

The seat has been empty since Conyers, the longest-serving member of Congress, stepped down in December amid multiple accusations of sexual harassment. Conyers’s downfall was cited as a source of frustration by many of the candidates in the race, including Tlaib, who has said that she would have liked to see an investigation into the allegations rather than a hasty exit by the liberal legend.

Among those running for the seat were Conyers’s grandnephew, state Sen. Ian Conyers, Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones, and Westland Mayor Bill Wild.

A Democratic primary in the November special election for the remaining months of Conyers’s term was also held on Tuesday. With 95.7 percent of precincts reporting, Jones held a slight edge over Tlaib in that race, meaning that she is likely to represent the district in Congress for roughly two-and-a-half months before Tlaib begins a full two-year term in January 2019.

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