Different Backgrounds, Common Purpose: Omar, Phillips Both Ready to Serve

Different Backgrounds, Common Purpose: Omar, Phillips Both Ready to Serve Photo: KSTP

November 15, 2018 08:38 AM

Dean Phillips and Ilhan Omar are both newly-elected Democratic members of Congress. But that's pretty much where the similarities end.

Omar is a former refugee from Somalia who fled to America in fear for her life. Phillips is a wealthy businessman whose family founded the Phillips Distilling Company, known for its vodka products.


But now both are united in a zeal for public service.

As the first Somali-American in Congress and one of just two female Muslims, Omar knows she has a responsibility as a role model.

"I think it gives people an opportunity to know that their today doesn't determine their tomorrow, and I'm excited to be an example of that every single day," she told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS Wednesday.

Meet the Congress Members: Democrat Ilhan Omar

Meanwhile, Phillips said he loves the diversity of Congress where so many backgrounds are represented. 

"It's the beauty of Congress," Phillips said minutes after nearly 100 newly-elected members gathered for a group picture near the Capitol steps.

"It's such a representation of the country. Extraordinary life stories, experiences and perspectives."

Phillips said he plans to work across party lines whenever he can, recognizing his 3rd District had elected Republicans for nearly 60 years until he broke the streak last week.

RELATED: Meet the Congress Members: Democrat Dean Phillips

He's already forging relationships with the new Minnesota Republicans in Congress - Jim Hagedorn and Pete Stauber.

"The collegiality among the Democrats and Republicans newly-elected is really inspiring and I'm hopeful and optimistic," he said. "I have a lot to learn. A lot to listen to and a lot to navigate."

His new colleagues will soon learn his grandmother was Pauline Phillips, who penned the "Dear Abby" advice column for many years until her death.

His great aunt was his grandmother's sister who wrote the "Ann Landers" advice column.

Despite that lineage, though, don't expect Phillips to dispense any advice very soon. For now, he plans to do more listening.

"The best advice she gave me was 'Don't give any,'" he said with a laugh.

At least not until he gets to know more about how Congress works.

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Tom Hauser

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