One of the stars of Lewiston’s immigrant community, 26-year-old community organizer Mana Abdi, won election Tuesday to a state House seat that will make her the first Somali-American lawmaker in Augusta.
“Maine should be celebrating it,” Abdi said, because it’s a sign that the Legislature is growing more representative of the people it serves. It brings the state “one step closer” to a brighter future for everyone, she said.
Unopposed in the new 95th District since her Republican challenger quit the race in August, Abdi could breathe easy on Election Day but never slowed her campaign effort through the fall.After she spoke at a Democratic campaign rally in Lewiston on Monday evening, one of her track teammates from Lewiston High School, Taylor True, came up with her mother to greet her.
“Listening to you, I just wanted to cry,” said Lisa True, who got to know Abdi through her daughter not long after the athletic immigrant moved to Lewiston in 2009. “You’ve always been so strong.”
“It’s exciting to see her do this,” Taylor True said.
She said Abdi was an unfailing friend, the sort of teammate who never failed to root for everybody else.
“She’s absolutely a team player,” True added.
Democrats in Augusta said they are counting on Abdi to go along with her new team and to inject new ideas into the debates and discussions that take place in the State House.
State Rep. Heidi Brooks, a Democrat who has represented the area for the past eight years and could not seek reelection because of term limits, said she is “really excited” to see Abdi succeed her.
“She’ll be a wonderful representative,” Brooks said.
Drew Gattine, the state Democratic Party chairperson, said Abdi’s win “will make history.”
South Portland Mayor Deqa Dhalac, the nation’s first Somali-American mayor, may also be joining Abdi in the Legislature. She sought election in the 120th District but had an opponent. Results of her race are not yet available.
Abdi said she is a little wary of entering the sometimes strange world of politics in the state capital.
But she’s eager to learn her way around.
“I’m new,” Abdi said, “and still have a lot of learning to do.”
She said she is grateful that state Rep. Kristen Cloutier, a Lewiston Democrat who is vying to become the assistant leader for House Democrats, has been so willing to help her.
“I’m walking into new territory,” Abdi said.
Abdi was born in Kenya and arrived as a refugee in the United States as a child, initially landing in Kansas. She moved to Lewiston in 2009 at the age of 13 and has lived in the district ever since.
She graduated from Lewiston High School in 2014 and earned a degree from the University of Maine Farmington in 2018.
Since then, she has worked as an advocate at Disability Rights Maine and is a program coordinator at Bates College in Lewiston.
Abdi said her approach to issues will be to consider their impact in the decades ahead as well as today.
“Lewiston deserves safe, affordable, available housing and good jobs,” Abdi said. “I will be a strong and relentless voice for our community in Augusta.”