Should age be issue in House race in Minneapolis?

Rep. Phyllis Kahn addressed supporters after her 2014 primary win over challenger Mohamud Noor. Jennifer Simonson| MPR News

In a year in which a large number of Democrats are enchanted with one of the oldest presidential candidates it has ever had, the issue of age and fitness is apparently limited to one race for the Minnesota House of Representatives.

A Star Tribune columnist’s attack this week on long-time state Rep. Phyllis Kahn is drawing some pushback, including from a Republican who has served in the Legislature with her.

Jon Tevlin’s apparent endorsement of her DFL challenger Ilhan Omar — she’d be the first Somali elected to the Legislature — was based on his belief she’s been around too long, while saying she’s not too old nor incapable of the job.

This concluding paragraph was particularly mean.

Kahn has had enough of both. She should recognize that life is short and there are other productive things she could do. Heck, even a 12-year-old could tell her that.

There’s no need to tell her that life is short; the death of a spouse is a pretty good reminder. Kahn’s husband, University of Minnesota math professor Donald Kahn, died a little over a year ago. They were married for 58 years.

On Tuesday, former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, whose new book and sudden resurfacing in the public spotlight should provide grist for the ongoing speculation that he’s got big political plans, endorsed Kahn’s DFL opponent.

“That doesn’t say somebody is doing a bad job, it’s just saying we benefit by every once in a while, or in this case every few decades, from having a new voice,” he said.

If you read between the lines, that’s two men of a certain age saying a candidate is too old while denying they’re saying a politician is too old. That’s making age an issue. Why not just say it?

It’s rare that a DFL fight involving one of the most liberal DFLers in the state would draw a defense from a Republican. But in today’s Strib, Rochester Republican Dave Bishop rose to Kahn’s defense.

I write to take issue with the comments of R.T. Rybak in the April 13 article about Kahn’s re-election campaign for the Minnesota House (“DFL race reveals rifts in the ranks”).

Minneapolis and our whole state have had decades of quality service from Kahn, a legislator with the skill of a surgeon. I learned a lot from Kahn during my first 10 years legislating on the appropriation committee, which she chaired. She was my mentor as I learned the complicated job of drafting good ideas on public needs and negotiating them into agreements.

Yes, Mr. Rybak, either of her opponents would be a “new voice,” but would this be a good reason to change your lawyer or your architect — or any professional with the record of skill that Kahn has shown for years?

All of us in Minnesota need for her district to keep her skills working for us.

It may well be that the DFL selects a favorite candidate for the House seat, currently held by Kahn, without a heavy dose of ageism. But it doesn’t yet appear it will.