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Courtesy of Mana Abdi
Culture > News

Mana Abdi, Maine’s First Elected Somali American Lawmaker, Is Ready For Round 2

In Her Campus’ series Gen Leaders, we interview Gen Z candidates running for office in 2024. This month, Mana Abdi — who is running for re-election to represent District 95 in the Maine House of Representatives — shares her thoughts on a new generation entering the political sphere.

When a seat in the Maine House of Representatives opened up for the 2022 election, several of Mana Abdi’s friends and family suggested she run for office. “I was like, why not?” Abdi tells Her Campus in an exclusive interview. “It was really a no-brainer.”

Abdi’s path to U.S. politics wasn’t a traditional one. Although ethnically Somali, she was born in a Kenyan refugee camp. She came to the U.S. as a refugee in 2007, when she was 11 years old, and two years later her family settled in Lewiston, Maine, where she still lives to this day. In 2018, she received her Bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Maine at Farmington, where she led the creation of the Diversity and Inclusion Action Team, a task force to meet the needs of the school’s students of color. Her dedication to her community continued after college with her work with Disability Rights Maine and the Maine Youth Network.

Now, Abdi is the first Somali American to serve in the Maine legislature, carrying out her first term as a member of Maine’s House of Representatives and running for re-election in the fall.  

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Courtesy of Mana Abdi

At 28 years old, Abdi acknowledges how intimidating being an elected official can feel for new politicians. “People will look at you and say, ‘I’ve been serving as long as you’ve been alive,’” Abdi says. And while she acknowledges there’s a learning curve when starting out (as she notes, “nobody is born knowing this stuff”), Abdi is confident she’s just as capable of representing her district as her more tenured colleagues. “I have never walked into a room where I didn’t understand what I needed to do.”

In Abdi’s view, there’s nothing that inherently prevents younger people from governing. However, she believes there are systemic issues that certainly make it harder for young people to get involved in politics. She explains that the Maine state legislature is considered a part-time role, “though if you look at my calendar, that would suggest otherwise,” alluding to the fact that the hours she puts into the job much more closely resembles full-time work. 

To Abdi, a role in the state legislature isn’t always a viable career option for young people who may need a full-time job to afford bills, student loans, and simply living in today’s world. “[The part-time nature of the role] makes it essentially just for retired folks,” Abdi says. “We need that demographic as well … but it really limits who can serve and who can’t.” (Case in point: In addition to her government gig, Abdi also works as a program coordinator at the Intercultural Education Department of Bates College in Lewiston.)

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Courtesy of Mana Abdi

Despite the roadblocks, Abdi’s commitment to serving her community is unwavering. Housing and education are at the forefront of her current work in her first term, as well as in her plans for her next term if she’s re-elected. “Education will always be a primary focus for me, simply because of the young people in my district who deserve advocacy,” she says. She also explains there are many unhoused folks in Maine, a state with brutal winters, and that her work is to advocate and provide basic resources for these folks. “Truly, there are resources; we just need to appropriately allocate [them],” she says.

It’s no secret the political landscape in the United States is notably tense right now, and as the 2024 general election grows closer, it’s easy for many voters to feel frustrated, angry, or hopeless. But Abdi remains optimistic that young people will have lasting, positive effects. “I think there is this unlimited connection and conversations that can lead to real change,” she says. “Though we’re young, I think we have unlimited potential to even, I would dare say, change the course of some things that aren’t looking too good right now.”

These responses have been edited for length and clarity.

What is the soundtrack to your campaign? 

Beyoncé, and anything upbeat.

Who has inspired your political career?

Malcom X, Maya Angelou, and Rachel Talbot Ross, the first Black woman to serve as Maine’s Speaker of the House.

What is your go-to coffee order?

I’m a matcha girl all the way, so typically it’s matcha with vanilla flavoring and oat milk.

In-person voting or absentee ballot?

I prefer in-person voting because I really love seeing my constituents come out to vote, but I also really like that we have the option to vote absentee if we can’t make it in person.

What’s a word or phrase you use to describe yourself?


What’s your go-to fun fact about yourself?

I’ve been to Tanzania and hiked the base of Kilimanjaro.. 

Favorite social media accounts to follow? 

@crutches_and_spice, @empressonyxx, and two of my friends, @zaynabmmohamed and @munira_y.a.

Most-used emoji on your phone?

We’re currently going through really long hours at sessions, so a lot of the time I use laughing emojis or the eye roll emoji. 

If you were to take a visitor to do one stereotypically “Maine” activity, what would it be?

Lobster! Maine is known for its lobster, so I’m absolutely taking them out to have a lobster roll. Then, Maine is absolutely beautiful during the summer and fall, so a trail walk is a must. 

What’s your No. 1 campaign necessity?

Good walking shoes — I live in a district that is very walkable. And then after that, coffee, for sure.

Jordyn Stapleton has been a National Lifestyle Writer for Her Campus since February 2023. She covers a variety of topics in her articles, but is most passionate about writing about mental health and social justice issues. Jordyn graduated from CU Boulder in December 2022 with Bachelor’s degrees in music and psychology with a minor in gender studies and a certificate in public health. Jordyn was involved in Her Campus during college, serving as an Editorial Assistant and later Editor-in-Chief for the CU Boulder chapter. She has also worked as a freelance stringer for the Associated Press. Jordyn is currently taking a gap year and working at a local business in Boulder, with hopes of attending graduate school in fall 2024. Jordyn enjoys reading, bullet journalling, and listening to (preferably Taylor Swift) music in her free time. If she isn’t brainstorming her next article, you can usually find her exploring coffee shops or hiking trails around Boulder with her friends.