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The US' first Somali-American mayor, Deqa Dhalac, is making a bid for the Maine State House

A woman wearing a dress and a multicolored headscarf sits next to a young man wearing a grey Polo sweatshirt.
Ari Snider
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South Portland mayor Deqa Dhalac, left, at a World Refugee Day celebration in Portland last month. Dhalac says she wants to be a voice in Augusta for immigrants and other marginalized communities.

South Portland Mayor Deqa Dhalac made a late entry into the race for Maine House District 120 this week — and has the chance to become the first Somali-American elected to the state legislature.

Dhalac won a South Portland Democratic caucus on Thursday, which was called after incumbent Democrat Victoria Morales withdrew from the race.

Morales endorsed Dhalac to take her place on the ballot.

Dhalac, who was born in Somalia, said she wants to be a voice in Augusta for immigrant communities.

"And also those who are marginalized, to see that there is somebody that can be their voice at the state level," she said.

Morales has held the South Portland State House seat for two terms. But Morales, who is also the executive director of the Quality Housing Coalition, said it was hard to sustain legislative work on top of a full-time job and caring for her family.

She said that’s a common challenge.

"It's tricky for anyone who works, I think that's just a message that I hope sort of gets carried, that we really need to think about how to make the legislature an equal branch of government, and that includes funding it," she said.

During her time in the legislature, Morales focused in part on issues relating to criminal justice reform and housing.

Dhalac made history last year when she became the first Somali-American mayor in the country.

She is one of two Somali-American women seeking State House seats this year — the other is Mana Abdi, who is running for the District 95 seat in Lewiston.

Dhalac will face Republican Michael Dougherty in November.