Attorney General Keith Ellison looks ahead to general election

People speak during a large rally outside.
Attorney General Keith Ellison commits to protecting the rights of out-of-state residents who travel to Minnesota to seek abortion care during a march and protest at the Minnesota State Capitol on July 17, 2022.
Tim Evans for MPR News File

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison easily won the DFL nomination on primary night. He’ll take on Republican nominee Jim Schultz in November.

The day after the primary, Ellison talked with Mike Mulcahy about the issues at play in the race for attorney general, which could be one of the most expensive races in the history of that office.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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Audio transcript

MIKE MULCAHY: This is Minnesota now on NPR news. I'm Mike Mulcahy. We continue our wrap-up of the primary election and look ahead to the November general election. I'm joined now by the DFL nominee for Minnesota attorney general, who also happens to be the incumbent, Keith Ellison. Thanks for coming on. Congratulations on winning your primary.

KEITH ELLISON: Thank you. Real happy to be with you and want to thank everybody in Minnesota for being active and concerned about our state.

MIKE MULCAHY: Can I start with what happened in your own congressional district, the one you used to represent? Ilhan Omar won, but it was really close, about two points. What do you make of that? Is the Ellison-Omar coalition fracturing?

KEITH ELLISON: Well, let me congratulate Don on a well-run campaign. Look, I mean, we in Minnesota believe in actively getting involved. But I'm sure all the Democrats are ready to consolidate behind Ilhan. People are going to come, get behind her, supporter her. And that's where we're at now. We're entitled to support the candidates we want to support in the primary. Primary's over. It's been decided. And I think that folks are going to be coming together to make sure that we have a big turnout from the fifth district in the fall.

MIKE MULCAHY: Well, let's turn to your own campaign. The rise in violent crime, public safety in general seems to be a big issue this year. Republicans, as you know, are laying those problems at your feet. Is there anything that you should have done or anything you didn't do or should have done faster to respond to the spike in crime?

KEITH ELLISON: Well, my opponents are just demonstrating that they don't know what the job of the attorney general is or they're deliberately misrepresenting because they think it's to their political advantage. The truth is that in Minnesota, crime is investigated and prosecuted at the local level. But according to Minnesota statutes, for local prosecutors can refer cases to the attorney general, and we've prosecuted over 40 of them in the last-- since I've been the attorney general.

We've prosecuted vigorously in places like Aiken County, Todd County, Clearwater County, also Hennepin County. We reviewed cases even in Ramsey County. But for 20 separate counties, we have prosecuted dangerous criminals and convicted them. And we are doing our good part in the prosecution of crime in Minnesota.

Let me also add, we do a lot of important things on the civil side. Including prosecuting the opioid manufacturers that misrepresented the addictiveness of their drugs and contributed to an opioid epidemic. We're holding those people accountable. We've returned over $300 million back to the state of Minnesota. We've also prosecuted cases involving inadequate housing and inadequate-- other consumer matters that diminish the lives, people's economic lives, including wage theft.

So we're doing what we're supposed to be doing. We're doing an effective job. We're good partners to our local county attorneys. So I think what you're hearing is campaign opportunism. And you're probably going to hear a lot of it between now and November.

MIKE MULCAHY: Well another issue and another one that you've been taking some criticism on from your opponents is your recent decision not to appeal that Ramsey County judge's decision that tossed out some of the state's restrictions on abortion. Your opponents say you made that decision because you support abortion rights. Any truth to that?

KEITH ELLISON: Well, no, there's no truth to that allegation. Although it is true that I do support abortion rights. But my political opinions about the right to abortion were not part of my decision-making process. Well, here's what was a part of my decision-making process. The fact that under Minnesota law, Doe versus Gomez, the judge who took briefs in for three years, we defended these Minnesota statutes for three years. The judge issued 100-and-some page opinion about his decision on these matters.

And like we do often, we decided that pursuing an appeal was not in the best interest of the state. We thought it was adequately briefed. We felt that the decision-making of Judge Gilligan was based on prevailing law. And we don't appeal every case we get. We don't not appeal every case we get. Sometimes we do pursue appeals. But when we pursue appeals, it's because we think the trial court judge got it wrong.

We don't just appeal stuff just to appeal stuff, right? And so it was a legal decision. It was a decision based on the law, based on the facts. We pursued it for three years. We put over 4,000 hours into that litigation. And we came to a legal decision, not a political one. But it is also true that I believe in a woman's right to choose. I do think women should have the right to choose.

My opponents do not agree with that. My opponents think of women-- that the government should decide for women what their reproductive choices should be. And I do absolutely disagree with them about that. So that's an issue for people to decide on--


KEITH ELLISON: --in November.

MIKE MULCAHY: Less than a minute to go here. How do you plan to win in November?

KEITH ELLISON: By getting more votes than the opposition. How are we going to do that? Well, look Minnesotans believe that the attorney general-- and I got to tell you, I've been so honored to know Skip Humphrey and had the great opportunity to talk to Walter Mondale who said that it was his favorite job, even though he had been a US senator, then a vice president, and ambassador.

Talking with these great icons of Minnesota attorney general position, I'm following in their great tradition. I'm going to appeal to what they appeal to. What is that? They're going to help people. We're going to fight fraud and help people afford their lives against the fraudsters. We're going to stand up for people's wages and stop wage theft. We're going to protect people's rights, like a woman's right to choose. And we are going to protect public safety.

These are the things that my predecessors have done. This is the tradition I'm going to carry on. And I believe Minnesotans want that in an attorney general. And I'm confident we're going to win.

MIKE MULCAHY: Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, thanks for coming on. I hope you come back as the campaign goes on.

KEITH ELLISON: You know I will.

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