Three DFLers battle for attorney general nomination

Attorney general debate
The three top DFL candidates in the attorney general's race debated at the Minnesota State Fair. (L-R) Steve Kelley, Lori Swanson, Bill Luther.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

It's been a short campaign for Steve Kelley, Bill Luther and Lori Swanson. None of them had planned to be a candidate for attorney general this year. But their plans changed suddenly on July 18. The withdrawal of Matt Entenza, the DFL endorsed candidate for attorney general, triggered a flurry of activity to fill an unexpected ballot vacancy on the last day of filing.

Steve Kelley
State Sen. Steve Kelley is the DFL-endorsed candidate for attorney general.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

"I saw an opportunity to try to pull the party together and help get us through a difficult time as rapidly as possible," said Sen. Steve Kelley, DFL-Hopkins.

Kelley was a candidate for governor earlier this year, but lost the DFL endorsement to Mike Hatch, the state's current attorney general. Kelley revived his campaign operation after Entenza's withdrawal. He won the party endorsement last month uncontested. His priority issues are health care and data privacy.

"I think I've demonstrated over 14 years in the Legislature, and other work that I've done before that, that I'm committed to public service, that I work hard in the job that I've got, and I bring new ideas and innovation and good judgement to solving the public's problems," Kelley said.

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Unlike his opponents, Kelley doesn't plan to abide by state campaign spending limits. He says he'd be at a financial disadvantage, because the money spent during his campaign for governor now counts against him in the attorney general race. Recent fundraising reports showed Kelley ahead of his DFL opponents.

Lori Swanson
DFLer Lori Swanson is running for the top job as attorney general. She is currently the solicitor general, the chief deputy in the office.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

Lori Swanson has spent more than seven years in the attorney general's office, working alongside Mike Hatch as his deputy and state solicitor general. Swanson, who lives in Eagan, has never run for elected office. But she says she has the experience needed to hit the ground running as an advocate for Minnesotans.

"It could be everything from somebody's elderly grandmother getting ripped off by a telemarketer with magazine subscriptions she never ordered, to an HMO refusing to pay for a child's claim for a life-saving medical treatment," Swanson said. "And the attorney general is the one person in government who can jump on that kind of problem and help people out."

Swanson, like Kelley, is stressing health care as her top issue.

Bill Luther of Eden Prairie is taking a different approach. His priority as attorney general would be gas prices.

Bill Luther
Bill Luther served in Congress for eight years, from 1994-2002. He marks his return to politics by running as a DFLer for attorney general.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

"We need somebody who's going to start organizing the states and start organizing the attorneys general of this country to stand up for the public, and to not allow cheating, gouging, to not allow improper record profits to be made on the backs of Minnesotans," Luther said.

Luther is a former congressman and state legislator who's counting on his long record of public service to get him through the DFL primary. It's been a long time since he was in a courtroom, but Luther insists he's an experienced lawyer who can take on big corporations.

Democrats have enjoyed a long run in the Minnesota attorney general's office, winning the last nine elections. Blois Olson, a DFL commentator and co-publisher of the newsletter Politics in Minnesota, says Kelley, Luther and Swanson are all well qualified to carry on that tradition. Olson is not surprised that they've avoided criticizing each other during the campaign.

"In a short campaign, with very little resources and a tough general election ahead, I'm certain all three agree that winning in November is more important than beating up in September," Olson said. "And so I would tend to say that each one of these candidates know they want whomever wins the primary to be as strong as they can come November."

The Independence Party has four candidates running for attorney general. Former state revenue commissioner John James has the party endorsement. Republicans will choose from two candidates, with state Rep. Jeff Johnson of Plymouth the heavy favorite.