Harry Niska, a lawyer active in Republican politics for years but who also bucked its presidential nominee last fall, on Monday entered a 2018 race for Minnesota attorney general that has attracted several hopefuls anxious to know if the incumbent will run again.
It’s an office Republicans haven’t won for five decades.
“In the past, I think Republican candidates have ceded to the DFL the role of consumer protection,” Niska said. “Consumer protection is an important part of the job, and I’m running because I believe I can protect Minnesota consumers better than other candidates for this office. It’s what I’ve been doing in the private sector.”
Niska said he would also do more to assist counties with criminal prosecutions and appeals when they don’t have the capacity to do it themselves.
He joins former state Rep. Doug Wardlow in seeking the GOP nomination. Niska said he would abide by the party’s endorsing process, forgoing a primary run if delegates to next year’s state convention opt for another candidate.
The situation for Democrats is more complicated.
DFL Attorney General Lori Swanson is weighing whether to seek a fourth term or run for governor. State Rep. John Lesch and former state Rep. Ryan Winkler have begun campaigns that are contingent on Swanson’s decision, and state Rep. Debra Hilstrom and Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman have expressed interest as well.
Niska said he's in no matter what. "My campaign is not a contingent campaign," he said.
Niska was among a group of vocal Minnesota Republicans who publicly separated from then-presidential nominee Donald Trump. Niska backed independent Evan McMullin instead.
Asked whether he worried that stance would cost him support in his own bid, Niska said it speaks to a willingness to put principle over party.
“I think voters are going to look at my record. And my record is of somebody who will do the right thing no matter the political cost,” he said. “I’ll do what I believe in and I’ll stand up for the interests of Minnesota no matter which way the political winds blow.”
Niska has been practicing law for more than a decade after earning a degree from the University of Minnesota Law School. He is a partner in a Minneapolis law firm and specializes in business litigation.
Niska has run for office once before, for a city council position in Ramsey but came up short.
At 36 now, Niska would be among the youngest to assume the office.
But he would be in prominent company: Walter Mondale, the future senator and vice president, was 32 when he was appointed to the post in 1960, and Doug Head was 36 when he became the last Republican to win a Minnesota attorney general’s race in 1966.
Swanson had just turned 40 when she was sworn in for the first time in 2007.