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Crowded field seeks DFL nod for attorney general

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Candidates for Minnesota attorney general
Keith Ellison (left), Tom Foley, Debra Hilstrom, Matt Pelikan and Mike Rothman are the DFL candidates running for Minnesota's attorney general office.
Photo Illustration by Jiwon Choi, MPR News

Updated: Aug. 9 | Posted: Aug. 8

The Minnesota attorney general's office doesn't come open very often, and Democrats have had a lock on it for more than 40 years.

But in June, incumbent DFLer Lori Swanson said she would run for governor instead of seeking a fourth four-year term as AG.

That led to a scramble among DFLers on the final day of candidate filing. All are touting unique legal experiences that make them best qualified to run in November for the constitutional office.

There is also a Republican primary for attorney general. Former state Rep. Doug Wardlow is the party's endorsed candidate. He is being challenged by former DFL state Sen. Bob Lessard and frequent candidate Sharon Anderson.

But because so many Democrats got into the race so late, here's a look at the DFL candidates:

U.S. Representative Keith Ellison
U.S. Representative Keith Ellison is a candidate for the Minnesota attorney general.
Tim Pugmire | MPR News

Keith Ellison

Age: 55

Bio: Ellison grew up in Detroit and moved to Minnesota to attend law school. He currently lives in Minneapolis. He has four children.

Education: Wayne State University, University of Minnesota Law School

Work experience: Ellison worked for the Lindquist & Vennum firm, Hassan & Reed, Ltd. and the nonprofit Legal Rights Center.

Political and public experience: Ellison has served in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2007 and gained national notoriety as the first Muslim elected to Congress. Ellison previously served four years in the Minnesota House. He is deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee.

Main issues: Fairness for workers, fair economy, civil rights and justice.

Why he is running: Ellison says he wants to be the "people's lawyer" and hold those in power accountable.

"I think I can do more good work for more people faster as attorney general than as a member of Congress," Ellison said. "It's just a quicker route to justice."

What you might not know about him: Ellison had a stint as an unpaid public affairs host on KMOJ radio in the 1990s.

Tom Foley
Tom Foley is a candidate for the Minnesota attorney general.
Courtesy Photo

Tom Foley

Age: 70

Bio: Foley grew up in southeastern Minnesota and currently lives in St. Paul. He is married and has two sons.

Education: University of Minnesota, University of Minnesota Law School

Work experience: Foley has a private law practice.

Political and public experience: Foley served as Ramsey County attorney from 1979 to 1994 and had a brief stint as acting Washington County Attorney. He served as vice chair of the National Indian Gaming Commission. Foley was an unsuccessful candidate for U.S. Senate in 1994, lieutenant governor in 1998 and U.S. House in 2000. He chaired the Minnesota Clinton For President campaign in 1992.

Main issues: Sexual violence, opioid crisis, cybersecurity, school safety and consumer protection.

Why he is running: Foley jumped into the race in the closing minutes of candidate filing. He had concerns about the level of experience of the other candidates.

"The attorney general's office is the largest public law office in the state," Foley said. "I'm the only one that's ever managed a public law office."

What you might not know about him: Foley's father Daniel was a Minnesota Court of Appeals judge.

Debra Hilstrom
Debra Hilstrom, a DFL candidate for Minnesota attorney general.
Tim Pugmire | MPR News

Debra Hilstrom

Age: 50

Bio: Hilstrom was born in Brooklyn Center and has lived there since, except for a time while attending college. She is married and has two grown children.

Education: University of Minnesota, William Mitchell College of Law

Work experience: Hilstrom worked as an assistant county attorney for Anoka County.

Political and public experience: Hilstrom was first elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives in 2000 and is serving her ninth term. She is currently the lead Democrat on the public safety committee. Hilstrom previously served six years on the Brooklyn Center City Council.

Main issues: Consumer protection, opioid crisis and drug prices.

Why she is running: Hilstrom says she wants to carry on the office's "proud tradition" of helping Minnesotans.

"We need to make sure that not only do we take on the issues of national importance, but we make certain that everyday Minnesotans — when they call the attorney general's office — get the help that they need. No one should be too big that they are above the law, and no one should be too small that they're below its protection."

What you might not know about her: Hilstrom was the first in her family to earn a four-year college degree.

Matt Pelikan
Matt Pelikan, DFL candidate for Minnesota attorney general.
Tim Pugmire | MPR News

Matt Pelikan

Age: 36

Bio: Born and raised in Northfield, currently lives in Minneapolis.

Education: St. Olaf College, University of Minnesota law school

Work experience: Pelikan is a lawyer with the Madel P.A. firm in Minneapolis. He previously worked at Robins Kaplan LLP and clerked for several Minnesota Supreme Court justices.

Political and public experience: Pelikan is a first-time candidate who won the DFL endorsement in June when Lori Swanson abruptly dropped out of the endorsement battle at the state convention. Pelikan prevented a first-ballot endorsement for Swanson by winning support from 47 percent of the delegates. Swanson received 52 percent.

Main issues: Gun violence, opioid crisis, drug prices and anti-trust.

Why he is running: Pelikan says Minnesotans need a bold, progressive as attorney general. Pelikan says he would bring a unique perspective to the job.

"For me, it's about everything from growing up in small-town Minnesota with a loving family, but as a gay kid who faced my share of bullying and isolation," Pelikan said. "That taught me how politics can make a difference in peoples' lives. That gave me deep empathy for fighting for people."

What you might not know about him: Pelikan played the tuba for 12 years.

Mike Rothman
Mike Rothman, a DFL candidate for Minnesota attorney general.
Tim Pugmire | MPR News

Mike Rothman

Age: 56

Bio: Rothman grew up in Minneapolis and Chaska. He currently lives in Minnetonka with his wife and three children.

Education: Carleton College, University of Minnesota Law School

Work experience: Rothman was a partner at Winthrop & Weinstine in Minneapolis and previously worked at a law firm in California. He also worked as a Minnesota Senate staffer and a Minnesota Court of Appeals clerk.

Political and public experience: Rothman served as Gov. Mark Dayton's commerce commissioner from 2011 until late last year.

Main issues: Consumer protection, elder abuse, opioid crisis and drug prices.

Why he is running: Rothman said he want to be attorney general to build on the consumer protection work he did as commerce commissioner.

"Deep down, I have a passion to help people, take care of them," Rothman said.

What you might not know about him: Rothman was a state champion debater in high school.