UPDATED with new Wardlow statement
Republican Doug Wardlow told supporters at a private fundraiser this week that he plans a mass firing of Democrats that work in the state attorney general’s office if he wins in November.
In remarks during a fundraising event Monday in Shakopee for Congressman Jason Lewis, Wardlow described plans for a partisan purge.
“It’s really exciting now to be in a position for the first time in a half century to take this office back,” Wardlow said. “We’re going to fire 42 Democratic attorneys right off the bat and get Republican attorneys in there.”
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The remarks, which were caught on tape, contrast with Wardlow’s frequent public pledge to take politics out of the office. He has criticized his DFL opponent, Keith Ellison, as being overly partisan.
A Minnesota DFL Party staffer recorded the fundraiser comments. The party provided the audio to MPR News.
Wardlow declined an interview request to elaborate on his plan or explain the specificity of the number of attorneys he’s targeting.
He released a written statement Friday describing himself as the victim of a desperate attack by Ellison.
“His attack is laughable, considering he is the deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee,” Wardlow said. He added, “I am running to take back the Attorney General’s Office for the cause of the rule of law, the Constitution and for liberty, not for the Republican Party.”
Wardlow also insisted he would not make partisan staffing decisions.
"I have consistently stated throughout this campaign, I will appoint assistants and deputies who believe in the rule of law and the Constitution. There will be no litmus test for party affiliation."
Minnesota DFL Party chair Ken Martin said Wardlow’s remarks at the fundraiser are troubling.
“The attorney general’s office should attract the best and the brightest, regardless of political affiliation, because the law doesn’t have a political affiliation,” Martin said. “The law should be applied equally to all people and all people should be afforded its protections.”
Polling has showed Wardlow’s contest with Ellison is tight.
DFL incumbent Lori Swanson is leaving the post in January after three terms and an unsuccessful bid for governor.
If elected, Wardlow would be the first Republican to hold the office in nearly 50 years. Staff changes would be expected, since they have happened during previous DFL transitions. But Martin argues that Wardlow’s approach would be different.
“There are plenty of lawyers who have worked for years in that office for different attorneys general, in fact a lot of career lawyers who make it their life work of working in public service,” he said. “That’s the way it should be.”