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MPR News

Ellison to target prescription drug prices, housing costs as attorney general

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Keith Ellison celebrates winning.
Keith Ellison celebrates winning Minnesota attorney general on election night in St. Paul on Nov. 6, 2018.
Evan Frost | MPR News

As a candidate for attorney general, Keith Ellison said he would work to help people afford their lives and ensure they have dignity and respect. Ellison said those goals remain unchanged as he prepares to take office next week.

Drug prices, student debt and housing costs are among his top priorities, he said.

Ellison will hold a community listening session Thursday evening in north Minneapolis. He said meetings he already held in Duluth and Albert Lea provided additional advice on how best to approach those issues.

"We never want to say well we've declared our priorities for now and always done," said Ellison. "What we want to do is be very sensitive to what people are going through as we calibrate our focal point and our priorities."

Ellison, 55, was the first Muslim elected to Congress. He built a reputation nationally as leading progressive in the House and was elected deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee after the 2016 election. But he gave up that post and his safe congressional seat to be state attorney general.

On prescription drug prices, he said his immediate plan is to create a task force to explore the issue. He also wants to continue Attorney General Lori Swanson's recent lawsuit against drug manufacturers over insulin prices.

"The goal is affordable drug prices. So, whether you need some sort of investigation or negotiation or what, I'm clear on what we're actually trying to achieve, which is affordable drug prices," he said.

Swanson said she has been working closely with Ellison to ensure a smooth transition. Swanson, who is leaving after 12 years as attorney general, said she is confident that Ellison will follow through on several lawsuits she recently initiated. She also believes he will continue the consumer protection tradition of the office.

"There's not many people out there who are really looking out for the interest of the little guy and the consumer. Attorney General Ellison has that interest and has that passion and has that desire to help people and help regular folks get on with their lives," Swanson said. "That's been impressive to me and important to me as well because it's a role that this office has long fulfilled and it's really a critical role."

Ellison made a key staffing decision last week when he hired John Keller, executive director of the Immigration Law Center of Minnesota, to be his chief deputy.

David Schultz, a political science professor at Hamline University, said the hiring signals that Ellison is making immigration a top issue. Schultz said he expects Ellison to be more aggressive than Swanson in challenging the Trump administration on immigration policy and other issues.

"Lori Swanson has joined other Democratic attorneys general across the country but has not necessarily been, let's say, the lead attorney general in challenging," he said. "I think that's going to change with Ellison."