Televised debates focus on crime, election security in Minnesota

Five profile images of candidates for political office
Jim Schultz (top left), Scott Jensen, Keith Ellison, Kim Crockett (bottom left) and Steve Simon, all candidates for various statewide offices in November, participated in the KSTP-TV debate that aired Sunday night. Gov. Tim Walz declined to participate.
Courtesy Photos and MPR News images

Candidates for Minnesota attorney general and secretary of state debated on KSTP-TV on Sunday night, although Gov. Tim Walz declined an invitation and his Republican opponent Scott Jensen got the stage for a half-hour alongside an empty podium. 

Attorney General Keith Ellison and his Republican opponent Jim Schultz disagreed on crime and abortion. 

As he has done in three previous debates, Schultz said Ellison has not done enough as attorney general to focus on the rise in violent crime. Schultz also attacked Ellison for supporting an unsuccessful 2021 ballot question in Minneapolis that would have abolished the city’s police department in favor of a public safety department.

“It is immoral to embrace policies that have led to the extraordinary violent crime in our communities,” Schultz said. “And the communities who feel it most acutely are our low-income minority neighborhoods around our state, and we also see it in the suburbs and elsewhere. The fact is, we have a fundamentally reckless and extreme attorney general.”

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Ellison said his office prosecuted every criminal case brought to them by county attorneys. He criticized Schultz, who most recently worked for a Minneapolis investment firm, for his lack of experience in trying cases. 

“We have stepped up,” Ellison said. “We have done our duty and we have been effective. Jim has never set foot in a courtroom in his life.” 

Secretary of State Steve Simon and his Republican opponent Kim Crockett disagreed on election security and the need for voters to show a photo ID. 

“We have 3.3 million voters in Minnesota, number one in the country,” Simon said. “Since 2020 there have been exactly 17 cases of misconduct of any kind across different areas of our election system.” 

Crockett responded by comparing voter fraud to drunk driving, suggesting many more people do it than get caught. 

“When our county attorneys are not looking for that fraud, or when they find it they don’t prosecute it, that’s why we end up with small numbers,” Crockett said. 

Simon blasted Crockett for spreading “strange and increasingly bizarre conspiracy theories” about the 2020 election being rigged, Chinese counterfeit ballots, and voting machines that change votes. 

“That's really disqualifying crazy talk,” Simon said. “And that is one of the reasons I think there's such a stark choice in this election.”

Crockett denied spreading misinformation and said she was calling for common sense changes, including photo ID for voting and provisional ballots. She said she accepted that Joe Biden is the president, but she faulted Simon for changes in voting that were allowed in the 2020 election.

“He changed our election laws outside of the legislative process,” Crockett said. “He changed the way that absentee ballots could be submitted and extended the time that they could be counted.”

Simon responded that the changes were ordered by a judge because of the COVID-19 pandemic and that he lived up to his oath to defend the Constitution. 

In his solo interview, Jensen criticized Walz for not showing up and laid out several of his campaign themes.

He said he would not mandate that Minnesota students be vaccinated for COVID-19 before they could attend school.

There is one more debate in the governor’s race scheduled for Friday at noon on MPR News.