With eight days to go until Election Day, candidates and their supporters in the race for Minnesota attorney general raised questions about the other side’s management style — and character.
In a morning press conference Monday, a group of Republican state legislators criticized DFL candidate Keith Ellison, for everything from failing to pay his taxes on time to his political positions on officer-involved shootings, arguing he would be unsuited to run the state’s top law enforcement agency.
“The attorney general’s office is an administrative job, not a representative one,” state Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, said. “Just based on that alone, I’m very concerned about the future of the attorney general’s office and the role that Mr. Ellison would have.”
State Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, said he failed to pay “all or part” of his income taxes between 1992 and 2000 and had to pay back taxes. “Ellison’s history of mismanaging his tax obligations raises serious questions about his ability to manage a large and complex office,” she said.
An hour later, Ellison and a group of former and current employees in the St. Paul city attorney’s office, said his first priority as attorney general would be to push for civil service reform in the office, which would protect lawyers from being fired for things like their political beliefs, religion, gender or sexual orientation.
Ellison said he is pushing that agenda because his opponent, former state legislator and Republican nominee Doug Wardlow, was recently caught on tape saying his first act as attorney general would be to fire 42 Democratic attorneys who work in the office.
“The Minnesota’s attorney general’s office should serve all of Minnesotans equally, without regard for race, religion, zip code or political affiliation, that starts with the attorneys staffed in the office,” Ellison said. “I was very disturbed when my Republican opponent said he wanted to conduct a political purge on the attorney general’s office, to install those who will implement his ideological agenda.”
The most recent MPR News/Star Tribune Minnesota Poll showed Ellison trailing Wardlow by 7 points. The office is open after current Attorney General Lori Swanson made an unsuccessful run for governor this summer.
The two sides also addressed the issue of character, which has been a constant theme in the race. Since August, Ellison has been dogged by an allegation of domestic abuse, which he denies. Over the weekend, the Pioneer Press reported that Wardlow bullied Ryan Durant while they both attended Eagan High School, actions that Durant said led him to attempt to take his own life in the 10th grade.
Wardlow, who was in Bemidji Monday campaigning with other Republican statewide candidates on the ballot, acknowledged that he knows Durant but said the allegation is “categorically false.”
“It’s a desperate smear campaign by a failing campaign,” he said. “They know they are behind so they are leveling accusations against me that are completely false.”
Ellison said he doesn’t know Durant, but he has “a right to come forward” and tell his story. Ellison said he’s more concerned about Wardlow’s more recent legal career, representing a mortuary that fired a transgender employee and working on other cases which push to allow businesses to deny services to people based on their sexual orientation.
“We start out with this recent stuff, and then it looks like it’s not new for him, at least,” Ellison said.