OWATONNA — It may not have been a full typhoon, but the blue wave was indeed big and made a significant impact after the 2018 General Election. Not only did Democrats maintain control of the governor’s mansion and both of the state’s U.S. Senate seats, but the Attorney General’s office also remained blue with a victory for Congressmen Keith Ellison.
Ellison did not dwell in celebration mode for long, however, as he immediately began preparing community outreach events — a promise he made at the beginning of his campaign first announced in June. On his way to a listening session in Albert Lea, Ellison made a pit stop in Owatonna on Monday to meet with residents and the People’s Press.
“We did [a listening session] in Duluth, but it is sort of the beginning because we plan on doing this as long as we’re in service at the AG’s office,” Ellison said about the listening tour, which began in Duluth last week. “This is something we’re going to make a part of our regular practice.”
While in Duluth, Ellison heard from about 100 attendees to the listening session about citizen concerns and struggles with healthcare access, student debt, air and water quality, wages, and homelessness. Recognizing that each area of Minnesota comes with unique characteristics — such as mining in the Duluth area versus corn and soybeans in southern Minnesota — he still expects to hear a lot of common concerns throughout the entire state.
“Everyone needs to make a living,” Ellison said. “And whether people are in North Minneapolis or in Owatonna, they want to see their communities succeed.”
With the election behind him, Ellison has made it a priority to hit the ground running as he prepares to become the “People’s Lawyer” in Minnesota. This included resigning from his position as a deputy chairman of the Democratic National Committee and forming a transition advisory board includes state legislators, prominent attorneys, union members, and a past political opponent. The 36-member board will assist in recruitment, organizing the office’s budget, and the community engagement that Ellison has made a clear priority.
“Part of what we will ask for in our budget appropriations is enough resources to help small counties in Greater Minnesota meet their needs when it comes to law enforcement and criminal prosecution,” Ellison said about assisting county attorneys across the state. “There are some counties in our state that one have one to three county attorneys. If there is a murder there, those folks are in tough shape, they can’t even meet their regular case load coming through the door if they’ve got something like that. They also need help with criminal appeals and multi-district crime such as sex-trafficking, opioids, meth; these things don’t happen in one localized community.”
“We’re preparing to be there,” he continued, adding that the office would also be available to assist with various evidence analysis and other difficulties that smaller communities may face. “There’s no county that’s too small or too far from the metro to benefit from the help of the AG’s office. We’re going to be there.”
Repairing the bridges of trust between Greater Minnesota and the metro is an area that Ellison has been extremely vocal about — as well as his colleague and personal friend Governor-elect Tim Walz. The two men both entered Congress in 2006, and Ellison said have since assisted each other in various areas throughout their careers. Because of their strong working relationship, Ellison said that this will only benefit the people as they move towards Walz’s vision of “One Minnesota.”
“What I’m finding is that there are differences,” Ellison said about some of the challenges that come with creating the united Minnesota that he is striving for. “People in Greater Minnesota have spatial disadvantages. Like public transportation — it’s just harder. When you’re far from a health care clinic, a mental health clinic, when the next hospital is 40 miles way — that has unique challenges.”
Despite the difference based on locality for Greater Minnesota, Ellison still asserts that the root of the problem comes from areas being under-served, an issue that is seen both in rural Minnesota and in the inner city of the metro.
“We have a housing crisis in the metro and in Greater Minnesota, of course they manifest differently,” he expounded. “One thing we have in common is both the metro and Greater Minnesota have a homeless problem. I think people hide poverty in Greater Minnesota a little bit better, but it’s still there.”
Currently, Ellison said that the listening sessions are drastically assisting his office in learning what the main concerns are for the citizens of Minnesota. He explained that until he is in the Attorney General’s office, he won’t know all the ways that he can assist, but until then these will be instrumental in showing his team where they should be looking. Ellison does plan on continuing on with some of the cases that the current attorney general, Lori Swanson, had already begun with topics ranging from the census to the opioid crisis to insulin prices.
Ellison also reiterated his stance on defending the Affordable Care Act — something he first said during his campaign and continues to promise despite the recent ruling of a federal judge in Texas stating that the law is unconstitutional. The decision risks throwing the nation’s health care system into turmoil should it be upheld on appeal, but Ellison believes that won’t be the case. Comparing the decision to a real-life scenario of “when the dog catches the car,” Ellison said he will continue to defend the law.
The legalization of marijuana was also brought to topic, with Ellison stating that he is indeed in support of the movement with some caveats. Those limitations include not allowing marijuana to be advertised in hopes of avoiding another “Joe Camel” situation and preventing the establishment of monopolies in the industry so that “Big Tobacco” doesn’t become “Big Marijuana.” Ellison added that the state legislature will have to do most all of the heavy-lifting with any legalization efforts, but that his office will advise them to the best of its ability while also looking into overturning convictions of petty marijuana crimes.
In the end, Ellison again stated that he is here to represent the all the people in Minnesota across the entire state, with the listening sessions being only the beginning of how he plans to accomplish that.
“We’re going to keep it up,” Ellison said. “We’re going to be doing this in five years. We’re going to be doing this as long as I’m Attorney General. I see a tremendous benefit from this — you hear about what people are going through from them. If people have complaints, they don’t suffer alone anymore.”
“I am here to help people be able to afford their lives,” he continued. “And to make sure that they are being treated with dignity and respect. I’m going to stand next to them.”