The Star Tribune Editorial Board’s advice to Minnesota’s new attorney general would have been the same no matter who won.
Here’s the priority list:
Rebuild morale among current staff and hire the best young legal talent possible. Reach out to former attorneys general for advice. Focus on the office’s core responsibilities, such as providing counsel to state agencies and aiding county attorneys with prosecutions.
On Tuesday, DFLer and current U.S. House Rep. Keith Ellison emerged the victor over Republican Doug Wardlow in the bruising battle to become Minnesota’s top lawyer. Allegations of abuse from a former girlfriend, though unsubstantiated by one investigation, cast a pall over Ellison’s campaign. Wardlow’s work at an organization opposed to gay rights dogged his efforts. So did his comments to donors that he’d purge 42 attorneys in the AG’s office because of their political leanings.
The focus on character rather than issues prevented a more thorough discussion of what the Attorney General’s Office needs at this time. For almost 20 years, the office has been led by DFLer Mike Hatch or his former deputy, Lori Swanson. Swanson has focused on consumer issues and won an $850 million settlement from 3M to help clean up drinking water contaminants.
But the office has been tarnished by allegations that staffers were pressured to do political work for Swanson. Ellison’s own background as one of the Democratic Party’s national leaders has also raised concerns about ideological influence, as did his campaign’s early focus on an expansive economic justice agenda rather than the AG’s core responsibilities.
As a leadership transition looms, it cannot be emphasized enough that the office is best served by professionalism and an unwavering commitment to serving all Minnesotans. Fortunately, more recently Ellison has said that these would be his guiding principles.
Now it’s time to translate these ideals into action as Ellison prepares to be sworn in. A focus on good management — one informed by those who have served in the Attorney General’s Office and those served by it — would strengthen confidence in his leadership after this particularly ugly campaign.