HomeWorldIn Minnesota, abortion is key to Keith Ellison's second-term hopes

In Minnesota, abortion is key to Keith Ellison’s second-term hopes

By STEVE KARNOWSKI Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Keith Ellison gave up a safe congressional seat to run for Minnesota attorney general, saying it was his best chance to push back against Donald Trump’s policies. Now locked in a tough fight for re-election, he argues that he has been much less of a partisan warrior than critics claim.

Ellison took office in 2018, filling a seat that Democrats have traditionally won easily. But he was a polarizing figure in the eyes of some voters. The outspoken progressive hailed from the Bernie Sanders wing of the Democratic Party, and Republicans sought to draw attention to his past associations with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, even though Ellison had publicly renounced Farrakhan when he first ran for the US House of Representatives in 2006.

His bid for a second term as attorney general comes after four tumultuous years that put Minnesota in the global spotlight for the police killings of George Floyd and other Black men. His Republican opponent, hedge fund attorney Jim Schultz, says Ellison deserves much of the blame for the surge in violent crime that followed.

To defend himself, Ellison has used this summer’s US Supreme Court decision that struck down abortion rights to rally Democrats and undecided voters in the suburbs. He also urged those voters to look at his work on more everyday issues, like affordable health care and prescription drugs, protections against consumer and business fraud, and protections for workers against wage theft — all things that belie his image, he said. .

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“They think I’m going to be a firebrand and I end up being a pretty pragmatic guy,” Ellison said in an interview. “That’s true for my entire serve.”

Ellison was already leading a major initiative for greater police accountability when Floyd died at the knee of former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin in 2020. Ellison went on to lead the prosecution team that got Chauvin convicted of murder the following year, a verdict that potentially prevented another outbreak of violence.

Ellison also took a step that his Republican critics are now trying to use against him. He strongly backed a charter amendment in Minneapolis that grew out of the “defund the police” movement. He reportedly replaced the city’s police department with a vaguely defined public security department, with details to be worked out later. Voters rejected it.

On the campaign trail, Schultz describes Ellison as “at the forefront of the police defunding movement” and blames that movement for the departure of hundreds of discouraged police officers in Minneapolis and elsewhere. And he blames those losses on the rise in gun violence, carjackings and other crimes since the pandemic.

“Far-left politicians like Keith Ellison have endorsed really reckless policies like defunding the police,” Schultz said in an interview. “It is deeply wrong. It is immoral.

Violent crime has been on the rise in Minnesota since the pandemic began, with Minneapolis accounting for much of the increase, while its police force has fallen about 300 officers short of its authorized strength. Minnesota saw a 21.6% increase in violent crime statewide in 2021 from 2020, with violent crime in the Minnesota metro area up 16% and Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area.

Ellison said he has no regrets about supporting the charter amendment, but said he never supported “defunding the police” and said it did not accurately describe the amendment.

He also dismissed Schultz’s claim that he is hostile to the police, saying he considers policing to be a noble profession and that Chauvin did more to provoke contempt and demoralize officers than anything he ever did.

“I am the one who prosecuted him for killing George Floyd,” Ellison said. “So it is I who try to restore the honor and dignity of the police.”

Ellison also led the prosecution of former Brooklyn Center officer Kim Potter, who said she mistook her gun for her Taser when she killed Daunte Wright during a traffic stop last year. She was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in December. Schultz has said that she would support commuting her two-year sentence.

Crime isn’t the only problem facing Schultz, a 36-year-old political newcomer hoping to be the first Republican to hold the attorney general’s office since 1971. He also accuses Ellison of “incredible incompetence” for not to stop a massive fraud scheme in its early stages, with 49 people charged so far with stealing at least $250 million from state-run federal programs to provide nutritious meals to low-income children during the pandemic. Ellison responded that his office helped uncover the fraud.

If Ellison wants to survive both that attack and police criticism to win a second term, abortion rights are likely to be the issue that will do it.

Schultz vowed this spring to do everything in his power as attorney general to aggressively defend the unborn. After Roe’s reversal, he joined many other Republicans trying to move away from abortion and back to crime in a state where the right to abortion is protected by the state constitution.

Meanwhile, Ellison brought New York Attorney General Letitia James to Minnesota in early September to raise money from abortion rights advocates in the legal community. Soon after, he visited an abortion clinic in Moorhead that he moved across the border from Fargo, North Dakota, to escape a triggering ban on abortion. Ellison promised from the start that her office will not cooperate if other states seek to prosecute women who come to Minnesota for abortions.

Ellison said there is more to choice than abortion rights or crime. Trump’s rhetoric, the Jan. 6 insurrection, the Supreme Court’s abortion decision and the rise of “MAGA Republicans” have called democracy into question, she said.

“This is what we can’t do,” Ellison said. “We can’t tell people we have this. Frankly, I’m glad people see my race so closely because it means they’re going to show up.”

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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