Democrat Keith Ellison and Republican Doug Wardlow have differing views on the role of the attorney general in political matters.
Minnesota attorney general candidates Ellison and Wardlow butted heads over the politicization of the attorney general’s office during the first post-primary debate hosted by TPT’s “Almanac” Friday night.
As noted by Cathy Wurzer, one of the debate moderators, “prosecutorial activism” has become more prevalent among attorneys general, particularly during the Trump administration. When asked whether they would seek to join other attorneys general in political lawsuits, Ellison expressed support for the idea while Wardlow called into question the political role of the office.
“I wouldn’t join any politically motivated lawsuit,” Wardlow said. “The attorney general’s office is supposed to be an office that is apolitical. It is about enforcing laws, standing up for the rule of law.”
Ellison, who has previously declared intentions to use the office to hinder President Donald Trump’s agenda, said it is “ridiculous” to think an attorney general “doesn’t do politics.”
“It’s not about politics or no politics,” Ellison said. “It’s about how can we help people afford their lives.”
Earlier this year, Republican officials from 20 states joined a lawsuit to overturn the Affordable Care Act on the basis that the individual mandate is no longer constitutional since GOP tax reform eliminated the tax penalty associated with it. Wardlow pushed back on the notion of bypassing Congress to implement a policy fix.
“This fix has to be legislative,” Wardlow said. “You’re talking about using the attorney general’s office and the courts to push a fix to bypass the legislature, to bypass Congress, and do things through the courts that really shouldn’t be done through the courts.”
Wardlow noted there are some things an attorney general can do to help lower heath care costs that are not legislative, including investigating and prosecuting illegal practices between insurers and providers.
Ellison continued to reject the idea of attorneys general staying out of legislative matters, indicating he will use the office of attorney general to make changes to health care law in whatever way necessary.
“How can we help Minnesotans get the healthcare they need? Getting sick should not be a recipe for bankruptcy,” Ellison said. “And as Minnesota attorney general, I’m going to do what I need to do to defend people, to make sure they can afford their medication, to make sure they can afford their healthcare, and all consumer issues that people face.”
“Look, the attorney general always has a legislative agenda that they are allowed and expected to support,” Ellison added.
Watch the full debate below: