The top Republican candidates for attorney general squared off in a debate Thursday night in front of a live audience at Providence Academy in Plymouth, Minn.
Candidates Tad Jude, Doug Wardlow and Jim Schultz participated in the debate. Dennis Smith declined the invitation, and Lynne Torgerson initially accepted but then canceled.
Moderated by Liz Collin and Pafoua Yang of Alpha News, along with Minnesota Family Council CEO John Helmberger, the two-hour event offered a deep dive into the proper role of the attorney general’s office, which has been called into question by Republicans under Keith Ellison’s tenure.
All of the candidates were critical of how Attorney General Ellison handled the prosecution of former Brooklyn Center police officer Kim Potter, with Jude describing her trial as an example of “mob justice.”
“That trial is an example of what’s wrong in our attorney general’s office,” he said.
The candidates also discussed the role of the office in overseeing nonprofits, an issue that has come to the forefront of the race because of two ongoing scandals: a nonprofit called Feeding our Future allegedly defrauding child nutrition programs of millions of dollars, and a second nonprofit called Minnesota Freedom Fund bailing out violent and repeat offenders.
“The attorney general has jurisdiction over all nonprofits in the state,” Wardlow explained, calling for an investigation of the Minnesota Freedom Fund.
“The Minnesota Freedom Fund is doing things that are fundamentally immoral,” added Schultz.
Jude pointed to Feeding our Future as an example of why the attorney general’s office needs to increase its regulation of nonprofits.
“Look at Feeding our Future. $200 million has disappeared,” he said. “There’s a pattern here. We need to regulate nonprofits.”
The candidates also touched on hot button social issues like abortion and transgender athletes participating in women’s sports.
The topic of Gov. Tim Walz’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic was also discussed. The attorney general serves on the Minnesota Executive Council, and one of its responsibilities is to respond to emergencies and disasters in the state. As such, all of the governor’s COVID-19 executive orders required the approval of that council.
“I believe the Executive Council has failed the state in terms of handling the whole pandemic response of Gov. Walz. Part of that is it just acted as a rubber stamp,” Jude said.
Schultz said he would not be an accomplice to Gov. Walz “violating our constitutional rights.”
“The attorney general has the inherent authority to bring lawsuits, any civil lawsuits the attorney general thinks is in the best interest of the state. So I would have sued the governor,” added Wardlow.
At the end of the debate, each candidate was offered a chance to explain why they are the best candidate to take on Ellison.
Schultz said he’s a “fresh voice” and that’s what Minnesotans want right now. He frequently criticized Wardlow for losing to Ellison in 2018.
“He was up against the weakest attorney general candidate in Minnesota history and Doug still lost,” said Schultz. “He lost a race that was winnable.”
Wardlow, however, defended his performance in 2018, noting that he came within four points of beating Ellison in what was a tough year for Republicans. With the name recognition from that race, he thinks he can win this year in what is expected to be a strong year for the GOP.
Jude cited his record of winning 10 elections.
“These two candidates have won one combined,” he said.