MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Democratic Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who led the prosecution team that won the conviction of ex-officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd, announced Monday he will seek a second term.
Ellison assembled a team of attorneys in private practice and from his office that persuaded jurors earlier this year to convict Chauvin of murder. Floyd’s death last year became a flashpoint in the national conversation about the deaths of Black Americans at the hands of law enforcement and sparked worldwide protests.
The announcement via Zoom featured some of Ellison’s endorsers, including Minnesota U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a former prosecutor who touted Ellison's handling of the Chauvin trial, calling it an “act of courage” and citing the international attention the proceedings received.
“He didn't make it about himself and he didn't make it about the lawyers. What he made it about was George Floyd and the people in the community,” she said. “What people took away from that case was not hot dog lawyering, what people took away from that case was the witnesses.”
Ellison is Minnesota's first Black attorney general, as well as the first Muslim elected to Congress — a job he left in 2018 to run for attorney general. He was a prominent booster for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential bids.
He vowed to continue fighting for a fair economy, and touted his efforts to combat wage theft and protect tenants, help rural communities secure better broadband and enforce Gov. Tim Walz's COVID-19 safety orders, among others.
“Minnesotans all over the state are struggling to make ends meet, and we're going to continue to fight for fair wages and fair prices in consumer areas and we're going to make sure that people have a place to live,” he said. “We are in it to make sure that everyone can enjoy their lives and live with dignity, safety and respect.”
His office also represented the state when a pharmaceutical trade group sued to overturn the Alec Smith Insulin Affordability Act passed last year, which helps provide insulin to diabetics who can't afford it. A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit in March, though the trade group is appealing.
The law is named for an uninsured 26-year-old Minneapolis man who died in 2017 while rationing his insulin because he couldn’t afford the drug and test supplies after he aged off his mother’s insurance. Nicole Smith-Holt, his mother, endorsed Ellison for his efforts to protect the legislation.
“I've come to see firsthand that Keith truly believes that everybody counts and everybody matters,” Smith-Holt said.
Democratic state attorneys general, including Ellison, gained new policymaking importance during Donald Trump’s presidency, leading the charge with litigation to block his administration’s initiatives on a wide range of issues including health care, environmental rollbacks and immigration.
Ellison and Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington led a task force that proposed steps in 2020 to reduce police-involved deadly force encounters, several of which have become law.
Ellison was a strong supporter of a defeated ballot initiative in Minneapolis to remake law enforcement in the city, but was critical of the “defund the police” slogan that some advocates used early on. Minnesota’s three declared GOP attorney general candidates — former state Reps. Doug Wardlow and Dennis Smith and defense attorney Lynne Torgerson — have joined Republicans across the country in stressing law-and-order themes.
Wardlow lost to Ellison by fewer than 4 percentage points in 2018. That was a strong showing in a state that hasn’t elected a GOP attorney general since Doug Head in 1966. But no Republican has won statewide office in Minnesota since Gov. Tim Pawlenty was reelected in 2006.
Wardlow is general counsel for MyPillow, whose CEO, Trump ally Mike Lindell, promotes baseless claims that the 2020 presidential election was rigged for Joe Biden. Wardlow has criticized Ellison for failing to stop the rioting and looting that broke out after Floyd’s death.
”As Attorney General, I will ensure that the violent criminals who terrorize our communities are prosecuted aggressively," Wardlow said in a statement. "I will make sure that lawbreaking has consequences."
Associated Press writer Steve Karnowski contributed to this report. Ibrahim is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.
Mohamed Ibrahim, The Associated Press