Keith Ellison Jumps into Race for Minnesota Attorney General

US Representative Keith Ellison, Democrat of Minnesota, attends a press conference with the Congressional Progressive Caucus about the nominations for President-elect Donald Trump's cabinet, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, December 8, 2016. / AFP / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress and a top official with the Democratic National Committee, filed to run for Minnesota attorney general Tuesday in a last-minute move triggered by the incumbent’s decision to run for governor.

A sixth-term lawmaker widely regarded as among the most liberal members of Congress, Ellison had been eyeing statewide office in Minnesota for months. He considered running for the Senate seat vacated by former Sen. Al Franken before backing Gov. Mark Dayton’s appointee, Sen. Tina Smith. And he weighed a run for attorney general until Lori Swanson, the current officeholder, decided to run for a fourth term this winter.

But Swanson changed course Monday, launching a late bid for Minnesota governor. Ellison and others pounced, filing for the office on Tuesday.

In a series of tweets, Ellison pledged to “defend Minnesotans from the harmful effects of corporate monopolies,” and advocate gun control policies.

“I will confront fraud and abuse, from student loans to drug prices, and will defend Minnesotans from the harmful effects of corporate monopolies. I will ensure that workers receive their full wages and stand up for the right to collectively bargain,” the lawmaker began.

“As Attorney General, I will push for equal rights under the law, for commonsense gun safety laws, and for criminal justice reform that ends unjust policies and creates a pathway for Minnesotans to reenter as contributing members of society.”

It will be Ellison’s first statewide campaign and a huge change from his congressional career. He represents a solidly Democratic district in Minneapolis and some surrounding suburbs and has never faced a major challenger since first being elected to Congress in 2006.

Ellison co-chaired the House’s Congressional Progressive Caucus from 2011 to 2017 and recently assumed the charge of pushing to expand a Medicare-for-all, single-payer health care program. He has also served as deputy chairman of the Democratic National Committee since 2017, after losing the race for its top job to Tom Perez. Both Ellison and Perez said he would keep his spot with the DNC.

By entering the race for attorney general, Ellison is taking on the state party’s endorsed candidate as well as longtime Democratic state lawmaker and former Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch. All filed for the office Tuesday.

His decision not to run for a seventh term in Congress opens up a solidly Democratic seat. And Minnesota Democrats started lining up for a chance to take the seat before Ellison made his exit official.

State Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, a prominent voice on Latina issues, filed for Ellison’s seat less than an hour after he filed for attorney general. Former state House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher also jumped in.

In February, Ellison came under fire after admitting he attended a dinner with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to discuss the Islamic Republic’s nuclear deal in 2013.

“As part of the 2013 U.N. General Assembly, and as negotiations were underway for what would become the Iran deal, I attended a meeting with President Rouhani and nearly 50 American Muslim leaders. This was not a private dinner, I didn’t know in advance who else would be there, and my decision to attend was not an endorsement of the political views of other attendees,” the Congressman said in a statement.

“I attended the meeting to advocate for a peaceful resolution to the Iranian nuclear issue and to press President Rouhani face-to-face for the release of former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, who was illegally detained and tortured by the Iranian regime. As always, I disavow anti-Semitism and bigotry in all of its forms,” Ellison added.

In a February sermon, Farrakhan confirmed Ellison’s ties to the Nation and bashed the lawmaker for denouncing him as an anti-Semite.

“Now Keith was in the Nation in 1995. He was selling the Final Call newspaper, beautiful brother. Now being in Minnesota, I think that is where he is from, he wants to help his community. He’s a lawyer, so he wants to help his community. He wants to become a congressman.”

“He wanted to help his community. He wanted to become a congressman. So when the Jews found out that he was in the Nation—’Alright, Mr. Ellison, come on now you have got to denounce Mr. Farrakhan as an anti-Semite, and maybe we will let you run.’”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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