Keith Ellison: “This race is fundamentally a choice, and it's a clear one”

At news conference with elected officials and advocates including Rep. Ilhan Omar, third-party candidate Noah Johnson, and health care advocate Andy Slavitt, Ellison stressed the choice voters face for Attorney General

“It’s a choice between a community based around love and dignity for everyone, and one based on discrimination and fear against certain people deemed outside our circle of compassion”

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MINNESOTA – At a news conference with elected officials and advocates at the State Capitol this morning, Congressman Keith Ellison laid out the clear choice facing voters for Minnesota Attorney General this year. Full video of the news conference can be found here.

Joining Ellison for the news conference was Noah Johnson, a third-party candidate for Attorney General who has suspended his campaign to support Ellison for Attorney General. Also speaking this morning was Dr. Josie Johnson, longtime civil rights advocate, who stressed the stakes for human and civil rights in this election.

Others speaking were Nina Turner, President of Our Revolution; State Rep. Ilhan Omar, candidate for Congress; State Rep. Erin Maye Quade; Andy Slavitt, who oversaw the ACA, Medicare, and Medicaid under President Obama; Betsy Hodges, former Mayor of Minneapolis; and justice advocate Sarah Walker. Governor Mark Dayton also provided a statement urging Minnesota voters to support Ellison in the election for Attorney General.

Below are Congressman Ellison’s full remarks, as delivered at the State Capitol this morning.

Thank you all for being here. I want to thank all of my amazing colleagues up here today. Tremendous leaders, each one of them.

Five months ago I began this campaign for Minnesota Attorney General with two simple ideas: we would help Minnesotans afford their lives, and we would defend their rights, and make sure they have dignity and respect in this society.

What’s incredible about campaigns like ours, and what I believe in is real people-powered politics, and the opportunity it provides us when we listen and give people our attention. We can build community by reaching out to people, talking to them, listening to them, and incorporating their ideas into our service.

Since this campaign began, I’ve traveled across the state listening to thousands and thousands of Minnesotans. I’ve heard from farmers in Willmar, small business owners in Duluth, knocked on apartment doors in North Minneapolis, and sat down with workers all over the state, from Rochester to Grand Rapids.

One woman I met told me about her son, who just graduated from college. He had a degree in computer science and he was ready for the world. This mother told her boy that he ought to think about moving to Canada. And the reason she told him that is because he has Crohn’s disease, and he needs reliable, affordable health care. She said it broke her heart to tell him that, because she wanted him to lead his adult life near her. But she wanted him to be healthy, and have the health care that he needed.

I met a father who told me that his daughter was a better student than he ever dreamed of being. He said: 'I don't know whose kid this is. She looks like me, but her grades don't look like mine did.' And she had this report card full of A's. And he told her when she was about twelve years old: 'You know girl, you get the grades, I'll get the money. You get the grades I'll get the money.' She got the grades. She got into every school she applied to. But he didn't have the money because he got hit with a layoff. And that family had to go into serious debt to help that girl reach her dream. And that man looked at me, strong man, with tears in his eyes as he told me that story.

I met another mother whose son passed away last year. He was only 26 years old. He had diabetes. He didn't want to ask mom and dad for money. But he started rationing his insulin. He didn't know that if he rationed that insulin, he could go into a diabetic shock and die. But that's what. The truth is, drug companies have raised the cost of insulin by 1200 percent over the last 20 years. And I believe it could well have cost this young man his life.

I also talked with a good friend of mine named Sami Rahamim. Sami is the son of Reuven Rahamim, an Israeli immigrant who came to the United States and who was gifted at sign-making. He did a great job, he hired a lot of people, he won an immigrant businessman's award. But one day, a disgruntled person walked into his business at Accent Signage and killed Reuven Rahamim and several other employees. And I will pledge to Sami and any other victim that as your Attorney General I will be there for sensible, safe gun laws.

I heard these stories every place I went. I heard them, and many more like them. I heard from new Americans, and I heard from people whose family came to Minnesota when it was founded. I talked to people whose family was in Minnesota before Minnesota was ever even thought of. I've talked to Minnesotans of all kinds, and I was enriched by it. And it prepared me to serve this state as Minnesota Attorney General.

This office has a legacy of fighting for people, and listening to people. Right now, Attorney General Lori Swanson is taking on the insulin manufacturers and their price-gouging to make sure no one else has to suffer the same loss that Nicole and her son Alec did.

Minnesota Attorney General Skip Humphrey, whose support I am honored to have, took on big tobacco and won the biggest lawsuit in American history to help people who had been deceived and mistreated by these tobacco manufacturers.

Mike Hatch went head-to-head with insurance corporations to expand mental health coverage, and helped to guarantee the uninsured weren’t being exploited in their medical bills.

The late Warren Spannaus stood up to the gun lobby and led the charge to keep Minnesotans safe by supporting common-sense measures to reduce gun violence.

And of course, the great Walter Mondale, who yes, was an Ambassador to Japan, yes was a U.S. Senator, yes was a Vice President of the United States. But also was Minnesota Attorney General, and according to him, that was his funnest job. He is an icon in the fight for civil rights, when it was really tough to fight for civil rights. I am proud to have his support.

All these leaders have understood the Attorney General's Office to be one to protect people, ordinary citizens. And it is my hope and aspiration to step into that legacy and continue their work.

Now is the time to build on that legacy, not throw it away. If you look around at some of the signs here, you’ll see these words: “Everybody Counts. Everybody Matters.” That’s been on every piece of campaign literature I’ve ever printed since I first ran for Congress – and that’s intentional.

Everybody counts and everybody matters is in contrast to only some people count, and only some people matter. We believe everyone counts, and everyone matters. And we'll carry that philosophy into the Minnesota Attorney General's Office.

Because some people believe that only some people count, and only some people matter. And it’s those people who are working right now to overturn protections for people with preexisting conditions. They’re propping up predatory for-profit colleges and lenders that defraud students and saddle them with insurmountable debt simply for pursuing an education. And they’re the people trying to tell LGBTQ people that they can be denied services – or even a job – simply for being who they are.

These are people, unfortunately, include my opponent, Doug Wardlow. He has built his career around advancing discrimination, and undercutting Minnesota families and children.

Over 2 million Minnesotans have preexisting conditions, which can include conditions like diabetes, cancer, asthma, and pregnancy. Yet Doug Wardlow has praised Republican Attorney Generals’ efforts to remove their health care protections. And his special interest group pushed lawsuits against the Affordable Care Act nearly two dozen times.

And while Republicans at the federal level push to overturn Roe v. Wade, we are fortunate to have a State Constitution in Minnesota that protects a woman’s right to choose. Still, Mr. Wardlow says he wants to make criminalization of abortion a “priority” in the Attorney General’s Office, and his group, the Alliance Defending Freedom – which does the exact opposite – has worked to defend the harassment of women outside of health care clinics.

I also know, that from Worthington to Virginia, Minnesotans care about leaving a legacy of clean water and clean air to the next generation. I was glad to see Lori Swanson hold 3M accountable when they contaminated waters around Oakdale and Cottage Grove. But Doug Wardlow opposed their efforts to get justice, siding with the financial interests of a massive company over the well-being of our health and our water.

But most troubling is my opponent’s long record of professional discrimination against those he disagrees with. I believe that the Minnesota Attorney General must work with, and for, all Minnesotans, regardless of party affiliation, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or zip code.

I want you to know that if you are an Independent, Republican, or Green Party member, or any party – you are welcome to work with me in the Minnesota Attorney General's Office as long as you commit to the public interest.

But Mr. Wardlow has promised to carry out a partisan purge if elected, to fire 42 people based on his beliefs about their political affiliation, and to replace them with people loyal to his own agenda.

Mr. Wardlow’s record of discrimination goes back further. After voters rejected him from his one term in the State House, Doug Wardlow went to work for an anti-LGBTQ hate group. And when I say hate group, I'm not exaggerating. The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated this group as a hate group, right alongside the Klan, the Nazis, and the Alliance Defending Freedom. Think about that for a moment. Just think about it.

Doug Wardlow stands with a group that would say to Americans, and Minnesotans, “We don’t serve your kind.” Which is exactly what the Alliance Defending Freedom is doing in Saint Cloud right now, as they are representing videographers who sued for an exemption to the Human Rights Act, so they could discriminate against gay people based on their religion. That is not acceptable.

People, Minnesotans in fact, travelled down to many places in our country and sat at lunch counters. They had hot coffee poured on their necks, cigarettes put out on their backs. These people were black, they were white, they were of all backgrounds, they were men, they were women – for the simple idea that no person should be denied service based on who they are. We cannot return to an America that the Alliance Defending Freedom and Doug Wardlow want us to return to.

Doug Wardlow’s actions have consequences. He went to an Anoka-Hennepin School Board meeting and said, as parents, children, and teachers were trying to come up with measures that would allow transgender kids to feel comfortable in their classrooms, and in their school – he stepped forward and spoke, and said that there are only boys and girls, nobody else. Basically erasing the humanity of transgender children. That's pretty scary right there. The Attorney General should not be someone who transgender kids fear.

Our nation is reeling this week from the deadly consequences of hate and bigotry. Minnesotans are good, decent people, all over the state. We don’t want division and denial and exclusion coming from the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office.

This race is fundamentally a choice, and it's a clear one, between two visions of our state.

It’s a choice between a community based around love and dignity for everyone, and one based on discrimination and fear against certain people deemed outside our circle of compassion.

It’s a choice between a Minnesota where everyone has the opportunity for a good life, and one where our Attorney General says: “Immigrants and refugees need not apply. LGBTQ Minnesotans need not apply. People of all backgrounds need not apply.

Let me be clear – nobody is outside our circle of compassion. Everybody counts and everybody matters.

I want to say to every Minnesotan – no matter what color you are, what your gender identity is, what your religion is, how much money you make, how old you may be, how healthy you are, who you love, where you live, how you pray, and whether you vote for me or not – you deserve an Attorney General who's going to be on your side.

And that's why I entered the race, and that’s exactly why I plan to be your next Attorney General.