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Advice for Minnesota’s next attorney general

November 8, 2018

The Star Tribune Editorial Boards advice to Minnesotas new attorney general would have been the same no matter who won.

Heres the priority list:

Rebuild morale among current staff and hire the best young legal talent possible. Reach out to former attorneys general for advice. Focus on the offices core responsibilities, such as providing counsel to state agencies and aiding county attorneys with prosecutions.

On Tuesday, DFLer and current U.S. House Rep. Keith Ellison emerged the victor over Republican Doug Wardlow in the bruising battle to become Minnesotas top lawyer. Allegations of abuse from a former girlfriend, though unsubstantiated by one investigation, cast a pall over Ellisons campaign. Wardlows work at an organization opposed to gay rights dogged his efforts. So did his comments to donors that hed purge 42 attorneys in the AGs office because of their political leanings.

The focus on character rather than issues prevented a more thorough discussion of what the Attorney Generals Office needs at this time. For almost 20 years, the office has been led by DFLer Mike Hatch or his former deputy, Lori Swanson. Swanson has focused on consumer issues and won an $850 million settlement from 3M to help clean up drinking water contaminants.

But the office has been tarnished by allegations that staffers were pressured to do political work for Swanson. Ellisons own background as one of the Democratic Partys national leaders has also raised concerns about ideological influence, as did his campaigns early focus on an expansive economic justice agenda rather than the AGs core responsibilities.

As a leadership transition looms, it cannot be emphasized enough that the office is best served by professionalism and an unwavering commitment to serving all Minnesotans. Fortunately, more recently Ellison has said that these would be his guiding principles.

Now its time to translate these ideals into action as Ellison prepares to be sworn in. A focus on good management one informed by those who have served in the Attorney Generals Office and those served by it would strengthen confidence in his leadership after this particularly ugly campaign.

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