Ellison on his first six months as attorney general
After making history as the first African American and Muslim to be elected to serve as Minnesota Attorney General, Keith Ellison has not been one to rest on his laurels. In an effort to fulfill election promises coupled with his own convictions, Ellison has been working as hard as he campaigned. In addition to suing opioid manufacturers for lying about how addictive the drug is, his office is also working on legislation to prevent wage theft, regulate HMOs, and protect senior citizens.
Halfway into his first year, one might think someone with such an aggressive agenda could already be facing burnout. Quite the opposite in Ellison’s case, who says he enjoys being busy, helping others, and making life better for all Minnesotans
“Helping people” is the one thing, he said, that serving as the former U.S. Representative for Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District kept him from doing. The MSR sat down with Ellison to find out exactly what that means for him, what goes into being the state’s attorney general, and how he keeps up with all the legislation and lawsuits.
Here is a portion of that conversation.
MSR: What are some of the initiatives that you are working on?
KE: We’re hoping the legislature passes a bill to [let immigrants] drive if they can safely operate a motor vehicle. I believe in the freedom to drive and movement. Immigration shouldn’t have anything to do with it.
We have a bill to regulate HMOs. Health maintenance organizations in Minnesota used to be always nonprofits. Then they passed laws in 2017 to let for-profits come in. I think without regulation that could be a real mess. We’re hoping to see a bill passed on that.
We are also looking at wage theft. There are people who don’t get all the money they earned on the job. I’m hoping to help get a bill passed that would take care of that.
Then there is also an important piece of legislation for seniors to keep them from getting ripped off. We’re trying to help our seniors keep their money.
MSR: Seems like you have more work now as AG than you did in Congress. Are you feeling the effects yet?
KE: No, I love it. It’s why I ran for attorney general.
MSR: Why did you leave Congress with a solid seat and your popularity in your district?
KE: To me, Congress is important. I was honored to be a congressman in the 5th District for 12 years. I loved every second of it. I felt really privileged.
MSR: So, why leave?
KE: In Congress, you make a bunch of speeches and rarely does anything ever happen. I mean, it’s high profile, you turn on the television to watch Sunday morning news shows and members of Congress are on. But, the truth is, they don’t get to do very much.
This job I’m in now, we’re doing something on the daily, every day. So, the profile is lower, but the action is much higher.
MSR: Can you break that down for us?
KE: Ask any member of Congress what bills they’ve actually passed — it ain’t much. I was in Congress and I tried to introduce bills, pieces of legislation, to try to help people solve problems. It was very difficult getting hearings, and when we did get the hearings it was tough to get a vote. And when we got a vote, it was tough to get it to the Senate. Then when we got it to the Senate, only on rare occasions did we ever get it to the president’s desk to sign.
MSR: Well, were you able to get anything done?
KE: I did pass some bills and I’m very proud of those. I helped tenants in foreclosure. I helped credit card holders and people who are living in manufactured housing. But not very often — it’s very rare. The famous former speaker of the House Paul Ryan was in Congress for years and never passed a bill that he authored.
MSR: What inspired the switch to a state-level position?
KE: I saw all these attorneys general suing companies and getting results for people. I’m like, “Wow, I want a job where I can get some results.” Right now, state attorneys general are suing the president over getting rid of DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals]. Do you remember the Muslim ban? Well, they had to go back three times before they got it right — because state attorneys general kept suing.
MSR: Who is fighting for our health care?
KE: State attorneys general are the ones defending the Affordable Care Act. A Republican attorney general in Texas is trying to tear it down. Democratic attorneys general are suing to maintain it.
MSR: So, you’re on the front lines.
KE: What I do impacts the real battles that affect people’s everyday kitchen-table concerns. Those concerns are being fought by your state attorney general.
MSR: Who is protecting consumers?
KE: Your state attorney general. If people are having any problems, I want them to give me a call.
MSR: We can just pick up a phone and call you?
KE: I’m serious, that’s what I’m here for. Let me give you an example: I’ve been getting calls that some insurance companies are denying people who are making claims for mental health coverage. That’s illegal. If that’s you, call me. I know seniors are getting scammed. They are getting a large amount of robocalls. If that happens to you, call me.
MSR: What about folks whose employers aren’t paying their full wages?
KE: If you’re a worker on the job and you work eight hours and you’re supposed to get $10 an hour, you’re supposed to get $80 that day, right? If they give you $79.99, you’ve got a penny coming to you. You call your attorney general and we’ll fight for you to get your money back.
MSR: Many don’t know the levels of advocacy your office provides.
KE: Not a lot of people know what the attorney general’s office does. So, you talking to me and writing this article is a big help. [As attorney general] I protect consumers, workers, and make sure we have a fair economy.
MSR: So, can we really call you? I can pass your number out to our readers if they need to reach out to you?
KE: Sure, it’s 651-296-3353. Call your AG. Call Brother Keith.
MSR: That right there needs to be on the next campaign bumper sticker.
KE: (Laughs) It’s been a lot of fun.