Keith Ellison is the civil rights champion we need

Josie Johnson Photo by Charles Hallman

Throughout my life, I have seen great advances in the cause of civil rights. I have been honored to work alongside many other community activists, leaders and elected officials to achieve some of those steps — including passage of Minnesota’s landmark anti-discrimination laws in the 1950s and 1960s.

Now, with the future of civil rights increasingly uncertain in our fraught national political environment, we need strong state leaders who can enforce civil rights and consumer protection laws to make our economy, and our society, work better for everyone.

That is why I am proud to support Keith Ellison for attorney general. With over a decade in Congress and 16 years as a public defense attorney, Ellison is a critical thinker who has always worked to expand democracy and make our government work better for the people it serves. He has been a leader in the defense of civil rights and justice in our economy.

I understand there have been questions for some Minnesotans about the allegation raised by Ellison’s former partner. Across the country, survivors are bravely speaking up about the abuse and assault that has been all too common across income levels, races and religious beliefs.

When powerful men are accused of something, they often think their wealth and power will shield them from any consequences. Time and again, we’ve seen these men demand that we ignore the claims of women and refuse to investigate the allegations.

I am proud to say Ellison has been one exception to this rule. He has requested a bipartisan congressional investigation of the claim against him, even after initial investigations found the claim unsubstantiated. And, even as Republican politicians and dark money groups work to exploit Ellison’s race and religious beliefs to cast doubt on him, he has insisted we listen and find out the facts.

That his race and religion are being used by Republicans to try to distract and divide us should come as no surprise. They are working hard to elect Ellison’s opponent, Doug Wardlow, who has promised to use the office to enrich and empower corporate interests while devastating the civil rights of Minnesotans and protections for our families.

Wardlow would be a disaster for civil rights in Minnesota. For the past four years, he has worked for an organization labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) for its extreme anti-LGBT views. In this position, he was legal counsel for a group that has worked to block marriage equality and legalize discrimination at private businesses.

When confronted about his work with this organization, Wardlow has defended the group and attempted to smear the SPLC as “discredited,” despite its decades of work to ensure that the promise of the Civil Rights Movement would become a reality for all.

But, Wardlow’s attacks on civil rights run even deeper. He has long supported discriminatory measures to reduce voter participation in Minnesota, including the failed voter ID amendment in 2012, which he defended by suggesting that Minnesotans are not born with the innate right to vote. He has doubled down on this position, and has promised to use the attorney general’s office to replicate President Trump’s discredited “voter fraud commission,” using the powers of the attorney general’s office to reduce voting in a way that makes Minnesota “more red.”

If there is any question by what Wardlow means when he says this, he stated clearly that he does not believe there should be any law based on ethnicity or race. With views like these, Minnesotans cannot trust Wardlow to fairly enforce Minnesota’s robust employment discrimination laws, housing discrimination laws, and other equal rights protections which so many have fought so hard for over generations, including myself.

Luckily, Minnesotans have a clear choice for a champion for civil rights and equal opportunity for all. In Congress, Ellison has always stood with us, even when Republicans and special interest groups have come for him. Now they are coming for Ellison again, to try to distract and divide us based on race and religion.

This November, I urge all Minnesotans to vote for Keith Ellison for attorney general, for affordable health care, a fair economy and equal opportunity for all.

Dr. Josie Johnson is a longtime civil rights activist.