COOK— Congressman Keith Ellison said he wants to be “the people’s lawyer” during a campaign stop at The Crescent Bar here last Wednesday night. Ellison, who is giving up his seat in Congress …
COOK— Congressman Keith Ellison said he wants to be “the people’s lawyer” during a campaign stop at The Crescent Bar here last Wednesday night. Ellison, who is giving up his seat in Congress to run for Minnesota Attorney General, spoke to a crowd of about 40 people to push forward his plan for economic equality in Minnesota.
“Some of them (corporations) are just lying, crooking and cheating,” said Ellison. “We’ll pull them into court.”
At the top of Ellison’s list: pharmaceutical companies, student debt servicers, and employers who won’t pay a fair and equitable wage to all employees. On day one, he said, his first task will be to rein in drug prices in the state and fight back against 2003 federal legislation that barred government officials from regulating drug prices.
Part of the fight against drug companies and keeping healthcare accessible is the congressman’s continued support for single-payer healthcare, a position he adopted during the 2016 election when he was a vocal supporter of presidential candidate,Sen. Bernie Sanders, of Vermont.
“We need to help history along,” Ellison said, “and this is the only sensible way to do it.”
On keeping wages fairer, the congressman said many companies are not complying with the state’s prevailing wage law.
“I am personally appalled at how wages have stagnated while the wealthiest people get more,” he said.
Ellison used steelworkers as an example of wage stagnation, criticizing steel corporations for not passing on windfalls from last year’s federal corporate tax cut, to their employees. That predicament has prompted the possibility of strikes at not only mines on the Iron Range, but nationwide.
Ellison, in one of the evening’s few comments on his Republican opponent, Doug Wardlow, said Wardlow’s support of right-to-work legislation and eroding union representation had the potential to hurt the state’s residents.
“Union decline and wage decline are linked,” Ellison said. “He (Wardlow) wants to turn us into Wisconsin and attack public employees. He has been a leader in trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act. He wanted to tear the whole thing down.”
The congressman also attacked Wardlow over his attachment to the Alliance for Defending Freedom, which has been defined as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and his push to curtail rights of LGBT individuals. Wardlow was involved in the fight against putting unisex bathrooms in the Anoka-Hennepin School District a few years ago following several LGBT student suicides. Wardlow has also been a proponent of allowing business owners to discriminate based on beliefs, something Ellison took issue with.
“In America you can’t not serve someone based on how they look or what they believe,” he said. “We can’t go back to the bad old days.”
Following his stump speech, Ellison took comments from the crowd,; the first was about the lack of broadband internet access.
“You need to get what you are paying for,” he said. “In every single meeting I have had in Northern Minnesota, this is a recurring problem.”
Ellison was unaware of the ongoing Public Utilities Commission’s inquiry into Frontier Communications but said he would study the issue.
Ellison said the government should have a larger hand in helping pay for rural broadband access. He compared the need for internet access to rural electrification efforts nearly a century ago.
The internet, Ellison said, is necessary for businesses and education alike, and is one of the equalizers in ensuring economic equality.
Domestic abuse allegation
Ellison faced a question over allegations made by a former girlfriend that he abused her two years ago.
“I’ve made it clear this never happened,” Ellison said.
Recently the DFL hired an attorney, Susan Ellingstad from the same law firm as its lead council, Charlie Nauen, to conduct an investigation - one that showed the allegations were unfounded.
“They (the DFL) didn’t do it for me, they did it to protect their own brand,” Ellison said. “All of the documents were submitted and she (the investigator) determined there was no wrongdoing.”
Even though Ellison will end his tenure as a congressman at the end of the year, he has requested a House Ethics Committee review of the case, something which has not moved forward.
As of writing, two law enforcement agencies in Minneapolis and Dakota County, have refused to investigate the claim as well.
The question of the alleged incident led to a follow up question on the congressman’s stance on women’s issues in general and particularly his support for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).
“I believe that the ERA is one of the most important things we could ever pass,” he said. As Attorney General, the role would be for us to use the pulpit to gain support.”
The ERA is an unratified Constitutional Amendment originally passed in 1972 that guarantees equal rights and fair wages for all sexes. The amendment has not yet been ratified by enough states to become law.
Ellison also expressed support for repealing “pink taxes” which charge tax on women’s health products.
“When you pay a woman less, but charge her more, you are doing an injustice and you also lower family incomes overall,” he said.
He also said sex trafficking, especially that among Native American women, needed to be addressed more fully by state law enforcement officials.
While Ellison did not speak about his views on mining, he did say the state had a right to defend itself against state and federal environmental infractions. He also said the long-term impacts of projects should be taken seriously in their environmental assessments.
“We cannot allow precious commodities to be wasted on short term gains,” he said. Ellison used the example of years-long battles between 3M and the Twin Cities suburbs of Cottage Grove and Oakdale after they dumped dangerous chemicals into the watershed without proper documentation and reporting.
The result has been a large cancer cluster, especially among young people, in central and southern Washington County.
On immigration, Ellison said the debate affected Minnesota.
“Minnesota has quite a lot to do with immigration,” he said. “Minnesota would have seen a decline in our population if it wasn’t for immigration,” and said that the state would likely have lost at least one congressional seat if it weren’t for the influx of immigrants.
He said industries, especially agriculture and food processing, have been able to keep their doors open in cities like Willmar and Worthington because of immigrants.
He also cited the experience of one of his own staffer’s family members who benefited from a bone marrow transplant from a family member in Iran, something that currently would not be allowed under President Trump’s immigration ban on some Muslim-majority countries.
Wednesday’s campaign stop was sponsored by the Northern Progressives. The group is holding town hall-style meetings with candidates who accept their invitation.
CLARIFICATION: An earlier version of this story stated the DFL hired their own attorney for the investigation. The story has been updated to clarify the attorney works for the same law firm as the lead DFL council.