The Potluck

AG candidates offer opposing visions to address public safety

By: - July 11, 2022 10:38 pm

Minnesota attorney general candidates Keith Ellison and Jim Schultz (pictured above) presented competing programs to address crime at press conferences Monday. Photo by Baylor Spears/Minnesota Reformer

With crime rates and high-profile gun violence on the rise in recent years, the major candidates for Minnesota attorney general offered contrasting anti-crime visions at dueling press conferences Monday.

DFL Attorney General Keith Ellison focused on strengthening gun control laws. 

Jim Schultz, the Republican-endorsed candidate for attorney general, said he would shift resources in the attorney general’s office to criminal prosecutions.

The clash is mostly symbolic, as the Minnesota attorney general’s office is not deeply involved in criminal prosecutions, which are mostly carried out by county and city attorneys.

Still, the candidates tried to create a contrast on an issue that polls show is of concern to voters. 

“I stepped into this race because we need responsible public leadership that supports law enforcement and ends the revolving doors of criminals not being held accountable for their actions,” Schultz said. 

Republicans believe Schultz, a Harvard Law-educated corporate attorney, offers them the best chance to break their 16-year losing streak in statewide races. 

Schultz said he wants at least 30 more criminal prosecutors and would move them from the office’s other areas, which include consumer protection and anti-trust matters, among other responsibilities. He said Ellison had erred by not putting more resources into criminal prosecutions. 

Ellison, who has been a high-profile figure in the effort to hold police accountable for wrongdoing, including the prosecution of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, shot back: “I don’t blame (Schultz) for not knowing because he’s never done criminal defense.”

Ellison said there was only one criminal prosecutor when he got to the AG’s office in 2019. Today, however, he said there are three full-time criminal prosecutors as well as others available when necessary. Ellison said that since his 2018 election he’s been asking the Legislature for nine more.

Schultz said moving lawyers to the criminal side would also lighten the compliance burden on businesses. Efforts to enforce business regulations have “bled over into significant harassment of businesses around our state,” he said at a Capitol news conference. 

Schultz said he would use the bully pulpit to get the Legislature to allocate more money to prosecutions and enact tougher penalties for violent crime — especially carjackings — and repeat offenders. “We have to ensure that the message goes out that if you commit a serious crime in the state of Minnesota you will spend time in prison and we’ll have prosecutors that will hold you accountable,” Schultz said. 

Asked about keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people, Schultz said Minnesota has adequate laws on the books but is failing to enforce them. 

Ellison said guns are central to the public safety debate.

“You cannot have a serious conversation about public safety and exclude the dialogue about guns,” Ellison said. “We’ve been knowing this since well before Sandy Hook. We learned it again in Buffalo.”

Ellison said it is time to stop ready access to guns and called for universal background checks, banning military-style weapons like the AR-15, and reducing the number of untraceable — or “ghost” — guns. 

He appeared with U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, who represents the 4th District. 

Despite a modest bipartisan gun bill signed into law by President Joe Biden recently, Republican lawmakers have been mostly united in opposition to ideas like those from Ellison and McCollum.

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Baylor Spears
Baylor Spears

Baylor Spears is a reporting intern with the Minnesota Reformer. A Tennessee-native, she recently graduated from Northwestern University.