By Editorial Board Star Tribune, AUGUST 6, 2018 — 6:04PM
DFL voters have an abundance of capable candidates to choose from as they cast primary votes in the Minnesota attorney general’s race. In this crowded field, former state Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman stands out for his recent experience running a state agency and his dedication to consumer protection issues — a core responsibility of the state’s top lawyer.
The attorney general has numerous other duties — providing counsel for the state and its agencies, among others — but past officeholders have admirably prioritized stopping scams, safeguarding seniors and advocating for utility ratepayers. That tradition should continue.
That’s likeliest to happen under Rothman. At commerce, he oversaw industries such as insurance and banking that provide vital services to consumers. Commerce also played a key role in delivering financial assistance to Minnesotans in the aftermath of natural disasters. Rothman, 56, made it more clear than other candidates during his Editorial Board interview that consumer protection would be his priority as attorney general.
Another strong candidate, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, has been a standout in Congress on consumer financial protections. But Ellison’s vision for the Attorney General’s Office includes more of a national focus, such as joining other states to fight the Trump administration.
There are times when these national campaigns do need to be joined, but the office’s main obligation is state issues. Ellison, 55, has served in Washington, D.C., for 12 years. It would take time to shift from a federal to a state focus and broaden his connections outside his metro congressional district. Rothman would have them on Day 1.
Among the other candidates, state Rep. and former assistant Anoka County Attorney Debra Hilstrom is well-spoken and well-versed in state policy. Still, her long legislative experience falls short of Rothman’s tenure as a state agency head. In addition, Hilstrom, 50, often had a disappointing “can’t do” rather than “can do” attitude when asked during her meeting with the Editorial Board about the attorney general’s role.
Former Ramsey County Attorney Tom Foley, 70, would be a steady hand and steer the office clear of politics. But he’s been in private practice for 20 years, and jumping back into a public role would be challenging.
The DFL’s endorsed candidate, Matthew Pelikan, 37, needs additional courtroom and legal management experience. In addition, his more expansive, social justice view of the office — he promised the DFL convention crowd that he would “fight for unions, paid parental leave and a free and open internet” — raises questions about his focus on the office’s more mundane but still important responsibilities.