Candidates for Attorney General Spar Over Office Role

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Candidates for Attorney General (AG) agree that they should stand up for ordinary Minnesotans if elected, but they fundamentally disagree on whether the AG’s office should represent state agencies and employees.

At a Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) debate Tuesday, DFL candidate Lori Swanson, Republican Jeff Johnson and Independent John James each painted him or herself as the best choice for the office.

Swanson, Johnson & James
Swanson and James said their primary clients are people of Minnesota. The AG’s office, they said, shouldn’t become a mouthpiece for “bureaucratic” state agencies or employees.

Johnson said while “he wouldn’t cover up wrong doing,” it would be “crucial” part of his job defending stat organs. A fundamental function of AG’s office, he said, is representing “the governor, the secretary of state,” and other state employees. The allegiance of the AG’s office, he added, shifts to the people only when state officials are violating the law. And even then, “you shouldn’t rush to a press conference.” he said.

He and Swanson traded accusations relating to their current roles as solicitor general and state representative, respectively.

Johnson said it’s time to “put an end to some of the arrogance, anti-business, self-promoting, headline-chasing [attitude] that we’ve seen in the last eight years. I think it’s time for an attitude adjustment.”

Swanson responded that the AG’s office shouldn’t serve the powerful interests, but ordinary citizens.

Independent James said he sees the problem as “lack of public safety leadership.” Under his leadership, he said, AG’s office wouldn’t sway from important issues such as the environment and domestic abuse in favor of political interests.

On healthcare audits that become emblematic of Mike Hatch’s tenure as an AG, Swanson pledged to continue scrutinizing big companies and referring them to regulatory agencies for necessary action.

Johnson said he, too, would do the same thing.

But James criticized the audits as an expensive and ineffective measure.

On stem cell research, Swanson criticized Johnson for co-authoring a bill in the state legislature that strips the University of Minnesota from public funds for amassing private donations to undertake stem cell research.

Johnson said he supports President Bush’s approach to the issue, without going into details.

On death penalty, Swanson, under pressure to clarify her position, said she only supports it for some heinous crimes, if a good system is devised.

Johnson said he supports the death penalty for certain crimes.

James said he “firmly” doesn’t support death penalty.

“It makes no sense economically. It’s questionable morally,” he said. “We ought to spend the money we’d spend on executions doing something else important.”

On Concealed Carry, a gun rights law, all three candidates said they support it.

On several occasions, Independent James tailored his campaign to “Team Minnesota,” his party’s fleet of candidates for statewide offices, until the moderator rebuked him.

Photo credit: Tim Pugmire/MPR

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