Keith Ellison, Who Locked Up George Floyd’s Killers, Is In A Fight For His Political Life

by | Nov 7, 2022 | Politics

MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison (D) is frustrated.He’s frustrated that his Republican challenger Jim Schultz, a hedge fund lawyer, has not practiced law in a courtroom; that Schultz has made public safety — an issue over which the attorney general’s office has limited authority — a central theme of the race; and that a preliminary finding that Schultz violated campaign finance law has apparently done little to slow Schultz’s momentum.But most of all, Ellison cannot abide how Schultz has questioned the part that Ellison played in the conviction of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who murdered George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, in May 2020.Advertisement“Now I’m having to defend my role — I’m having to defend my role in Chauvin?!” Ellison exclaimed, his voice cracking with emotion during an interview at a Democratic Party office in South Minneapolis. “The one thing that I thought was, ‘OK, they can’t say I didn’t do that. They gotta give me that one.’ They won’t give me that one.”It comes as something of a surprise to many progressives, not least Ellison himself, that the man who oversaw the Chauvin prosecution is locked in a fight for his political life.“Maybe it’s partially my fault for not raising the alarm because I thought at some point, people will see and we’ll start to be separated,” he said, referring to the lead he imagined he would enjoy over Schultz by now.Even as Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz (D) leads his GOP challenger, Scott Jensen, by 8 percentage points, Ellison trails Schultz by 7 points, according to a KSTP/SurveyUSA poll released Tuesday.AdvertisementOther public polls have shown a closer race, which is more consistent with Democrats’ internal surveys. “When you talk to Republicans you’re going to hear hope but never confidence.”- Amy Koch, former Republican state Senate leaderBut Minnesota Republicans, who have not held the state attorney general’s office since 1971, are beginning to express cautious optimism.“When you talk to Republicans you’re going to hear hope but never confidence,” said Amy Koch, a former Republican Minnesota state Senate leader. “I’ve literally never seen a Republican attorney general in my life.” In some ways, the political peril facing Ellison is not out of the ordinary for an incumbent Democrat in a statewide office during what is expected to be a very strong midterm election cycle for Republicans. AdvertisementEllison’s challenges also speak to the current political climate in Minnesota, which might best be described as “light blue” — nominally, rather than deeply, Democratic. Ellison is more progressive than Democrats who have won statewide in Minnesota have been in recent history. And in 2018, he got lucky with Republican opponent Doug Wardlow, who was a more explicitly right-wing figure than Schultz.But the policy dimension of the race with the greatest national implications is the post-George Floyd debate in Minnesota about how best to balance police accountability with the need for public safety. That debate has mirrored the national discussion, only more so: After a brief but sharp turn to the left on criminal justice policy, Minnesota is in the throes of a conservative backlash to rising crime in Minneapolis and other major cities. Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota (center) talks to Ellison on the day of primary voting in August. Omar nearly lost to a challenger who criticized her support for radical policing policies.Star Tribune/Getty ImagesThe Question 2 ComeuppanceFew would dispute that Ellison’s campaign would be in better shape if he had not spoken out publicly in support of a “yes” vote on a controversial Minneapolis referendum in 2021 that proposed an amendment to the city charter’s policing requirements.The referendum, Question 2, would have replaced the Minneapolis Police Department with a new and more holistic Department of Public Safety. The new department would not have been bound by minimum police funding requirements, but the City Council would have been free to fund the hiring of police officers as it saw fit. The council would also have had a greater role in running the new department than it currently has in managing the police, which the mayor oversees.AdvertisementAs a decades-long advocate for greater police accountability, Ellison supported Question 2’s passage. “The opportunity to make change doesn’t always come around. It’s not every day,” Ellison told HuffPost. “The murder of George Floyd opened up a window where maybe we could make things better.”That stance has been costly, according to Joe Radinovich, a Democratic strategist and former state lawmaker, who opposed Question 2 and is supporting Ellison. “It’s the primary leverage that the …

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