Our endorsement: Attorney General Swanson still a fighter for little guys

Even in an economic recovery, the unscrupulous can be downright nasty. An out-of-state debt- collection company can weasel its way into emergency rooms to strong-arm payments from patients and loved ones at their most vulnerable of moments. Insurance companies can use fear to sell pricey extended automobile warranties that are practically worthless. And for-profit colleges can recruit young veterans fresh out of the military and charge them $70,000 for criminal-justice degrees that don't result in jobs because the school isn't properly certified.

Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson has seen a lot of bad behavior in her eight years on the job, including taking on and ridding Minnesota of the examples above. She has made it her office's mission to fight for everyday Minnesotans - the same Minnesotans who can re-elect her on Nov. 4.

"The attorney general can make a positive difference in people's lives. What we do in our office is we help people," Swanson said in an interview with members of the News Tribune editorial board. "What we do is go to bat for people who are dealt an unfair hand and try to help them and enforce our laws in ways that make a difference for Minnesota."

The state attorney general is "the people's attorney," Swanson said. Her office receives hundreds of phone calls and letters every day. By paying attention to them, criminal trends can be spotted — and stamped out.

"We talk to everybody. We actually have real people who answer the phones, something you don't always find in this day and age," she said. "There's nobody else on the human-protection beat. If you don't have the attorney general going to bat you don't have anyone."

Consumer protection is a huge part of the job. But not the only one, as Swanson recognizes.

"We're also the state's chief legal officer," she said. "At any given time we have 3,000 open lawsuits and about 7,000 open legal files in any given year. We're the lawyers for the state of Minnesota. Every state agency, we're the lawyers for them. The job is very broad. … Handling those legal affairs in a way that's competent and professional and that sets aside politics and focuses on the people's business is critically important."

Swanson's challenger next month, Republican Sen. Scott Newman of Hutchinson, disagrees that Swanson has set aside politics. As an example, he asks why she didn't go after Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, a fellow DFLer, when he was being accused of overreaching.

"One political party has held that office since 1970 - so under the exclusive control of one party. And I think as a result there's a certain feeling of entitlement that has sifted in over the years, and it has become increasingly partisan. And I disagree with that very strongly," said Newman, whose 30 or so years in law included 17 years as a felony public defender on the Iron Range. "I've got a pretty wide and varied background in the legal field. I've also got a good deal of experience with the Legislature."

The two make him uniquely qualified to replace Swanson, he said. Perhaps, but Swanson's record makes her a better choice. Also, she had a pretty good answer when asked why she didn't go after Ritchie.

"I'm not somebody who believes in mission creep," she said. "I believe in focusing on the basics of the office and doing those things well for the people of Minnesota. We have a secretary of state. We have a governor. People can agree or disagree with their actions, but the remedy is elections. That's what elections are for. To think that somehow as attorney general I should be out suing all these people because somebody disagreed with them on policy isn't realistic, nor is it what the system was set up to be."

The system was set up so the attorney general could be a fighter for us little guys. That has been Swanson's priority and can continue to be.

About this endorsement: This endorsement was determined by the News Tribune editorial board.

Duluth News Tribune
Article Publish Date: 
October 9, 2014