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Amid concerns over Ellison, DFLers find a unifying issue in AG race: opposing Doug Wardlow

MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
At a press conference last week, labor leaders from across the state gathered in St. Paul to both praise Keith Ellison — and warn the rank and file about GOP nominee Doug Wardlow.

DFL leaders might be conflicted about the validity of allegations against their nominee for Minnesota attorney general, Keith Ellison.

They are not conflicted at all, however, about Doug Wardlow.

The Republican nominee is becoming the unifying element as DFLers try to push Ellison’s campaign onto the offensive after weeks of struggling to deal with abuse allegations made by the six-term congressman’s former live-in girlfriend, Karen Monahan.

The unofficial campaign slogan for the closing weeks of the general election appears to be: “Keith Ellison: He’s Not Doug Wardlow.”

Two weeks ago, a lengthy essay signed by former Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges — along with 17 other women and gender nonconforming activists and elected officials — warned about Wardlow and echoed the conclusions of a DFL-commissioned investigation of the Monahan allegations.

And at a press conference last week, labor leaders from across the state gathered in St. Paul to both praise Ellison — and warn the rank and file about GOP nominee Wardlow.

“Whenever the UFCW needed him, Keith’s been there,” said Jennifer Christensen, president of UFCW 1189, “and I think it’s really important that we stand by our friends who have been there for us. Loyalties kind of come and go, it seems like these days. But the UFCW is there and our word means something.”

Bill McCarthy, president of the Minnesota AFL-CIO, said the choice for labor is “crystal clear.” While in the Legislature, Wardlow supported right-to-work laws and opposed prevailing wage rules on public construction projects, McCarthy said. He had a voting record with the labor group of zero.

McCarthy said there hasn’t been a concern about the allegations against Ellison among labor leaders. “Our membership has known that Keith has stood with them over the years on every front.” But he said the AFL-CIO and its affiliated unions are now working through independent expenditure campaigns and it’s door-knocking operations to let members know about Wardlow and what they view as his anti-labor views.

The campaign is also touting an endorsement by his likely successor in Congress: state Rep. Ilhan Omar. In a video, Omar says she is excited to support Ellison and echoes his campaign theme of being “the people’s lawyer.”

DFL pounces on Wardlow comments

That Ellison is trying to shore up support among organized labor and needing a boost from a progressive icon such as Omar this late in the campaign indicates how this is not a normal general election for a DFL-nominated candidate. The DFL base should be safely secured by now, leaving the campaign free to attract independents and persuade the undecided.

Ellison was always going to have challenges in Greater Minnesota, where — taking a regular page from the GOP playbook — he can be portrayed as a Twin-Cities-oriented liberal. But the Monahan allegations continue to linger. Later this week, a Hennepin County court official will unseal records of the divorce between Ellison and his former wife, Kim. The couple, who say the records reveal nothing about domestic abuse, which Kim Ellison said didn’t happen in their marriage, will appeal.

Jennifer Christensen, president of UFCW 1189
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Jennifer Christensen, president of UFCW 1189: “Whenever the UFCW needed him, Keith’s been there.”
Still, it keeps the allegations in the public eye for another week, something the Wardlow campaign and the state and national GOP also are trying to do.

While the race is considered close, based on the few public polls conducted, a large majority — 69 percent — said they didn’t know enough about Wardlow to have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of him. In the same poll, however, Ellison was upside down in his favorable/unfavorable rating: 20 percent to 31 percent. Another 29 percent who said they recognized his name reported being neutral in their opinion of him.

Those numbers help explain why Wardlow’s media has been focused on driving up Ellison’s unfavorable numbers with ads that term him too extreme, and that highlight the Monahan allegations. Ellison, in turn, is hoping to reach the 69 percent of voters who don’t know Wardlow in order to define him as a partisan conservative before Wardlow can define himself as someone who seeks to depoliticize the office.

Wardlow didn’t help that narrative with remarks he made before a closed-door fundraiser last week. In comments recorded by a DFL tracker, Wardlow first repeats assertions he’s made publicly about wanting to return the office to one that is governed by the “rule of law” and the Constitution, before going on to say he intends to “fire 42 Democrats right off the bat and get Republican attorneys in there.”

DFLers pounced on the recording as evidence of what they have long been saying: that Wardlow will politicize the office from the political right, despite his statements to the contrary.

Supporting Ellison ‘without reservation’

The Hodges et al. essay, headlined “Without Reservation, We Support Keith Ellison,” is co-signed by Ramsey County Commissioner Toni Carter, state Sen. Patricia Torres Ray and state Rep. Rena Moran, as well as other people well known in progressive and DFL circles.

Quoting extensively from a DFL-commissioned investigation of the allegations of emotional abuse — and one allegation of physical abuse — the essay concludes that the signers do not believe the allegations. “We can say without hesitation or reservation that we believe Keith committed no abuse toward Ms. Monahan,” they wrote. “As a result … we support Keith fully and wholeheartedly in his campaign for attorney general.”

Former Mayor Betsy Hodges
MinnPost photo by Greta Kaul
Former Mayor Betsy Hodges
Part of the essay centers on the worry that Monahan is aligning herself with conservatives to help assure Ellison’s defeat. Monahan, an environmental activist, has in the past been well within the sphere of the DFL, but she recently hired attorney Andrew Parker to represent her in matters related to her abuse allegations. Parker once employed Wardlow in the law firm of Parker Rosen and produces a conservative radio program called The Victory Hour. Recent episodes have been on the topics of “Domestic Violence and Abuse” and “What’s The Difference Between Kavanaugh and Ellison?”

If anything, Hodges and the others write, the investigation by Minneapolis attorney Susan Ellingstad understates the political implications of the timing of the allegations and the ongoing controversy.

“The timing of Ms. Monahan’s allegations, her retaining a Republican attorney who is a former supervisor and active supporter of Keith’s opponent, and her apparent willingness to be used by and possibly collaborate with right-wing, sometimes Islamophobic media, strongly suggests that these allegations have become politically as well as personally motivated.”

In an interview, Hodges said that while the essay was posted on her Medium page, it was a group effort with all signatories offering their ideas and suggestions.

“A whole lot of people wanted the world to know we support Keith,” Hodges said.

And she defended the integrity of the investigation, which has been attacked by Wardlow and Republicans because the attorney who conducted it works for a firm that does work for the DFL and has partners who have donated to the party.

“I’m a survivor of sexual assault myself,” said Hodges, who revealed in 2017 that she had been sexually abused as a child. “I have my own experience of not only being assaulted but telling my story before #metoo, before TimesUp, and I had some very horrific responses when I did tell my story. So I am very sensitive to the experience of anybody who comes forward with allegations of assault.”

But Hodges said there has never been a thoughtful way for people with allegations to come forward. “We have to create that new due process, and we don’t yet have one, but we need one. Because the lack of process is also incredibly damaging.

“In that environment, this independent investigation — weeks long, done by a very credible person — is as close as we’re gonna get,” she said.

She added that she has been impressed with Ellison’s reaction from the start because he didn’t try to discredit Monahan or go on the offensive. “Typically, when any powerful man is accused of abuse, they do everything in their power to protect themself,” she said. “They don’t cooperate in an investigation, they just circle people around them. Keith has been completely open.”

Impact on other campaigns

The signatories have also been troubled by the actions of Monahan that “point to political motivation,” Hodges said. The latest is the association with Parker. “There are all sorts of attorneys in town without that sort of conflict of interest who could have been engaged to move this forward,” she said. “He used to employ and is openly supporting Keith’s opponent. He has a regular show on alt-right radio where he has espoused Islamophobia. You bet I’m concerned about that.”

Monahan has taken to Twitter to push back on the suggestion of collusion with the GOP  on Twitter, saying that she’s been “accused of working with his opponent to bring him down. Basically, be silent, we don’t care about your humanity. Hypocrisy @ it’s finest”

She also took issue with the assertion that she could have helped her case by letting the investigator see cellphone video, footage that Monahan says she took during an incident in which an angry Ellison, she claims, cursed her and tried to pull her off a bed by her ankles. She has said making the video public would re-traumatize her and said survivors such as herself should be believed without having to provide such proof.

One GOP strategist thinks Democrats are as concerned — perhaps more concerned — about Ellison’s impact on other candidates than on whether he can survive the election. “It is clear that the allegations against Keith Ellison are hurting other Democratic candidates across the state,” wrote Gina Countryman, executive director of the GOP-aligned MN Action Network.

She said Ellison would have been a GOP target regardless of the Monahan allegations, and that GOP candidates would have been trying to link their own opponents to Ellison. (At the governor debate last week, GOP-nominee Jeff Johnson noted that the DFL’s Tim Walz  has been “with Nancy Pelosi and Keith Ellison more than 90 percent of the time. I think it’s 94 percent.”)

“Ellison’s career has been littered with controversy of his own making, and his ties to controversy is because he is out of touch with Minnesotans,” Countryman said. “It appears that the Democratic party is beginning to see it as a liability.”

Comments (22)

  1. Submitted by David Broden on 10/15/2018 - 11:59 am.

    The 2018 Attorney General Election is perhaps the most important postion on the ballot when considering the status and concerns expressed regarding both candidates. Even at this late date perhaps real leadership of someone or some united groups could establish a write in candidate that represents what MN need and should have as an AG for all of Minnesota and without concerns by anyone.

    Dave Broden

  2. Submitted by Pat Terry on 10/15/2018 - 12:33 pm.

    No, Karen – Keith Ellison won’t be going to jail for this.

    The abuse you claim is documented on the alleged video is that he grabbed you by the leg and tried to pull you off the bed. He didn’t actually pull you off the bed, and according to your own medical records, you were unhurt. If true, not good behavior by any means, but not sonething that will send him to jail.

    Karen, I get that you think he’s a narcissist (not a rarity among elected officials) and a cheater and a liar (also, not a rarity). But its only the alleged physical abuse that matters here.

    Like many DFLers, I have no particular loyalty to Keith Ellison. I voted for someone else in the primary and would love to see Ellison replaced. But he’s the candiate, and its either going to be him or an anti-Muslim and anti-gay extremist. So I’m going to vote for Ellison.

    Karen, if you release the video – even just to a neutral third-party – and it shows what you say it does, that will be the end of his career. And if it doesn’t or if there is no video, then we can all move on.

    Your attorney is a right-wing activist. They people supporting you aren’t your friends or allies. They are using you because they don’t like Keith and his politics. And they will discard you when they are done. I know you are bitter, but think of the big picture. You have the power ro get to the truth, somthing that Christine Ford and many other women don’t have. Use that power. Release the video.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 10/15/2018 - 01:39 pm.

      Do you meant to tell us that Republican activists are using her for their own agenda, and are not behind her as a sincere expression of a desire to help?

      I am shocked. Shocked, I tell you.

    • Submitted by Susan Maricle on 10/16/2018 - 09:22 am.

      I imagine “many DFLers” didn’t vote for Ellison in the 2006 primary. But I’m sure those voters are proud of the job Keith has done in the House.
      Otherwise, I agree with every word in your post.

  3. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 10/15/2018 - 12:58 pm.

    If you have evidence to prove your claim, show it. We all know rejected lovers who do terrible things to get revenge. Men are more violent about it, resorting to stalking, physical of sexual assault and even murder-suicide. Angry women are more likely to go after reputation by making things up. Time to get real about this situation, which is entirely different from an attempted date rape of someone below the age of consent.

    Wardlow plans to immediately fire all attorneys who don’t vote for his party. Nothing more partisan than that!

    • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 10/16/2018 - 08:48 pm.

      One of my friends in Portland started out as a divorce attorney but gave it up after a few years, because he was so fed up with the dirty tricks and downright strange things that went on between divorcing spouses.

      I remain agnostic on Monahan’s claims, especially since this video she supposedly has is nowhere to be seen, but the most important goal is to keep the attorney-general’s office out of the hands of the current Republican president’s fan club.

  4. Submitted by David Broden on 10/15/2018 - 01:59 pm.

    To all citizens of Minnesota — The debate is on the wrong subject- it is seriously time to focus on the importance of a quality objective AG candidate in the tradition of what this position has been and must be for the future of our state and for all citizens as we evolve through poltical turmoil and other changes which will require sound and in depth legal and policy visions. Look beyond politics to the AG long term integrity and respect by all citizens of MN. Can we find a write in?? Disussion of the postions of the current candidate just churns the water and gets us no where.

    Dave Broden

    Dave Broden

    • Submitted by Eric House on 10/15/2018 - 02:45 pm.

      Could you expand on how knowing the opinions and positions of the candidates ‘churns the water’? It seems to me as a voter, that knowing what the various candidates believe and espouse is EXACTLY how I can make an informed decision on this elected position.

      • Submitted by David Broden on 10/15/2018 - 03:22 pm.

        The discussion is only about the individuals which can be important however we should be considering what the candidates see as the top issues for AG consideration related to: 1) human rights and social concerns,
        2) economic development related topics; 3) environmental issues; 40 approach to and challenges to biased redistricting; 5) environmental issues; 6) health care; 7) senior topics; 8) immigration and related; 9) education equality and others. There is no or almost no reference to any of these only comments about the candidate individual thought and actions. MN has a history of good government over politics now we are focused on bad poltics and no interest in how and what good government is or can be.

        Dave Broden

      • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 10/18/2018 - 03:18 pm.

        In addition to telling contributors that he will fire all Democratic attorneys, he was recorded at a Tea Party convention in 2013 claiming that “our Constitution is designed for a moral and religious people” and that the left is “trying to undermine the family.”

  5. Submitted by Alan Straka on 10/15/2018 - 02:39 pm.

    No mention of Noah Johnson. He is the third candidate for AG and he is neither Wardlow nor Ellison. Sounds like the ideal candidate to me.

  6. Submitted by Charles Holtman on 10/15/2018 - 03:28 pm.

    One is a member of the party that considers sexual assault as heroic masculinity, and a fervent ideologue who has pledged that his first act will be to conduct a broad ideological purge of the experienced, professional corps that he would oversee. The other is alleged by his ex-girlfriend to have pulled her foot on an occasion when he was exasperated with her.

    Gee, I just can’t decide which of these reflects a more questionable moral compass.

    • Submitted by Nila Ouska on 10/15/2018 - 11:38 pm.

      I think if you take the mild incident aside -he pulled her leg oh my goodness- she has been very verbal and vocal in her scathing reviews of Keith and yet he-unlike most politicians and men – certainly different than Trump- has not said a word about her except that they were in a relationship he cares about her which is in my opinion behaving with more Integrity than she is

  7. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 10/15/2018 - 03:39 pm.

    While I **do** understand the concern about re-traumatizing Ms. Monahan, the statement that “…She has said making the video public would re-traumatize her and said survivors such as herself should be believed without having to provide such proof” flies in the face of about a thousand years of legal practice, not to mention very, very basic ethics.

    Anyone – literally anyone, for any reason – can make an accusation, be it true or absolute fiction.

    Our whole legal system is built on the principle that no one can be – or should be – convicted of anything without proof in some form. Without that proof, we have “he said, she said,” and a ugly breakup of consenting adults. Cursing and pulling on Monahan’s legs doesn’t qualify as Boy Scout behavior on Ellison’s part, but it’s certainly not criminal, and given the fact that Ms. Monahan herself has said she wasn’t injured as a result, it’s in an entirely different legal and ethical universe from Brett Kavanaugh’s alleged attempted rape of a minor. The timing and the associations made to put forward the accusation against Ellison are, to phrase it kindly, open to suspicion, and strike me as a GOP “hit job” on a politician who has served his district well, but is vulnerable to such charges in a state-wide race.

    The fact that Betsy Hodges and other metro-area women of note are willing to publicly support Ellison suggests to me that they’re convinced there’s no “there” there in Monahan’s allegation. Neither Ms. Hodges nor the other signatories to “Without Reservation…” are the type to suffer fools gladly.

    • Submitted by Pat Berg since 2011 on 10/15/2018 - 05:03 pm.

      On the purported video: If she was never going to allow anyone to view it, then she never should have brought it up.

      Like many others, I tend to doubt its existence. She could easily dispel that doubt by letting the video – if it exists – be viewed by a neutral and trustworthy third party who would only need to publicly state that there is or is not video evidence supporting her account.

      The fact that she won’t even agree to that casts strong doubt on her accusations.

      • Submitted by Pat Terry on 10/16/2018 - 11:21 am.

        Yeah, I’m sure there is no video. The problem for her is that if she admits that, her credibility will be destroyed. She will be a pariah. So she will keep pretending until the election. And then she can go on making her Facebook posts about how Ellison gaslighted and cheated on her and is a narcissist, only then no one will care. All her new-found Trump-supporting friends will disappear.

  8. Submitted by Pat Terry on 10/15/2018 - 04:17 pm.

    Just for fun, here is a copy of the investigator’s report. I would have preferred that it not be done by a lawyer affiliated with the DFL, but the report seems pretty straightforward.

  9. Submitted by Joe Smith on 10/17/2018 - 08:41 am.

    Let me get this straight, if you claim a 17 year old Kavanugh ran a rape ring in High School you are to be believed but if you claim Ellison pulled you off a bed by your feet, you are not to be believed. Nothing more hypocritical than selective outrage.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 10/17/2018 - 09:09 am.

      Let me get this straight: a credible allegation of attempted sexual assault, along with other allegations of sexual misconduct, is to be given only a cursory investigation before it is dismissed as untrue.

      Or, another way of putting it, you don’t see a difference between two young men trying to commit a rape and being pulled off a bed by one’s feet.

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