Backed by a high-caliber cadre of law enforcement officials, St. Paul City Attorney Sam Clark last week threw his hat into the ring as a candidate for state attorney general.
The DFLer said Thursday that he wants to be “Minnesota’s next great progressive attorney general.”
“Today I am announcing I am running for attorney general of my home state because I believe the law must protect everyone,” he said. “That is how I have approached my job as the St. Paul city attorney, where I have been leading one of the state’s biggest public law offices.”
Clark said he is seeking and will abide by the DFL endorsement for the seat. Current Attorney General Lori Swanson is said to be mulling either a run for governor or for re-election to her current job. But she has not yet announced her plans.
Surrounding Clark at a Capitol press conference Thursday were some high-powered supporters. They included Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman; Ramsey County Attorney John Choi; Minneapolis City Attorney Susan Segal; and former U.S. Attorney Andy Luger. Luger was Clark’s boss in private practice when Clark practiced constitutional law earlier in his career.
Metro Transit Chief John Harrington; former St. Paul Police Chief Tom Smith; St. Paul African-American Leadership Council chair Tyrone Terrill; and St. Paul Deputy Mayor Kristin Beckmann also stood with the candidate.
“Sam understands that the job of the attorney general is not merely representing the state agencies and doing civil lawsuits on consumer protection,” Freeman said, “but also caring about the criminal justice system and supplying support, particularly in Greater Minnesota.”
“He is going to make a wonderful attorney general,” Choi said. “I know that because I have had the opportunity to work really closely with him in his as the St. Paul city attorney.”
Clark, who grew up in St. Paul’s traditionally African-American Rondo neighborhood, would be the first person of color ever elected state attorney general. He said that it is “well past time” that a person of color assumes the role.
“It is not lost on me that I would be the first,” he said. “I think it is important that someone is the first, and very soon.”
He characterized himself as a fighter who would stand up to racists, homophobes and misogynists.
He also said would stand up to Donald Trump, calling him: “A president who preys on those least able to defend themselves, who attacks women, immigrants, the disabled and even the rule of law—anything or anyone that he believes is beneath him.”
He said that former state Attorney General and U.S. Vice President Walter Mondale is the archetype of the kind of progressive attorney general he would like to be.
Clark previously worked as Senate Judiciary Committee counsel to U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, before being named her state office director. In 2015, at age 31, he became St. Paul city attorney, replacing Sara Grewing when Gov. Mark Dayton appointed her to the Ramsey County District Court bench.
As city attorney, Clark said, his key issues have included bail reform, helping to decriminalize certain drug offenses and helping overhaul the city’s Police Civilian Review Commission.
Clark becomes the fifth Democrat in the race. Others include Rep. Debra Hilstrom, DFL-Brooklyn Center; former state Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley; former Supreme Court law clerk Matt Pelikan; and former Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman. Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul, has dropped out of the race.
Former state Rep. Doug Wardlow, R-Eagan, is the only Republican still competing for the job. Harry Niska, a Minneapolis trial attorney, has dropped out as a Republican candidate.