GOP attorney general candidate Doug Wardlow is not just the wrong candidate for Minnesota, he is a positive threat to the LGBTQ community, advocates said at the Capitol Wednesday.
Former DFL-endorsed attorney general candidate Matt Pelikan appeared there along with Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, Sen. Jim Carlson, DFL-Eagan, OutFront Minnesota Executive Director Monica Meyer and several others.
The gathering followed by one day a St Paul hearing before a U.S. Court of Appeals panel on a St. Cloud couple’s legal bid to refuse same-sex couples their videography services. Their lawsuit is backed by the Alliance for Defending Freedom, where Wardlow previously worked as a trial attorney.
“By his actions and his work, it is clear that Doug Wardlow would continue to side with the hate group Alliance Defending Freedom and work against the state of Minnesota,” Meyer said Wednesday.
It is the second Capitol press conference in three days in which Democrats have assailed Wardlow for his controversial views. On Monday, three DFL attorneys condemned the Republican’s surreptitiously recorded statement that, if elected, he would purge the attorney general’s office of DFL lawyers.
Jim Crow comparison
Pelikan noted that the St. Cloud couple’s legal case follows the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, also defended by the Alliance Defending Freedom. In its 7-2 decision, the high court found that a state commission’s determination that a bakery must make serve a gay couple was not religiously neutral.
“This terrible precedent echoes the worst elements of Jim Crow law and discrimination,” Pelikan said. “Now Wardlow’s anti-LGBTQ hate group is attempting to expand that precedent here in Minnesota—the state and law of equality.”
Erica Mauter, chair of the pro-LGBTQ Stonewall DFL Caucus, told reporters that Wardlow is “actually a danger to our lives here.”
Said Mauter, “We know it is incredibly important for us to protect ourselves from Doug Wardlow.”
Dibble agreed because, he said, as attorney general Wardlow could participate in or spearhead legal efforts to marginalize and discriminate against Minnesota’s LGBTQ community.
“The stigma against gay people can be deadly,” Dibble said, citing an Oct. 9. 2018, New York Times article. When elected officials put pressure on LGBTQ communities, whether through their behavior or through discriminatory legislation and legal action, gay people experience “negative health outcomes,” Dibble said.
“The way young people are made to feel about themselves has very dire consequences,” he said.
“This is a matter of life and death,” echoed Pelikan, who campaigned for attorney general as an openly gay progressive.
Several parents of transgender children also spoke at Wednesday’s press conference.
One of them, Pam Riddle, referenced a 2017 hearing before the Anoka-Hennepin School Board, during which Wardlow represented the Alliance Defending Freedom and argued against transgender students being allowed to choose which restrooms to use. The episode demonstrates Wardlow’s unsuitability as a candidate, Riddle said.
Wardlow has countered that he was merely representing the interests of a client at the school board hearing. Pelikan, himself an attorney, was asked if Wardlow didn’t have a fair point.
“It’s a fair point in isolation; attorneys represent lots of different clients,” Pelikan said. “But we have to understand it in the context of Wardlow’s life and career—as a legislator and as someone who has defined his life’s work in taking rights away from people like us.”
Dibble said that after Wardlow’s statements about purging Democrats from the office, the candidate has invited the intensive scrutiny he is now experiencing.
“He claimed that he would leave partisanship aside if he were to become the attorney general,” Dibble said. “Nothing in his background would support a statement like that.”
Contacted Thursday, Wardlow’s campaign manager Billy Grant said that the LGBTQ advocates’ characterizations are both unfair and inaccurate. Wardlow is a compassionate man who will not work to make LGBTQ lives harder, he said.
“These people need to understand that, while he might not be their first choice, he is not going to be coming after them,” Grant said.
“Doug has said over and over again that he is going to apply the law equally for all Minnesotans—whether you are gay or straight or from any other different type of background,” he added.
Grant said he suspects Democrats have been holding anti-Wardlow press conferences lately because they are worried about their candidate Keith Ellison and his chances for election.
“They know they are losing the race,” he said. “I think that’s what’s going on here.”