The threat from Republican attorney general candidate Doug Wardlow to fire about 42 attorneys if he is elected drew a response on Friday when former Minnesota Attorney General Hubert (Skip) Humphrey III and former Vice President Walter Mondale appeared with candidate Keith Ellison to discuss the office. Mondale served as the state’s attorney general from 1960 to 1964 and Humphrey from 1983 to 1999.
Advocate Sarah Walker participated and retired Supreme Court Justice Paul Anderson also made a surprise appearance at the gathering in the Dorsey law firm office.
Wardlow made the controversial quip on Oct. 8, during a Shakopee fundraiser for U.S. Rep. Jason Lewis. Minnesota Public Radio obtained a recording.
Ellison took the opportunity to affirm that there will be no political litmus test in the AG’s office if he is elected. He also said he would try to bring civil service protection to the employees there. “We are going to hire on a nonpartisan basis. We’ll hire people who believe in the public interest. Every law student hoping to get into the office will know they have a shot. The office culture will be about transparency, pursuing justice and servicing the public,” he said.
Noting that he gave up a seat in Congress to run for AG, Ellison said, “I’m not walking into this job to do nothing.”
Humphrey said the job of attorney general brings the branches of the government together.
“No one ever asks whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat when you’re arguing at the Supreme Court,” he said.
The office was staffed with professionals who made sure laws were enforced, including consumer fraud laws that were used against Big Tobacco, he said. Humphrey noted that the other important job of the office is supporting the county attorneys throughout the state. He said most counties need that support.
Mondale called Wardlow’s stance “outrageous.” He said he doesn’t think he ever removed a lawyer from the office and certainly not for political motives.
“I loved being attorney general. It was one of the best jobs I ever had,” said Mondale, who also served as a U.S. senator and the ambassador to Japan.
“We took on public purposes. There’s plenty of authority in the constitution for that. I ran as an attorney for the public,” Mondale said.
He said Wardlow is in favor of the harsh “religious” use of the AG office to sort out who is acceptable.
“It would take the office in a direction we’ve never seen before,” he said.
“We’d have partisan political minions advancing a Wardlow agenda,” he said.