Attorney general candidates show very different priorities
ST. PAUL -- Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson puts consumer protection at or near the top of her priority list.
Her main challenger, Chris Barden, talks first about suing the federal government over health care reform, followed by election law changes and says that after 40 years of Democrats in the office it is time for a Republican.
To say the two have differences certainly is an understatement.
Even though he says he is not parroting the party line, Barden's main themes mirror those of other conservative Republican candidates. He said the attorney general's main job is to represent the people, and that overturning what he calls Obamacare is prime among those interests.
But Swanson said he is just playing politics: "I don't believe in filing political lawsuits."
Both candidates claim to be bipartisan and each has run in one other election: Swanson winning the attorney general's job four years ago and Barden losing a statewide education job in Utah the same day.
Swanson and Barden are not alone in the race. David Hoch of the newly formed Resource Party and Bill Dahn of the Independence Party are on the ballot, but neither appears to be running a competitive campaign. A check of the Independence Web site produced no mention of Dahn.
They are competing for a four-year term and a $114,297 annual paycheck.
Some have used the attorney general's office as a launching pad for higher office (Walter Mondale became vice president after serving in the office, for instance), but Barden and Swanson said they do not plan to seek higher office.
Barden is frustrated he has received little attention, while governor candidates earn daily news stories. It is even worse, he said, because Swanson "is not really running."
The incumbent Democrat said that while she did agree to some debates, she is just doing her job instead of spending much time campaigning.
"This shows distain for the office," Barden argued.
The GOP candidate said Swanson did a disservice to Minnesota by not joining a lawsuit Republican attorneys general filed against the Democratic-led health care overhaul.
Barden said he could live with Swanson's decision, if she would explain why.
In an interview, Swanson said that she checked into the lawsuit after Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty asked her to join the national action, but opted against it. The reason, Swanson added, is because a better venue for the health-care dispute is Congress, which is set up to handle policy differences.
She said there is no doubt the suit is political because it was filed seven minutes after the health bill became law.
Swanson also does not understand why Barden would push new election laws, something usually in the secretary of state's portfolio.
"It sounds like he is running for a lot of jobs; in some cases it seems that attorney general is not one of them," Swanson said. "We are focused on things that fall within that jurisdiction."
Barden, on the other hand, contended that as lawyer for the people he needs to protect their rights. One right is a fraud-free election, he said.
With polls showing that Minnesotans want laws that require people to present photo identification before voting, Barden has made that one of his rallying cries. He also opposes existing law that allows for one person to vouch for the eligibility of up to 15 other voters.
While consumer protection is important, Barden said, it should not be an attorney general's top priority.
"Consumer protection should not be used as a political tool," he said, hinting that is what happens.
Swanson trumpeted a 21-page document that spells out what she considers her accomplishments, nearly all in consumer protection issues. And, she said, those will remain a top priority if she is re-elected.
She "wants to see through" investigations into whether mortgage companies have done proper investigations before beginning foreclosure proceedings. She wants to continue to investigate and sue, if needed, insurance and other companies that she thinks are cheating Minnesotans.
An important area to Swanson is protecting the state's senior citizens, who she said are targeted by scam artists in part because they have money.
Hoch said he is running "because the people of Minnesota deserve to know they have been cheated and lied to."
The Resource Party's candidate is not happy that American Indian tribes were given authority to have casinos, and says state compacts with the tribes are illegal. He also says the state smoking ban is unconstitutional.
Do not expect consumer protection to be important in a Hoch office: "People need to read things before they sign them."
Dahn's Web site says the perennial candidate would "stop Minnesota corporations from taking advantage of illegal immigrants for cheap labor," end fraud by the government and businesses that hurt Minnesotans and prosecute public employee and business misconduct.
Don Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.