ST. PAUL - DFL candidate Keith Ellison continued to deny allegations of domestic abuse Friday night, Sept. 21, at times fending off questions from both moderators and opponent Doug Wardlow during the first post-primary debate for Minnesota attorney general hosted by TPT's "Almanac" public affairs show.
Ellison, a six-term member of the U.S. House from Minneapolis, has been accused by former girlfriend Karen Monahan of domestic abuse. She has said he dragged her off a bed by her feet during a fight before they separated in 2016 and alleges years of emotional abuse. During the "Almanac" debate, Ellison said "it simply isn't true."
Ellison pointed to the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution, saying that he is innocent and has not been proved guilty and that there is an ongoing review being conducted by the Democratic Party.
Will the investigation be completed before the Nov. 6 election? Ellison didn't know.
Will there be any other women coming forward with accusations?
"There is absolutely nobody that I'm aware of that has ever made a credible allegation," Ellison said.
Wardlow, the GOP candidate from Prior Lake, took the offensive, attempting to punch holes in Ellison's reputation as he tries to win the seat for the Republicans, who haven't had a successful attorney general candidate for almost a half-century.
And yes, President Donald Trump was mentioned a few times during the hour-long debate.
The candidates took opposite sides on just about every subject brought up by moderators Cathy Wurzer and Eric Eskola.
Regarding religious freedom in the business sector, the moderators referred to the Supreme Court case Masterpiece Cakeshop vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission in which the shop owner said baking a cake for a same-sex marriage would go against his Christian beliefs.
Ellison took the side of the LGBT community, saying members should be able to walk into any publicly licensed business in Minnesota and be served.
Wardlow - who has worked as a lawyer for the conservative Christian nonprofit Alliance Defending Freedom, where he litigated cases that included opposing same-sex marriage and transgender rights - sidestepped the question.
"Regardless of my views, I'm going to uphold the freedoms of all," he said. If it is a Minnesota law, he would enforce it.
Regarding health care, Ellison supported the federal Affordable Care Act while Wardlow said "Obamacare" ruined the good work Minnesota was already doing in health care access.
Wardlow accused Ellison of bringing politics out of the legislative arena and into an office that is meant to enforce consumer protection laws, advise state agencies and assist rural county prosecutors in major felony cases.
"If you want to address those problems, you should stay in Congress," Wardlow said.
Ellison said he saw no problem bringing his politics to the job.
"The idea that the attorney general doesn't do politics is ridiculous," he said.
Accusations of extremism
Wardlow and Ellison accused each other of being extremists.
The moderators played a political ad from each man's campaign to succeed Attorney General Lori Swanson, who didn't seek re-election as she pursued an unsuccessful quest for the DFL's gubernatorial nomination.
Wardlow's team paints Ellison as extreme left, friendly with "Antifa" protesters, sympathetic to cop killers, an abuser and friends with Islamic extremists.
Ellison's team paints Wardlow as extreme right, anti-gay, anti-transgender and anti-religious freedom because of his work with Alliance Defending Freedom.
Trump's name came up on the immigration issue.
Ellison endorsed the "sanctuary city" concept and keeping federal immigration enforcement out of the state's purview. Wardlow said local law enforcement should report immigration offenders, but let the feds do the deporting.
Ellison supported Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and voiced his disapproval of Trump's immigration policies. Wardlow accused him of wanting to weaponize the attorney general's office against the president's agenda.
The third man
There was a third contender on the couch who piped up once in a while, but was most interested in the opioid topic.
Noah Johnson, representing the Legalize Cannabis Party, is a Minneapolis attorney who believes legalizing marijuana would help address the drug crisis in the state.
"In jurisdictions in the United States where cannabis is legal, the rates of opioid abuse falls," he said.
He said he would support suing pharmaceutical companies in the way state attorneys general took on the tobacco industry.