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Keith Ellison takes attorney general campaign to northern Minnesota

Rep. Keith Ellison

CROOKSTON, Minn.—U.S. House Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., has been on a road trip across Minnesota, reaching beyond his district in Minneapolis to connect with voters all over the state, as part of his campaign for attorney general.

"I know Minneapolis," Ellison said in an interview in Crookston on Thursday. "I don't need to stay in Minneapolis, I need to get out state. ... You can't ask somebody to support you if they don't know you."

Crookston was one of several stops Ellison made on his road trip. He visited the Iron Range on Tuesday, stopping in Duluth and Aurora, before spending Independence Day in Eveleth and Nashwauk. After stopping in Grand Rapids and Bemidji Thursday morning, he planned to meet voters in Moorhead and Fergus Falls on Friday.

Ellison, wearing jeans and carrying an iPad, answered questions from 20-30 people gathered in a private dining room of RBJ's Restaurant, near the University of Minnesota-Crookston campus.

"As attorney general," he told them, "I'd like to pull together a legislative agenda. Not just a couple little tweaks, but a 'this is what we stand for.' "

Sheila Fontaine, a dispositional officer working in eight northwest Minnesota counties, asked the representative about specialty courts, where defendants have an option of something other than a jail or prison sentence. As a dispositional officer, Fontaine said "I dig really deep, I got into mental health, the childhood, the trauma, to go 'You know what, your honor? My client didn't wake up wanting to be a criminal.' "

Ellison expressed support for drug courts and treatment alternatives. "We can't fill up the prison with the people who used while on probation, or you're not going to have room for the killers, and the sex traffickers," he said.

Referring to the right-left issue of immigration as a "food fight" between civility and incivility, Ellison said he will focus on eliminating discrimination in the workplace and criminal justice system.

"This is just a new wave of folks," he said. "And they may talk a little different, but ... we all talk a little different. Hey, people from Iowa talk a little different."

In regard to workplace issues, Ellison expressed concern about the U.S. Supreme Court's most recent decision on unions, ruling employees don't have to pay union fees if they're not a member.

"I think a more important constitutional right is the freedom to assembly," Ellison said. "I believe 'assembly' assumes that everyone has to pull their weight."

On Thursday afternoon Ellison said none of the issues voters brought up surprised him—instead, they impacted him.

"You may know about an issue, but you don't know about the issue from the perspective of the person telling it to you," he said. "And that's just as important as learning something new."

Ellison is one of several Democratic candidates running for his party's nomination in the primary Aug. 14. After that, Minnesotans will vote again Nov. 6.

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