2018 Minnesota Attorney General: Keith Ellison vs. Doug Wardlow

I’ve tried writing about the Minnesota attorney general race, and I haven’t been able to do it justice. We have extreme conservative Doug Wardlow or accused abuser Keith Ellison.

Unfortunately, I think that’s what this campaign has come down to. While I think Ellison is an inspiring candidate, all that matters is what I believe about the allegations against him.

And so I’m a reluctant vote for Keith Ellison. I didn’t vote for him in the primary. I don’t want to vote for him now. But it’s a binary result, and the other choice seems far, far worse.

Others have written better posts about this than me, so I’d encourage you to read those (this one is really helpful, if lengthy; so is this one; this is a good look at Ellison on the issues—including video of him directly addressing the allegations). I wish I could marshall my thoughts into a more coherent argument, but I just can’t. However, avoiding this race entirely feels like a cop out, so I’m going to wade in and lay bare my inadequacies.

Processing the Decision

Here’s my rough train of thought in coming to the conclusion that I’ll reluctantly vote for Ellison:

  • This whole situation sucks: I want to believe and support victims, I didn’t vote for Ellison in the primary because of the accusations, I wish they were fully investigated, I wish Ellison did a better job of defending himself, I wish Lori Swanson hadn’t mucked up the attorney general race so badly by jumping into the governor’s race. But it is what it is.
  • Bad opponent: I think Ellison’s GOP opponent, Doug Wardlow, is a trainwreck. His views are extreme, and if he won I would fear for immigrants, voting rights, and the LGBTQ community. If the Republican were a believable moderate, this would be a much easier choice.
  • It’s one or the other: This kind of vote has a binary result. No matter what I decide to do, there are only two results: Ellison wins or Wardlow wins. So I can not vote or vote for a third party, but that won’t change the outcome. Something like the Kavanaugh hearing did not have a binary result (they could have nominated someone else and still won a conservative seat on the Supreme Court without having to reject credible rape allegations). But this election is set in stone: Ellison literally can’t drop out.
  • How credible?: So I’m forced to look at the allegations and decide how credible they are. When you look at the totality of the accusations, some of them are not true (Karen Monahan said Ellison has smeared her—and there’s no evidence of that; he’s specifically told people not to say anything bad about her). The supposed video could end of all this, yet it doesn’t come out (and it doesn’t have to; showing it to a journalist would be just as effective). So I have doubts. I’m not saying Ellison is innocent, I’m just saying I have doubts.
  • Potentially innocent: So my choice is between an extremist who will do damage to my state or someone who is potentially guilty of abuse. It’s not a great choice. But I’m inclined to vote for the side that has a chance of hope—I’m hoping he’s not guilty.
  • Investigate: But voting for Ellison does not mean I approve or this is over. I still want an investigation. I still want to know the truth. And so help him, if he’s guilty, he resigns. He’s done. Bye.

Trying to Be Moral

I think how people respond to the allegations against Keith Ellison and other politicians (Brett Kavanaugh, Al Franken, Roy Moore, Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, etc.) is a window into our character.

Are we consistent across the board? Or are we lenient based on political party? What kind of moral calculus are we willing to do to support our side?

I hope I’m being consistent. I’m not sure if I am.

I have a new-found appreciation for many conservatives who had to decide if they would vote for folks like Roy Moore or Donald Trump. It’s easy to write these voters off as hypocrites, but if your choice is someone who is antithetical to your values or someone with flaws, well, I get it.

I’ll be voting for Keith Ellison. I’m not happy about it. But there it is.

A Broader Perspective

Let me add this: I firmly believe we need to listen to and support accusers. Unfortunately, we have to judge credibility. At the height of the Kavanaugh drama, while door knocking someone was ranting about innocent until proven guilty—but they made a helpful point about lynch mobs. In the Jim Crow era (and before and after), black men were often falsely accused of raping white women—and they died for it. Emmett Till died for flirting with a white woman—an allegation that turned out to be false. False accusations are rare these days, but they happen, and historically they can be deadly.

I think the #metoo era has brought some painful realities to the surface. I think a lot of people are recognizing how seriously we need to take these issues. But I think we still have a lot of work to do in wrestling with allegations and who we believe.

As a male, I feel pretty unqualified on this topic. We have a lot of listening and learning to do.

But I strongly believe there should be investigations and we need a better process for instigating those investigations. There shouldn’t be open allegations against a sitting member of Congress that go unaddressed. We shouldn’t rely on public pressure or a politician’s sense of shame to compel action.

Vote November 6

So that’s where I’m at. Go vote on November 6 (or earlier).

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