As the election cycle winds down, so to has drama in the race to be Minnesota’s chief legal officer. For both Democratic U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison and Republican attorney Doug Wardlow, the campaign trail has been littered with potholes, each one delving deep into the candidates’ personal views and histories.
For Ellison, however, the discussion has been emblematic of a larger issue that has made headlines this year–the role of the establishment in holding men in power accountable for their actions. Ellison announced his bid for the office of Minnesota Attorney General in June after current AG Lori Swanson announced her decision to run for governor. Ellison, a six-term congressman from Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District, won the Democratic primary shortly after his ex-girlfriend Karen Monahan accused him of emotional and physical abuse during their relationship. Ellison has denied the allegations and an investigation by the Democratic Farmer Labor (DFL) Party concluded that it could not substantiate the claim.
But even with the press surrounding the allegation, Ellison still sailed his way to victory during the primaries in August and polls have suggested he is currently leading Wardlow. The same Star Tribune poll also suggests that most Minnesotans aren’t sure if they believe Monahan’s allegations. In September, Congress was divided over the allegations against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh when he was accused of sexual misconduct. Republicans called the allegations a smear campaign, spearheaded by Democrats and began to ask why allegations against Democrats aren’t taken as seriously.
Former Minnesota Senator Al Franken resigned after being pressured by his own party when eight women came forward to accuse him of sexual harassment. The Democratic party was quick to distance themselves from Franken, leaving a question mark over their rallying behind Ellison. Some Minnesota voters, like Minneapolis resident Aamina Mohamed, say the allegation is a part of a much bigger problem.
“The DFL is ridden with corruption, their convention has scandals connected to assault what feels like every year,” said Mohamed, a non-profit worker living in Ellison’s district. “I think their investigation is complete bullshit.”
“I can’t believe there’s any truth behind it,” says self-proclaimed “lifelong Democrat” and DFL donor Yvonne Larsson. “We keep hearing about a video but she won’t bring forward the video. There was an investigation and nothing was found, it’s time to move on.”
The investigation, which concluded in late September, was ordered by the Minnesota DFL and conducted via an internal report by an attorney within the party. In a statement, Ellison called the review “thorough, independent and fair” and stated the importance in “believing women who come forward.”
But to Minnesota republicans like Champlin resident Casey Zahn, this is a worrying precedent to set. “Being investigated by your own party, it’s like they aren’t even trying anymore,” he said. “To me, it seems like a police matter. There needs to be a level of accountability, the hypocrisy is going to turn a lot of people from their party.”
Ellison’s opponent Doug Wardlow has also challenged the report’s credibility. In a statement, Wardlow called the investigation a “sham.” Wardlow’s campaign has relied on the double standard that Republicans believe exists for Democrats accused of abuse, as well as fear-mongering concerning Ellison’s Muslim faith and “radical” past. But does the actions of Wardlow’s campaign beget the serious allegations against Ellison?
Minneapolis boasts a large and growing black Muslim community, consisting mainly of Somali immigrants living largely in Ellison’s district. Democratic State Representative Ilhan Omar is running to fill his seat in a historic campaign to be the first Somali-American elected to Congress and more than 50,000 registered voters in Minnesota are Muslim. But to Aamina Mohamed, representation isn’t enough to forgive and forget.
“The Me Too Movement is strong in the DFL, but why can’t we have sympathy with the women in our own communities?” she said. “Women who are harmed by the powerful men in our communities?”