Wednesday, April 26, 2006

 

Interview with Keith Ellison

Keith Ellison moved to Minnesota in 1987 from Detroit, attended the UMN Law School, and made his way as a lawyer until running for and being elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives in 2002. We spoke over the phone today; while dueling with the T-Mobile-filtered sounds of the Capitol, I asked him some questions about his experiences in the Legislature, his campaign for Congress, and what he'll do if sent there by the voters of the Fifth Congressional District.

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MNCR: What do you consider your most important accomplishments in the State House?

K. Ellison: I was elected in 2002, and since then I've passed five bills, and I have several more pending now - I know how to get legislation passed. I've stood up against fear-mongering tactics - the anti-marriage amendment, anti-immigration measures, and I think I've done a good job of projecting progressive values in the House.

MNCR: And what are the major issues for you in this campaign?

K. Ellison: The major issue is Peace First. We must retool our relationship with other countries on a basis of peace and cooperation, not militarism. Beyond that, economic justice is a big issue. We've seen executive pay rise steadily, middle-income wages stay flat, and poverty increase. Universal health care is a must - Americans already pay for it, we just don't get it. We must push for universal health coverage. We also need to incentivize renewable energy initiatives to make them economically feasible.

MNCR: I notice that you've used the frame "economic justice" to describe efforts to level the income chasm that currently exists between the rich and the lower classes - this sounds like an opposing frame to the well-worn Republican line of "tax relief" and describing taxes as a "burden." If elected to Congress, will you try to work mainly to advance a party-line agenda, or will you try to work across the aisle to accomplish legislation that works?

K. Ellison: I think you have to do both. Again, I've authored and passed five bills since 2002 - I've had to reach across the aisle to get those done. At the same time, I think I've spoken in a bold way for strong progressive values.

MNCR: What was your first reaction when you heard that Martin Sabo was retiring from Congress?

K. Ellison: My first thought was - is he going to be okay? Once that was assured, I started thinking that we need someone to speak out strongly against the current Administration, and I determined that I can do that.

MNCR: Have you decided whether or not to abide by the DFL endorsement?

K. Ellison: I will abide by the endorsement. If there's no endorsement, I will run [in the primary], but I think I can get the endorsement. People are listening to my message, and responding very positively. If there's an endorsement and I don't get it, I'll return to the Minnesota House and continue fighting for progressive values.

MNCR: Money question: In such a crowded race, how do you appeal to donors?

K. Ellison: I'm making the same argument to donors as I am to delegates: step forward and do your duty for your values and your country.

MNCR: Offbeat time! Who/what is your favorite...
Baseball player: Hank Aaron
Ice cream flavor: Vanilla
National Political Figure: Historically, Martin Luther King. Currently, Jim Hightower.
Local Political Figure: Paul Wellstone was just a tremendous individual.
Blogs: You know, I haven't been able to get into the blogs as much as I'd like to; my schedule hasn't permitted it, but I really would like to.

MNCR: I know the feeling of a cramped schedule. Any closing thoughts, and then I'll let you get back to work?

K. Ellison: I'd just like to leave readers with this thought - our country can be better than it is. We can relate to other countries on a basis of peace and cooperation. We can build a universal health care system. We can have a sustainable environmental policy, and we can build economic justice. If we believe it, we can do it.

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As a busy State Representative and a congressional candidate, Mr. Ellison gets a mulligan on not keeping up with the blogosphere. If you're around tonight, go to the 331 Club for Drinking Liberally tonight, where you can meet Rep. Ellison and several other candidates for CD5.

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