Republican attorney general candidate Doug Wardlow said at a fundraiser this week that, if elected, he would "fire 42 Democratic attorneys right off the bat" and add Republicans to the office.
That appears to contradict Wardlow's frequent campaign trail message that he would take a nonpolitical approach to the job. He faces Democratic U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison in the November election, and has been depicting Ellison as extreme while saying his conservative beliefs would not affect how he would run the attorney general's office.
Wardlow made the remarks at a fundraiser Monday for U.S. Rep. Jason Lewis. It was recorded by a DFL Party staffer and initially reported by Minnesota Public Radio News. The DFL shared the recording with the Star Tribune.
In it, Wardlow tells the audience, "For 48 years the Democrats have used that office to push their big government agenda. We need to take that back, not for the Republican Party but rather because of rule of law, the Constitution and liberty. We can use that office to really put our state back on the path of liberty and prosperity."
He went on to say that when he takes office he would fire the 42 Democrats and get Republicans in the office, a comment that was met with applause. He added that his staff would stand up for the rule of law and crack down on welfare fraud.
His campaign manager Billy Grant said he believes Wardlow was referring to people in senior management positions. He noted there is changeover in staff whenever a new attorney general takes office.
He would not have a litmus test for party affiliation, Wardlow said in a news release Friday afternoon. He called the recording of his speech a "desperate attack" by Ellison and the DFL and said he would be independent and unbeholden to a party. The current attorney general's office, helmed by Lori Swanson, has been "nothing but political," Wardlow said.
Swanson said Friday she has no idea where Wardlow got the count of 42 Democrats. When she hires attorneys she doesn't ask about politics — she's focused on whether they are a good lawyer, Swanson said.
"It's very troubling that he would say, sight unseen, that he would fire a third of the attorneys," Swanson said.
Most staffers in the attorney general's office, apart from a handful of policy advisers each attorney general has, do nonpartisan work, said Beverly Jones Heydinger. She worked in the attorney general's office for 20 years, and continued to work with the office after that as an administrative law judge and chairwoman of the Public Utilities Commission.
She said Wardlow's comment is "completely inconsistent" with his campaign trail message. "It should be a huge red flag to anyone to have a candidate make comments like that," she said.