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Continued: Rep. Keith Ellison works to position himself as a leading economic voice on the left

  • Article by: JIM SPENCER , Star Tribune
  • Last update: June 2, 2013 - 4:23 PM

Lewis believes Ellison’s attempt to define himself as an economic expert “is a really good thing” because it will make him a more effective representative.

“Do I agree with all of his positions? No,” said Lewis. “But I think he’s a pragmatic guy.”

Ellison credits the roundtable with raising his financial IQ. “Without their input, I would probably know a third of what I do now,” he said.

Treatises on finance and economics fill the e-book library on Ellison’s iPad. He reads them searching for the balance between the “good rules” and “economic liberty” that he believes in. The national economic plan he pushes weighs “what consumers need and what businesses need,” he said.

In 2010 Ellison ran for and won the co-chairmanship of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, landing a political pulpit from which to preach national economic reform.

“I am trying to move groups of people and persuade the body politic in a pragmatic way around a set of economic ideas,” he said.

Those ideas are unabashedly liberal, perhaps too liberal even for his own party, said Dan Holler, communications director of Heritage Action, the political arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation.

“Paul Ryan’s beliefs are the bedrock of the Republican Party now,” Holler noted. “Who knows if Ellison will translate into that.”


Focus on the middle class

Ellison’s plan includes “making the middle class the VIP of the economy” by using government regulations to prevent exploitation and corruption in business, by raising taxes on the super-rich, and by closing corporate tax loopholes.

Understanding how derivatives insuring subprime mortgage-backed securities triggered the Great Recession only reinforced Ellison’s beliefs.

While he hopes to find alternative revenue to replace a new tax on medical devices in deference to Medtronic’s, 3M’s and St. Jude Medical’s opposition, he remains irrevocably wedded to the health care law that spawned the tax.

Asked to comment on their relationship with Ellison, Target and Best Buy each issued statements that focused on points of agreement.

Ellison backed both retailers in their fights to tax Internet sales and limit debit card swipe fees. But he also supports raising the minimum wage and laws that make it easier for unions to organize workers.

“A business’ primary responsibility is to its shareholders,” Ellison explained. “I’m standing in different shoes. I care about businesses because they hire my constituents. But I have to be concerned about what’s good for consumers.”

In early May, Ellison wrote an op-ed for USA Today titled “Focus on jobs, not the deficit: Opposing view.”

“Every day,” he wrote, “Americans hear that we should starve the economy in order to save it. But this is exactly the opposite of what we should be doing.”

  • related content

  • Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., center, waited to speak on a panel at the National Youth Economic Policy Forum at the AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington, D.C.

  • Ellison worked on his iPad before taking the stage with the panel. His e-book library is filled with treatises on finance and economics.

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