The field of candidates vying to be Minnesota's next attorney general grew by one Monday, adding Republican attorney and political activist, Harry Niska of Ramsey.
With Niska's entry, the race is beginning to take fuller shape. Attorney General Lori Swanson is still weighing whether she would seek another term or run for governor next year. Other DFLers who have announced they would run if Swanson seeks a different office include Rep. John Lesch of St. Paul and former state Rep. Ryan Winkler, who represented Golden Valley. On the Republican side, former state Rep. Doug Wardlow, who represented Eagan, has also announced plans to run.
Niska, 36, was among Republicans who last year opposed the nomination of President Donald Trump. He has not held elected office before, losing a race for a Ramsey City Council seat in 2010.
In an interview, Niska said he would be focused on protecting consumers from unscrupulous businesses, ensuring public safety and defending the Constitution.
"I'm running because I want to take the real-world legal experience I have and put that to work for the people of Minnesota," Niska said.
Niska is a partner at Ross & Orenstein. He graduated from the University of Minnesota Law School in 2005 and has a political science degree from Concordia College in Moorhead.
Niska criticized Swanson for a recent, high-profile decision to sign on to a lawsuit challenging a travel ban from some Muslim-majority countries. She joined the lawsuit filed by Washington's attorney general. Trump's executive order was later blocked by a federal judge and upheld by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. (Trump revised his order, which was also blocked and is wending through the courts.)
"Filing that lawsuit that quickly was a major political response," Niska said, adding that it did not allow the Trump administration a chance to fix his executive order.
Niska said he would not seek higher office if he were elected attorney general. "We need somebody in that office who is not just viewing it as a steppingstone," he said.
He also criticized Swanson's recent decision to not defend three counties that were sued by State Auditor Rebecca Otto, who is seeking to overturn a 2015 law that allowed counties to hire private accountants. Niska said it was unfair that the counties had to pay to defend a state law.
If he were to win, Niska would be the first Republican to hold the attorney general's post since Douglas Head, who served from 1967 to 1971.
Wardlow, the other Republican running, worked most recently for the Alliance Defending Freedom, an Arizona nonprofit active in faith-based litigation. He earned his law degree at Georgetown University in 2004.
Although the election is more than a year away, candidates have announced early to start building their name recognition and begin raising campaign funds. Winkler has raised more than $80,000 since announcing his campaign plans last year.
Other candidates who are weighing running are state Rep. Debra Hilstrom, DFL-Brooklyn Center, and Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman.