Nicole Smith-Holt’s 26-year-old son, Alec, died last year because he could not afford his insulin, and the Richfield mother said Tuesday that Minnesotans need an attorney general who will take on drug manufacturers who are making insulin unaffordable.

“His death was absolutely preventable. Alec died because the pharmaceutical companies look at us as cash cows,” Smith-Holt said at a news conference for Democratic attorney general candidate U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison.

Ellison said, if elected, he would continue the lawsuit that Attorney General Lori Swanson filed earlier this month against several drug manufacturers. Swanson’s suit aims to change the pricing system for insulin, which often forces poor or uninsured people to pay list prices. Smith-Holt’s son fell in that category, and he faced a $708 monthly bill.

GOP attorney general candidate Doug Wardlow did not commit Tuesday to continuing Swanson’s lawsuit. In a statement, he said if elected he would evaluate every lawsuit based on the merits and not on politics.

“Every good lawyer is trained not to comment on a lawsuit before examining all the facts,” Wardlow said. “With that being said, I applaud any effort to lower health care costs, including insulin, increase transparency and maintain coverage for those with pre-existing conditions.”

Manufacturers are using a variety of tactics to keep drug prices high, including overuse of patents, Ellison said. The state needs to create a task force that includes health care professionals, nurses and patients, to come up with plans to combat inflating drug prices, he said. If elected, Ellison said he would start working right away to pull together that group.

State Rep. Erin Murphy, a nurse who ran for governor this year, and Mary Turner, Minnesota Nurses Association president, stood alongside Ellison and Smith-Holt on Tuesday. Murphy said she has watched stalemates in the Legislature and Congress over health care. The gridlock is hurting people, she said, and change to the health care system is needed.

“This is a powerful office that can advance those goals,” Murphy said.