Twelve years ago, I was fortunate to be sworn in as Minnesota attorney general. We were on the precipice of the Great Recession. I had been chair of the Federal Reserve Board’s consumer advisory council and was well aware of the rot in the mortgage loan market. For the next four years, our office concentrated our efforts on trying to help those pummeled by the financial meltdown brought on by the “too big to fail” crowd.
The economy and the issues facing the public are much different today. The unemployment rate is lower, but the middle class struggles to hang on. Our political correctness meter goes up, but our political leaders get distracted with sideshows.
Against this backdrop, I’d like to relate some of what I learned over the last 12 years.
I learned from Sen. Al Franken. In 2012, I was being attacked by several former White House chiefs of staff (including Rahm Emanuel) for my lawsuit against the politically connected Accretive Health. Yet, Al Franken held a U.S. Senate hearing so that patients could testify about the atrocities committed by the company, which had embedded bill collectors in the emergency rooms of Minnesota hospitals.
The hearing blunted the political mischief. Thank you, Sen. Franken, for showing others that you can succeed when standing up to powerful special interests — including those in the Democratic Party.
I learned from Gov. Tim Pawlenty. We were from different political parties and had different political views. Yet, he trusted my legal representation of his administration in the courts, and we always maintained a cordial and respectful relationship. It is my hope that more leaders from different political parties will embrace the respect that we had in our relationship.
I learned from Gov. Mark Dayton. My seven-year lawsuit with 3M for its disposal of PFCs was a difficult one. The state Health Department did its best to torpedo the case on the eve of trial. To the credit of Gov. Dayton, he cared about water quality and gave me room to pursue the case. I hope that more political leaders will prioritize the best interests of the public over the convenience of the bureaucracy.
I learned from former Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz during the government shutdown litigation. Formerly a Republican legislator, she was appointed as a special master to decide which state government functions were essential services that must stay open. Her legal rulings embraced an understanding of the values of Minnesota. I hope that more government leaders will take care to appreciate our shared history as a state.
I learned from U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan. Rick is a problem solver who knows how to get things done for his constituents. And he does it with humor, gratitude and joy. I hope that more leaders will come to see the value of the type of constructive dialogue practiced by Rick and others in his generation and realize that anyone can rant on social media but it takes a leader to get real-life results.
These leaders are the soldiers of our democracy. We were fortunate to have them in our service, and I wish them the best in their transitions.
I also want to thank the extraordinary staff of the Attorney General’s Office. The staff is half the size it was in the mid-1990s, but the workload is higher. While reorganizing the office ruffled feathers, we built the smartest, toughest and most effective working staff in the nation. I am inspired by your talent, professionalism and commitment. I thank you for your hard work.
Most important, I learned so much from the people of Minnesota. I am so honored and grateful that you elected me. You taught me about the basic goodness of people and the exceptionalism of our state. You taught me that rural or urban, male or female, young or old, black or white, we mostly want the same things in life. You taught me that the Minnesota spirit is resilient and hopeful. And you taught me that Minnesotans believe in individualism, but also in our shared humanity.
Thank you, Minnesota.
Lori Swanson is attorney general of Minnesota.