Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison interview series: Part 1

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison

On the government shutdown:

Keith Ellison: You've got 800,000 people who don't know when their check's going to arrive. Trump doesn't seem to care at all. It's all about him fulfilling a specious campaign promise to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it..

Al McFarlane: Not going to happen.

Keith Ellison: Not going happen.

I do expect to be in DC quite a lot because as Attorney General for the state of Minnesota, there are a number of obligations, responsibilities I have as I look out for the people of the state of Minnesota to work perhaps with other states on everything from drug pricing to education to justice in our immigration system to fairness with regard to the census. There are so many critical issues that pull me to DC and other places. I think my travel schedule is going to go down a bit, but it's not going to stop.

Al McFarlane: How many terms did you serve in Congress?

Keith Ellison: Six terms. I was there for 12 years. You get on a plane on a Monday, and you come home on a Thursday, maybe Friday. There were a few times where I didn't get home at all. Then a few times that I did get home, I had to land and then go somewhere else. So, that's 12 years solid of that, but I loved it. I was honored to do it. I can't think of any greater honor than to serve the people of the Fifth Congressional District, other than to be a parent.

On the international arena:

Keith Ellison: Here's the interesting thing about the international arena. It's connected to everything right here in good old Minneapolis. There's really nothing that happens abroad that is not impacting right here in Minneapolis. I had several visits to Colombia and Honduras. When you're in Central America, and the US is funding some of these governments that are involved in Narco trafficking and there's such a horrible condition people are living in, that means that the refugees will come here, right? They're fleeing for their very lives based on policies that we either directly or unwittingly play a role in, either through our trade policy, our security policy, or military to military policy. These things all play a role.

If you go buy flowers, just flowers for Mother's Day, or Valentine's Day's coming up, there's a good chance they come from Colombia or Ecuador. They used to be made in California, but the wage rates, and the oppression of the flower workers in Colombia is so great that they can pay workers next to nothing. So, you buy those flowers here.

I spent time in Africa. If you have a cell phone, then you have a little bit of Africa you're carrying around in your pocket.

Al McFarlane: Explain that.

Keith Ellison: Well, Coltan is an indispensable mineral for cellphones that is found mostly in the Katanga region in Congo. If you drive a car, you've got a little bit of Africa because it’s rubber tires may well have come from a Firestone plantation in Liberia. If you happen to be getting medical services from a certified nurse assistant, that person's probably Liberian.

Al McFarlane: Yeah.

Al McFarlane: Was your travel mostly Europe, Africa, and South America, or did you do Asia as well?

Keith Ellison: Well, if you could the Middle East as Asia, I did a lot of Asia. As a matter of fact, I made over 10 trips to Saudi Arabia alone. I went to Morocco, Libya, Egypt several times, Israel-Palestine many times. I went to Turkey, and Syria, and Jordan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, all these places. What I learned is everybody in all those countries knew somebody back in the Twin Cities. I never went to a country where nobody had any contacts in either the United States or in Minnesota.

For example, one time I was in a refugee camp called Dadaab, which is in northern Kenya on the border near Somalia. I said I'm from Minnesota. Everybody goes, "Minnesota." Everybody had a friend or relative in Minnesota. Same thing when I was in Monrovia, Liberia and driving through seeing all the rubber plantations, understanding that that country was established by the United States in 1822 by an act of Congress, which is why their capital is Monrovia, because it's named after James Monroe.

So, we have a sense that, "Oh, we're just sitting up here in little old Minneapolis and that's all there is." No, everything is connected to everything. That's not a theoretical statement. It's the absolutely solid truth. If there is war, disruption, environmental degradation abroad, clearly we're going to be getting some new neighbors. Trust me on that.

Here's another thing I learned from international travel: Everybody is absolutely unique. Cultures are unique. But people all want the same things. Again, back to Dadaab for a moment, or to a place in Nairobi known as Eastleigh ... A lot of Somalis, when they hear Eastleigh, they know Eastleigh. People were handing me letters because they wanted their wife or husband or cousin in Minneapolis to know that they were okay; that mama made it out of the surgery okay; that uncle is sick’ that I still love you and want to marry you.

Keith Ellison: This is the kind of stuff that people care about even in a refugee camp. That's what they're concerned about. What are people concerned about here? The same stuff. So, that's kinda an interesting thing. Whether you are in the middle of Pakistan or in north Minneapolis, people are concerned about food, healthcare, safety, their children, their retirement. That is the human condition. I guess if I thought about it, it wouldn't take me traveling all over the world to learn that, but I did learn that.

Keith Ellison: The hunger for dignity is a universal thing. It's in human beings no matter where you go. If you had the chance to travel, good keep it up. If you haven't, try to make plans because you'll learn some things about yourself and humanity that in some ways are obvious, but in so many other ways are not obvious.

Al McFarlane: The truth is you can learn it in your neighborhood.

Keith Ellison: You can.

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