Hilstrom running for state attorney general

NEW ULM — In the 5-way scramble for the DFL nomination for Minnesota attorney general, Debra Hilstrom knows she is not the most celebrated name in the race.

That would probably belong to Keith Ellison, the U.S. Representative from Minnesota’s 5th District, the first Muslim elected to Congress. Ellison jumped into the attorney general’s race after current AG Lori Swanson lost the party’s endorsement to Matt Pelikan, a young progressive and activist. Swanson, rather than challenge in the primary for her seat, decided to seek the primary nomination for governor.

Along with Pelikan and Ellison, Hilstrom faces Tom Foley, a former Ramsey County attorney, and Mike Rothman, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Commerce.

“I’m not the showhorse, I’m the workhorse,” Hilstrom said in a visit to New Ulm Wednesday.

The attorney general is the people’s attorney, Hilstrom said, who listens to their complaints and works to help them with their problems, whether it’s an insurance company not paying a claim, a company not delivering a product or service as promised, or an industry marketing its product in a deceitful and harmful manner.

“I’m the only candidate who has the experience of writing and passing consumer protection laws (as the District 40B state representative from Brooklyn Center) and prosecuting people who break those laws (as a prosecutor with the Anoka County Attorney’s office).”

Minnesotans make about 5,000 calls a week to the Attorney General’s Office asking for help.

“Not a lot of the issues they call about may gain national attention, but they are the most important issues in their lives — whether they get to keep their housing, whether they get to keep their job, whether they might have to file for bankruptcy because the insurance company isn’t paying for medical expenses as they think they should,” Hilstrom said.

When a lot of Minnesotans call about the same thing, the attorney general can file a lawsuit on behalf of the whole state to correct the situation, as when Century Link was promising customers they would pay one fee, and charged them higher fees.

As a legislator, Hilstrom has served on legislative committees dealing with civil law and commerce and regulatory reform, and has authored consumer protection bills. As a prosecutor, she has charged those breaking the laws, and has seen first-hand where there might be weak spots in the laws that she can go back and correct as a legislator.

Hilstrom said she first got involved in politics when her father had an issue to take before the Brooklyn Center City Council. He asked her to come along. When he was speaking before the council one councilor brought up the fact that he couldn’t read, a secret he had kept from his family. His inability to read became a public matter, embarrassing him. That sparked Hilstrom to write a letter to the editor about how government should treat people respectfully, which sparked comments from people that she should run for city council. She did, and served six years before deciding to run for the Minnesota House. She was elected in 2000 and has served ever since.

While serving the Legislature, Hilstrom went to William Mitchell College of Law, graduating in 2010. “I’ve been a legislator longer than I’ve been a lawyer,” she said.

This year she was interested in running for attorney general, but told people she wouldn’t as long as Swanson was running. When Swanson switched to the governor’s race after the endorsing convention, Hilstrom jumped into the primary race.

She said her experience with consumer protection law and her desire to help people with their problems should distinguish her from the rest of the candidates in the race.