Swanson in the spotlight over health care challengeby Tom Scheck, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson said Wednesday she hasn't decided whether to file a lawsuit questioning the constitutionality of the new federal health care law.
Attorneys general in 13 states are challenging the law, and Republicans in Minnesota are calling on Swanson to join the suit.
Swanson is running for re-election in November of this year, and the GOP is using this issue to put that race at the forefront.
Throughout the week Minnesota Republicans, including Gov. Pawlenty and every GOP member of the state Legislature, have been putting pressure on Attorney General Lori Swanson to file a lawsuit over the new health care law.
During a news conference earlier this week, Republicans complained that Swanson, a Democrat, should have been ready to file the lawsuit right away.
Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, said failing to act means Swanson is putting politics before her job as attorney general.
"Her political agenda has gotten in the way of her responsibilities to serve the residents of the state," said Ortman. "It is of great concern to Minnesotans because she is our attorney, and once in that office, she really has a responsibility to act in a nonpartisan fashion."
Swanson wouldn't talk much about the issue, because she says she hasn't reviewed the entire law. But the first-term Democrat said Wednesday she won't let political pressure force her to act impulsively.
"When an attorney general looks at legal issues or constitutional issues or lawsuits, what you do is decide them on the law," said Swanson. "I'll look at the bill, look at the law, look at the Constitution, ultimately decide what I think the law provides for, and then make a decision that I think is in the best interest of the people of Minnesota."
Swanson once authored a memo signaling support for a single-payer health care system, but she says she hasn't formed an opinion on the new federal health law.
You would think her opponents would make it a big issue in Swanson's re-election campaign. But there's one problem -- she doesn't have any opponents.
That's a bit of a surprise, since two years ago Swanson was taking heat from a public employees' labor union and even some Democrats. At the time, Swanson was facing sharp criticism for opposing a union organizing effort within her office.
A spokeswoman for one of Swanson's loudest critics, the Association of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees Council 5, says the union won't challenge her endorsement at the DFL convention next month.
Swanson said if she wins a second term, she will continue her efforts at protecting consumers. Since she took office in 2007, Swanson has filed a number of suits against insurance companies, mortgage companies and power companies on behalf of consumers.
"There are a lot of things that people have trouble doing themselves, when it comes to leveling the playing field with corporations or grappling with consumer fraud," said Swanson. "The bottom line is it's about helping people. It's about standing up for people, helping level the playing field, doing things for them that they can't do on their own, when they've been misled or victimized by these kind of practices."
Despite Republican threats that Swanson will face a backlash at the polls if she doesn't sue over the health care reform issue, no Republican has stepped forward yet to challenge her.
Minnesota Republican Party Chair Tony Sutton says he expects a "top-notch" candidate to enter the race in the next few weeks, but wouldn't identify the individual. Sutton says a Republican would focus on consumer protection, but also stress criminal law enforcement.
"We haven't had a Republican attorney general since Doug Head, who was elected in 1966," said Sutton. "It's long overdue, in my view, that we bring some balance to that office."
Republicans are scheduled to endorse their slate of candidates at their state party convention which starts on April 30.
- All Things Considered, 03/24/2010, 5:24 p.m.