The Religious Right’s Candidate for Minnesota Attorney General

ADF Attorney Doug Wardlow is running to become Minnesota's Attorney General (Image from Minnesota Public Radio debate)

We reported this week that national anti-Muslim activist Philip Haney claimed to have been on “special assignment” in Minnesota smearing state attorney general candidate Rep. Keith Ellison as the Sharia-promoting “face of Hamas.” In addition to his status as a progressive leader and the first Muslim elected to the U. S. Congress, here’s a big reason the Religious Right and its allies are so interested in taking down Ellison:  Ellison’s opponent, Doug Wardlow, is an Alliance Defending Freedom lawyer who has aggressively opposed legal equality for LGBTQ Americans. The Alliance Defending Freedom opposes LGBTQ equality in the U.S. and around the world and has been designated an anti-LGBT hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Wardlow is intensely opposed to marriage equality. After the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 marriage equality ruling, Wardlow characterized the ruling as a “totalitarian impulse” and published an op-ed at Fox News warning that the court’s decision promoted “a dark and dangerous principle”—“the flawed notion that the state does not recognize and protect—but rather creates—our fundamental institutions, rights, and relationships.” He said the decision would force Americans “to choose between their God and their government.” In a 2013 speech to a Tea Party group, Wardlow said, “You cannot have liberty without strong families. You cannot have liberty with marriage redefined to include homosexual marriage.”

Wardlow is also a former right-wing legislator who sponsored legislation attacking unions and the Affordable Care Act. In 2012 he supported constitutional amendments to ban same-sex couples from getting married and requiring photo ID to vote.

Wardlow has publicly pledged to be a nonpolitical attorney general, but he was caught telling donors behind closed doors that he would “fire 42 Democratic attorneys right off the bat and get Republican attorneys in there.” One piece of his campaign literature asked supporters to rank their priorities; options included “Defend President Trump’s agenda in court” and “investigate and prosecute illegal voting.”

Wardlow has tried to keep attention away from his own record by attacking Ellison and focusing on abuse allegations—determined by Democratic leaders to be “unsubstantiated”—from a former girlfriend. Less than two weeks before the election, there is virtually no information about Wardlow’s policy positions on his website. And his page on the Republican Attorneys General Association does not even mention his affiliation with ADF, saying instead, “As a Constitutional Lawyer, Doug successfully defended the Constitution in cases all across the country.”

But Wardlow’s attacks on Ellison are having an impact, as a new poll this week showed Wardlow moving into the lead.

It’s not just operatives like Haney counting on Islamophobia to boost Wardlow’s candidacy—Wardlow’s campaign is also doing it. The Star Tribune reported last week:

A group of faith leaders on Thursday condemned mailers sent out by Republican attorney general candidate Doug Wardlow as Islamophobic and intended to spread fear.

Wardlow’s fundraising mailers lambaste his Democratic opponent, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, calling him “one of the most dangerous men in America” and saying he “pals around with radical Islamic groups and defends known terrorists.”

Wardlow’s mailers “are a significant departure from what America is all about. He has chosen to attack his opponent’s religion and he has chosen to attack religious institutions,” said Imam Asad Zaman, who spoke at a news conference along with two Lutheran pastors and a rabbi.

Journalist Sarah Posner wrote about ADF’s growing reach and power for The Nation last year; she reported that dozens of former ADF attorneys now serve in government or the judiciary:

At the state level, at least 18 ADF-affiliated lawyers now work in 10 attorney-general offices; all of them were appointed or elected in the past five years. And in just one year, Trump has nominated at least four federal judges who have ties to ADF—Amy Coney Barrett, recently confirmed to the Seventh Circuit; Kyle Duncan, nominated to the Fifth Circuit; and Jeff Mateer and Michael Joseph Juneau, both nominated to district courts.

Posner reviewed 146 ADF appellate briefs and noted, “Until very recently, ADF routinely trafficked in slurs against the LGBTQ community, consistently depicting LGBTQ people as promiscuous, uncommitted, and unfit to parent in dozens of its briefs opposing marriage equality.”

The prospect of a Wardlow victory was so troubling to third-party candidate Noah Johnson, who has been running for attorney general on a platform of legalizing marijuana use, that he recently endorsed Ellison because he says he feared that taking votes from Ellison might help Wardlow get elected.

News outlets were recently successful in getting a court to unseal records from Ellison’s 2015 divorce. The documents showed no allegations of abuse by Ellison; he and his former wife Kim say they remain friends.