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Choosing Minnesota's attorney general
Minnesota's race for attorney general has been relatively quiet. Except for a couple of press conferences by the Republican challenger, the campaign rhetoric has registered only a whisper compared to the roar of Minnesota's U.S. Senate race. Still, the state's top attorney wields an enormous amount of power.

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Image A quiet news conference

Voters will decide whether to re-elect DFLer Mike Hatch, or choose Republican Tom Kelly or attorney Dale Nathan who's running under the Independence Party label, but who does not have the support of party officials. Hatch says he is taking the campaign seriously but as an incumbent he says the public should use his track record in office as a guide.

"If they like what I'm doing, they'll vote for me, if they don't, they won't," Hatch says.

Tom Kelly hopes the public won't. Kelly is a longtime Republican activist and a former partner at Dorsey and Whitney. Kelly came out swinging against Hatch, saying the incumbent uses the office for political gain by taking on high profile investigations of companies based on questionable legal grounds. Kelly says as a result, Hatch has damaged the state's job climate.

"Companies who are looking at whether they want to be expanding or locating in Minnesota have to take into account the fact that they have an Attorney General who will use that position to exploit them in the press if he sees a political advantage to doing so," Kelly said. "And I think that's bad for the state, I think it's bad long term for our economy and it's important that we bring it to an end."

Hatch is a longtime DFLer who's made two runs for governor. As attorney general he's earned a reputation for going for pursuing the powerful. Some have called him a bully. In his latest investigation he compared Xcel Energy to Enron and urged board members to fire its CEO. Officials with several Twin Cities chambers of commerce said Hatch overstepped his jurisdiction and set the stage to interfere with small and large companies alike. Hatch says his critics in the business world are painting a picture that's too simplistic: that someone who is pro-consumer must be anti-business.

"The actions we take in many cases are very healthy for business. You try to enforce the law equally and try to do a decent job. When I worked on a ship, I learned very early on that the rules worked only if applied to all members of the crew. And it's the same thing here. You apply the law equally and don't play favorites," Hatch said.

But Kelly accuses Hatch of doing exactly that. Kelly says he'd bring fair law enforcement to the office of Attorney General. Kelly describes Hatch's investigation of Allina, the state's largest health care organization, as a hostile takeover. The Attorney General's year-long investigation found the company overspent millions on administrative costs and wasted millions more on executive perks. Hatch appointed a new board and split Allina into two entities. Kelly says Hatch should've worked at getting the law changed to correct the spending problems.

"What he chose to do was take it to the press. He managed to rush the company into splitting up something that was under consideration; he managed to get two senior executives fired both of whom had supported his opponent in the 1998 election; he installed two of his contributors as the chairs of the new boards of directors and otherwise left the system roughly as he found it," Kelly said.

But Hatch says Allina did break laws and it's his responsibility to enforce them.

"Only two people in the state including Mr. Kelly would defend the practices that were going on at Allina. When we expose fraud and abuse in the health care system we are lowering the premium which is pro-business," says Hatch.

The race's wild card is attorney Dale Nathan. Nathan was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky and came to Minnesota in 1965 and went on to become general counsel for Unisys. Independence Party officials say they came close to endorsing Nathan but chose not to because he faces seven charges of unprofessional conduct, including violating court orders.

Nathan acknowledges he refused to obey a judge's order to disclose what he says was confidential attorney-client information and doesn't apologize for that. That refusal landed Nathan in jail on contempt charges. A state ethics panel also charged him with engaging in a pattern of harassing and frivolous litigation. He's denies those and most of the other charges.

Nathan says if he's elected Attorney General his main goal will be reforming the justice system, particularly making justice affordable for the average person by cutting costs.

"Let's get away from paying lawyers and the like to fight with each other over fairly trivial things and things that can be resolved much more efficiently and at much less expense," Nathan said.

The ethics board also cited Nathan for making derogatory statements about judges. Nathan says he made critical statements against judges. He says judges need someone looking over their shoulders to see that they're performing well. He'd like to create a commission of community leaders that will gather information about each judge and publish it in a fair way:

"If we had a small state commission we could take a sample opinion of judges in each district. We'd talk to lawyers, litigants etc and ask what do you think of this judge? We could look at how many times do they get reversed? That's a good indicator. Are they respectful to people in the court room, do they understand they're public servants?," Nathan said.

A judge could rule on the complaints against Nathan at any time.

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