When Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson announced her run for governor and U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison filed to run for attorney general, the moves set off a chain of events affecting DFLers in several races. A number of DFLers are competing in the Aug. 14 primary elections for the popular congressman’s open Fifth District seat.
Likewise, there are crowded DFL primary races for governor and attorney general — and for the District 60A Minnesota House seat in south Minneapolis, which was held by Rep. Ilhan Omar. The first-ever Somali-American legislator in the United States is running for the seat Ellison is vacating in the U.S. House of Representatives.
One of the aspirants for the attorney general job is a Jewish Minneapolis native, Mike Rothman. Now living with his family in Minnetonka, Rothman recently stopped by the Jewish World offices to discuss his candidacy.
In January 2011, Gov. Mark Dayton appointed Rothman — a lawyer who graduated from Carleton College (when Paul Wellstone was a professor) and the University of Minnesota Law School — as commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Commerce. As commerce commissioner, Rothman said he acted as “the watchdog of Minnesota consumers.” He resigned his post in November 2017, to launch his campaign for attorney general.
Asked about his proudest achievement as commerce commissioner, Rothman replied, “I think standing up for consumers in a number of ways to protect them. First, we beefed up the department’s enforcement to protect consumers against scams and abuses. And we were able to save Minnesota consumers about a billion dollars, which is comprised of savings in lower utility rates; we also had a major settlement with some life insurance companies,” which resulted in the recovery of some $220 million in life insurance benefits that were owed.
Also, as commerce commissioner, Rothman helped recover more than $180 million in missing funds for Minnesotans.
Regarding the surprising DFL political turns of late, Rothman explained, “I was surprised by Lori Swanson’s decision to run for governor. I had planned to run for attorney general, if she was running for governor; and then at the end during the [DFL state] convention, when she switched back to governor, I jumped into the race.”
Regarding Ellison, one of his opponents in the contest for AG, Rothman, 56, mentioned that there had been some news reports that the Minneapolis congressman was interested in the state executive job. Rothman also noted that there had been reports that Swanson would get into the race for governor, which is why he declared his candidacy for attorney general late last year.
The DFL-endorsed candidate for AG is Matt Pelikan. Also running on the DFL side are state Rep. Debra Hilstrom and former Ramsey County attorney Tom Foley.
While campaigning across the state, Rothman said he senses “good energy.”
“I’m the only candidate who has had a statewide office,” he pointed out, regarding being the commissioner of commerce. He’s done a number of news media interviews, and has been “getting out on the parade circuit.”
“I think it’s been terrific,” he concluded about the reception he has received.
And why does he want to be Minnesota’s attorney general?
“I loved my job as the commissioner of commerce, helping people, protecting people working on their behalf; and I think with my strong experience, being ready to protect people, being the consumers’ watchdog as the commissioner. It’s an easy step to make to become the attorney general and to, again, protect consumers.”
He also mentioned his “strong courtroom experience” gained over 30 years as a “practicing attorney in state and federal courts, even briefing a case up to the U.S. Supreme Court as a younger attorney.”
The sum of his experiences will enable him “to step into the job on day one, ready to protect Minnesotans.”
Rothman mentioned three key priorities he would pursue as attorney general: First, Rothman vowed, “From day one, I would launch an effort to address the opioid crisis.” Second, he “would increase protection of senior citizens from abuse and fraud throughout the State of Minnesota.” Third, he would “work on protecting Minnesota’s land and waters.”
From humble beginnings, Rothman, along with his two younger siblings, was raised in the Glendale Townhomes, the oldest public housing project in Minneapolis. His mother, Elaine, was a special education teacher and a union activist. His father was an architect. His parents divorced when Rothman was five years old, and his mother raised the family primarily on her own. She also earned a teaching degree from the U of M, and bought the first family home in Chaska. Rothman earned money during the summer by caddying at Hazeltine National Golf Club.
Rothman is married to Shari Latz Rothman, a professional harpist from Golden Valley. And her family has been prominent in Minnesota DFL politics: her father, Robert “Bob” Latz, was elected four times to the Minnesota House of Representatives (1959-1966); served as an assistant attorney general; and, among other accomplishments, wrote the book Jews in Minnesota Politics: The Inside Stories. Her brother, Ron Latz, represents District 46 in the Minnesota Senate.
The Rothmans have three teenage children, Sophi, Adam and David.
Toward the end of a nearly hour-long interview, Rothman discussed the particulars of a number of phone, email and internet scams that have victimized Minnesota residents, especially impecunious elders. This discussion would make an interesting article in its own right. (Note: The IRS does not call up people and threaten to arrest them if they don’t purchase gift cards in the way of payment for back taxes. The list of scams is endless.)
Rothman did mention that he and his colleagues in the Department of Commerce worked to stop people from installing credit card skimmers on gas pumps. The devices steal credit card numbers while people are gassing up their vehicles.
“I created a SWAT team to go around the state of Minnesota and inspect gas pumps. The Department of Commerce did the gas pump inspections. We ferreted out dozens of these things in gas pumps… and some of those criminals were caught and prosecuted.”
In wrapping up his interview with the Jewish World, Rothman said that he has been “working very hard” on his campaign. He is “asking for everyone’s vote on August 14” — people can even vote for him now, with Minnesota’s early voting system.
Since 1912 the AJW has served as an important news resource for the Jewish community. The Jewish World unites the main Jewish communities in St. Paul and Minneapolis, as well as those in Duluth, Rochester and smaller cities, and bridges the divides between the various Jewish religious streams.