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Hilstrom shores up bid for AG's office

Debra Hilstrom of Brooklyn Center stops by the Brainerd Dispatch offices Tuesday, July 10, to talk about her bid for Minnesota attorney general. Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

Debra Hilstrom helped craft some of Minnesota's laws as a member of the Minnesota House of Representatives. She now hopes to be elected the state's chief law enforcement officer.

The 50-year-old legislator, representing District 40B, resigned in October from her job as an assistant Anoka County attorney to run for Minnesota attorney general.

The wife and mother of two, a Brooklyn Center native, received her law degree while serving in the House. She previously served on the Brooklyn Center City Council from 1995 to 2000.

"No company or nonprofit is too big to be above the law, and no person is too small to be below its protection," she said. "Minnesotans need a strong advocate, now more than ever, so I hope they consider me."

Her itinerary for Tuesday, July 10, in the Brainerd lakes area included visiting Sage on Laurel in downtown Brainerd and Bean Hole Days in Pequot Lakes as part of her campaign stops.

"I served in the Minnesota House for the last 18 years, working on issues of consumer protection and public safety. While serving in the Legislature, I went to law school and got my law degree," said Hilstrom, who attended the University of Minnesota as an undergraduate.

"And so having worked on issues such as consumer protection (and) public safety during my time in the Legislature, I think I'm uniquely qualified to serve as the next Minnesota attorney general. I both wrote the law and then I enforced it in the courtroom."

Hilstrom served in various leadership roles during her time in the House, such as the DFL deputy minority leader and as the chairwoman of the Public Safety and Judiciary committees.

"And I've been a prosecutor for the Anoka County Attorney's Office, where I prosecuted cases where folks were financially exploited and adults in later life facing abuse, neglect, domestic assault, theft," said Hilstrom, a graduate of the William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul.

"When Minnesotans call the attorney general's office, they're asking for help. ... It might be about whether or not they're going to have access to housing, health care (or) debt collectors that are hounding them illegally."

Hilstrom is no stranger to the Brainerd lakes area. The granddaughter of a Teamster and dairy farmers, and the wife of a union carpenter, Hilstrom recalled family vacations at Cragun's Resort on Gull Lake during her time off.

"I tend to be the workhorse in the race. I have a reputation of putting my head down and working hard and delivering results. That's what I've done in the Legislature, and that's what I would do in the attorney general's office," Hilstrom said.

Hilstrom has her work cut out for her. There are three Republican hopefuls and almost half a dozen DFL candidates for the attorney general's office, including U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress.

"I think that there are a lot of people that are interested in serving in the attorney general's office as the next attorney general, but I think I have unique skills, and I'm uniquely qualified," Hilstrom said.

"I think I'm the only one that has argued a case before the Minnesota Supreme Court. I think I'm the only one who has done a grand jury case. I have traveled the state training officers on how to investigate financial exploitation of adults in later life, abuse, neglect."

Hilstrom's foray into politics harkens back to her father, who appeared before the Brooklyn Center City Council when she was a stay-at-home mom. A council member called her dad out for being illiterate.

"I didn't know that my dad couldn't read. It had been a secret he had kept his entire life. ... While he was speaking, they treated him very poorly, and it made the local paper, it made the cable station, and he was embarrassed, he was humiliated," Hilstrom said.

"I wrote a letter to the editor saying we can disagree about issues, but it's about treating people with respect, and that everyone has an important role to play. And after I wrote that letter, people called me up and said, 'We think you should run for office,' so I did—and I won."

Hilstrom made a bid for the Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State in 2014 after incumbent Mark Ritchie decided not to run for re-election to a third term in office. The DFL Party nominated state Rep. Steve Simon, however, who defeated state Rep. Dan Severson, a Republican.

"One of the issues I've been working on the hardest in the Legislature—and I believe I would do so as attorney general as well—is really getting a handle on this opioid epidemic and holding pharmaceutical companies accountable for what they have done to Minnesotans," Hilstrom said.

"They told doctors and they told the public these are not addictive and then they overprescribe them, and then now it's killing Minnesotans. And just as I did in the Legislature, I carried bills to actually hold them accountable for the costs to Minnesotans, and I would do that in the attorney general's office as well."