The hater's guide to the 2018 election: Hennepin and Ramsey County

Rich Stanek (left) and Mike Freeman (right): Will both of these men be returned to office? More importantly: Do they deserve it?

Rich Stanek (left) and Mike Freeman (right): Will both of these men be returned to office? More importantly: Do they deserve it? Renee Jones Schneider, Star Tribune

Below, find City Pages' guide to elections in Hennepin and Ramsey counties this year. Click here for our guide to statewide races, and here for our guide to congressional toss-ups.

Hennepin County Attorney:

Mike Freeman (DFL) vs. Mark Haase (DFL)

Mike Freeman is open to questions. And not just from press, whose calls (and cameras) he’s never shied away from.

The longtime county prosecutor has met or offered to meet with activists who didn’t just question his judgment, they despised it. He’s taken heat on controversial cases like not charging cops who killed Jamar Clark and Thurman Blevins, and the charging of CeCe McDonald, a 22-year-old transgender woman who killed a man in what sure looked like a racially charged self-defense death.

When union activists buttonholed Freeman (who didn’t know he was being recorded) on why he hadn’t charged Mohamed Noor, the cop who shot Justine Damond, the attorney bluntly said Noor’s partner “gave us shit” to work with. Freeman savvily impaneled a grand jury to force out the answers.

Freeman’s put away a lot of bad people: scores of murderers and rapists are either off the streets, or back on them under strict supervision. But that’s what we ask his office to do.

Did anyone ask for felony charges on 47 low-level pot busts (picture: dime bags) that occurred on a single block of Hennepin Avenue in the first five months of this year? They got them anyway, until public defenders noticed that, of those on the docket, 46 were black. Freeman waived charges, saying his office “did not detect a pattern.” Shouldn’t it have?

When controversies arise, Freeman often vows change. Expresses remorse. Says he wishes things were different.

What if things were different? Attorney Mark Haase has spent years outside the system, working with criminal offenders to restore their voting rights, seal their juvenile records, help them get back on their feet—and prevent them from becoming re-offenders.

Among prosecutors, Haase’s view of criminals is an interesting one: He thinks there are fewer of them out there than we’re led to believe. (“We have a mass criminalization problem,” he says.) He wants marijuana legal, and though he can’t do that on his own, he could drop those cases from his list. He would also cut the cash bail racket, which systematically makes poor people poorer.

Haase wants justice, sure. He just realizes that doesn’t always end up with someone in a cell.

Hennepin County Sheriff:

Rich Stanek vs. Dave Hutch

Look aboveand there’s no party affiliation next to those names, as the sheriff position is technically “nonpartisan.” Bullshit it is. Go back and watch Rich Stanek’s speech at the 2016 Republican Party of Minnesota Convention.

Watch the way he relishes saying he’d gone to Barack Obama’s White House to tell the president “to keep his hands off our guns,” and how he’d told “a guy called James Comey” to “get serious about those charges against Hillary for her email server.” If Rich Stanek were any further right-wing he’d self-actualize as a Fox News chyron.

That same year, 2016, Stanek sent his deputies across state lines to serve on the front lines against Native Americans protesting an oil pipeline on the graves of their ancestors. Once there, the deputies clipped in their riot gear and went to battle, macing protesters and jamming them with batons.

Is that how Hennepin County wants to be known? As a place that sends Ilhan Omar to Congress and, on the very same day, gives Rich Stanek the keys to the jailhouse?

If only he had a stronger opponent. Dave Hutch seems like a nice fellow, but he has low name recognition—turns out 12 years as a Met Transit cop doesn’t make you famous—and his campaign got off to a slow start. Some in the boots-on-the-ground activist game wondered if Hutch had the requisite hunger to topple a longtime incumbent.

Hutch has gotten some help since then, as activists and local celebs like author Nora Purmort boosted his name, and tried reminding voters that yes, there’s another choice for sheriff this year. Last week Hutch’s campaign got another lift-up in the form of an endorsement from the aforementioned “Hillary”—whose emails, while we’re on the subject, didn’t reveal anything half as upsetting as the things Rich Stanek’s been doing and saying in public, on your dime, for the past dozen years.

Hutch is fighting an uphill battle, but he deserves your thanks—and your vote—for picking a fight with the biggest bully in this here county.

Ramsey County Sheriff:

Bob Fletcher v. Jack Serier

Bob Fletcher served as Ramsey County sheriff for 16 years until 2010. In his time in office, he faced harsh criticism for his gung-ho approach to gang-busting. His investigators were accused of losing track of cash, cars, and other valuables confiscated from the field. He made enemies of liberals during the 2008 Republican National Convention, when his agents raided protesters’ headquarters and arrested journalists.

At least Fletcher always faced his critics.

Upon assuming the vacancy left by his ex-boss Matt Bostrom, Jack Serier told county commissioners he’d run the agency on a foundation of “good character.” Ramsey County’s still waiting for that.

Serier spared no opportunity to punish correctional officers and deputies hired during Fletcher’s term, meanwhile dismissing wrongdoing by his supporters. He forced depleted staff to work overtime in a jail with broken cameras and metal detectors. Inmates in lockdown for days on end flooded their cells in protest. Correctional officers wrote to the county board begging for oversight.

Fletcher only filed his challenge at the last minute because correctional officers were at their wit’s end. Many of his former detractors have come around to support him; if nothing else, he does acknowledge his mistakes. And he’s competent at running a jail where pre-trial, innocent-until-proven-guilty inmates are detained at the mercy of the county.

Hennepin County District 4:

Peter McLaughlin (DFL) vs. Angela Conley (DFL)

No one hates Peter McLaughlin. Well, maybe a few conservatives who can’t sleep, what with all the horrifying visions of urbanites getting to work on a light rail train. Those jerks live far outside Hennepin County, where McLaughlin has steered major transit and infrastructure projects since joining the board in 1991.

McLaughlin’s built up a legacy of glistening projects, devoting funds to the METRO Blue Line train and Target Field. These monuments have quite literally changed the landscape and function of Minneapolis, which makes up the bulk of McLaughlin’s district.

And yet. Critics complain he chases big, glamorous projects—see: the still-unrealized Southwest Light Rail line—in favor of smaller pieces like bus rapid transit, which might serve a lot more citizens, dollar-for-dollar. Or county road systems: Want improvements to Franklin, Penn, Lowry, Lyndale, or Hennepin Avenues, Stinson Boulevard, or Marshall Street? (Many do.) It’s Peter they have to ask for funding, and it doesn’t always materialize. Some theorize it’s because those little fixes don’t result in ribbon-cuttings. Or headlines.

Now, pour yourself some cool water. We have to talk race. No person of color has ever held a seat in Hennepin County, which is currently 20 percent non-white. (That number’s gonna grow.) What would it mean to finally see a bit of melanin on the board?

And not just some token. Imagine the first to get a seat at the table was a single mother, a one-time recipient of county services who now doles them out as a high-ranking county administrator, someone who’s worked directly with her city’s oft-invisible homeless. That’s Angela Conley, the deep-rooted challenger whose hustle on the campaign trail denied McLaughlin this year’s DFL endorsement; when the convention was declared a deadlock, it was Conley in the lead.

Your’re not a monster if you vote for Peter McLaughlin, who’s recently taken to admitting that he is a 68-year-old white man. (And a Princeton man, at that; Conley’s degrees are from St. Kate’s and Hamline.) McLaughlin knows he’s lived a different experience than many of his less-fortunate constituents. He still wants to serve them. If he wins again, he could start by giving them free Twins tickets.

Click here to read City Pages' guide to statewide races this year, and here to read our guide to congressional toss-ups.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story suggested Hennepin County had contributed funding to U.S. Bank Stadium. It did not, and Peter McLaughlin opposed funding plans proposed involving the county.