Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek rebuffs any suggestion — and there have been many — that he’s interested in running for governor. “I love what I do,” he says.
What he does is run a department that has a very large footprint. With a $100 million budget, the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Department answers 700,000 911 emergency calls annually; runs a full-service crime lab; manages the county’s jail system; issues 30,000 warrants a year; and assists metro-area police departments.
At the end of this month, he will play a big role in Minneapolis’ hosting of the annual meeting of the National Sheriffs Association, a convention prize that the city had to procure seven years in advance. Stanek will be more than just the host, though. As a leader in the organization, he has helped shape federal policy on public safety, including gun control, which he’s discussed with President Barack Obama.
He has a full plate.
And yet. A speech Stanek gave at the Republican Party of Minnesota’s state convention last month certainly seemed calibrated to indicate his interest in something more. As an endorsed Republican, Stanek reminded the group that he won re-election in 2014 with 69 percent of the vote. “I win in Erik Paulsen’s district,” he said. “I win in Keith Ellison’s district.”
During the speech, he described a conversation with Obama in which he defended Second Amendment rights — and then asked the crowd not to boo at the mention of Obama’s name.
He said he chooses to run for sheriff as a Republican, even though a partisan preference is not required. Yet he chided the party’s litmus tests. “Get rid of the party test and the ‘not conservative enough’ message,” he said.
In a recent interview with MinnPost, he elaborated on all that and more:
MinnPost: Crime has dropped in the almost 10 years you’ve been sheriff, but it’s ticking back up. Why?
Rich Stanek: Some of it is an erosion of respect across the community. If people don’t respect their friends and where they live, you’ve got a problem on your hands. Crime is less, but it is more violent than every before. Much of it is the uptick in shootings in the inner cities. But it happens all over the county.
MinnPost: So why not more gun control?
RS: Everyone wants to tie the two — that gun control reduces gun violence. I’ve never seen any evidence that that is true. We have 33,000 people who have conceal and carry permits [in Hennepin County] and very few violations. But we have removed [thousands of] illegal guns used by robbers, rapists, and everybody in between. They were used in crimes. They steal them out of people’s homes, offices. These are the targets of the Violent Offender Task force, a multi-agency operation led by the sheriff’s office. They are really good at what they do. Really good. I credit them for the huge reduction of crime.
MinnPost: But what about north Minneapolis? If you were setting the policy for the Minneapolis Police Department — where you were once an officer — what would you change?
RS: I think the department could do a better job leveraging resources. They do it, but not to the greatest degree. There are 2,500 police officers that work across Hennepin County. I would leverage these. We have a very decentralized county in terms of law enforcement.
MP: What do you think Black Lives Matter has accomplished?
RS: People are still forming their opinions. It’s a coalition of smaller groups. Law enforcement is still trying to figure it out. With BLM, we are never quite sure who is going to show up. Nonetheless, they have a message. They have passion.
MP: You seemed to be urging Republican activists to develop this kind of open attitude. Why?
RS: The vast majority of people are hard working and come in different ethnicities, races and religious beliefs. I don’t want a test that keeps people out. I want something that brings people together.
MP: With statements like this, are you surprised there’s speculation you will be a candidate for governor?
RS: I think people crave leadership. When people see me at a Rotary meeting at 7:30 in the morning and a City Council at 7:30 at night or they see me on an interview, they tell me, ‘You’re tireless, when you speak you convey a sense of confidence and reassurance like no other.’ But then I have 30-plus years of experience doing this.
MP: So, any thoughts about moving on?
RS: Everybody looks for a candidate, but I love what I do. I’ve been to the White House, worked with Homeland security, worked with [DFL Senators] Klobuchar and Franken. I’m a pragmatist, a realist, I always look to the future. Whatever I choose to do, I am going to work really hard at it.
MP: Do you think you could handle the biggest job in the state – being governor?
RS: Yeah, I can.