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‘We won this with hard work and some luck’: a Q&A with newly elected Hennepin County Sheriff Dave Hutchinson

Hutchinson talks about his plans for taking over the office, why he thinks he won and what he’s heard from his opponent Rich Stanek. 

MinnPost file photo by Jessica Lee
Dave Hutchinson: "I just want people to know that I’m there for the sheriff’s department, for the people — I don’t care who they supported."
It’s official: Dave Hutchinson is Hennepin County’s new sheriff. Elections officials certified voting results this week.

In his new role, Hutchinson will oversee more than 840 employees and coordinate with politicians and law-enforcement agencies from across the county, a group that includes more than three dozen state legislators, two members of Congress and 45 city mayors. He’ll also be responsible for a roughly $125 million budget and the treatment of upwards of 36,000 people rotating through the county’s detention facilities.

MinnPost asked him about his plans for taking over the office, why he thinks he won and what he’s heard from his opponent Rich Stanek, who has led the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office since 2007. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

MinnPost: How do you feel now that election results are finalized?

Dave Hutchinson: Great. We’ve got my transition team in place, so we’re ready to take office come Jan. 8.

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MP: So, have you heard from Stanek?

DH: Just an email. I haven’t received a call or a voicemail yet. … He just said, you know, ‘Congratulations, if you have any questions, call me with the transition processes.’ That’s about it, really. It’s pretty short.

MP: What have you been hearing from other people?

DH: People are excited. I’m excited. People at the sheriff’s office are excited. They’re a little nervous because cops they don’t like change, and they don’t like how things are. I’ve talked a lot with the internal staff that I’ve had relationships with in the past, and I’ve been talking to the unions that represented them [which endorsed Stanek]. … I just want a clean slate. I just want people to know that I’m there for the sheriff’s department, for the people I don’t care who they supported. When I get in there, it’s going to be our sheriff’s office, but I’m going to be the sheriff. I’m just looking forward to working with everybody until we can start serving the people like I promised in the campaign.

MP: Are administrators in the sheriff’s office guaranteed to keep their jobs?

DH: We haven’t gotten to that point yet. We’re still working on the transition team. I’ve told some of the upper admin that we’re going to work with them. Our objective is to make sure that the transition is smooth. We’re going to keep people in place who are doing a good job. … I don’t have an answer yet, except we’re not going to go in there and clean house. We’re going to go in there and make sure people are ready to work under a new leadership. That’s all that matters. It’s not about Stanek or me. It’s about serving the people of our county.

MP: What are you going to prioritize come January? What’s first on the docket?

DH: We’re going to do a few things for employee morale. We’re going to do some policy changes that benefit the rank-and-file so they’re happy and ready to take on a new leadership. We need them to be on board with our mission to be successful. So we’re going to help them out. We’re going to make some simple changes that will make them happy. And then we’re going to start working on campaign promises: treat everybody the same, work on mental health or how we deal with people suffering from mental-health crises — and, of course, the opioid epidemic. But those are going to take a long time. Those three big ones — they’re not going to happen overnight. But day one we’re going to start working on them and we have people in place who are experts in all of those who offered to help. There will be some minor policy changes that benefit the department, the people.

MP: How do you respond to people who are shocked by the election results?

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DH: The people have spoken. … They came out and voted. It was super, super high voter turnout for a nonpresidential election, for a midterm. … Some of these people are sick of how things are. They want change. Money doesn’t always buy politics anymore. You saw the difference in fundraising [with Stanek’s campaign raising more than four times the money of Hutch’s]. We had hundreds of hundreds of volunteers out for our campaign. Hard work pays off. We won this with hard work and some luck. That’s really what it is.

MP: Anything else people should know?

DH: I just want to reiterate the ‘thank you’ to everybody and to the people who didn’t vote for me. My objective is to reach out to the suburban departments [areas where Stanek had strong support], and when we’ve done that, we’re going to reach out to the chiefs and the people in the suburbs. I want them to know that we’re not going to forget about them, and they’re just as important as anybody. And I’m going to do my best to mend some relationships out there. Hopefully, we can be a county united. I don’t want the Minneapolis-suburban divide. I want Hennepin County to be ‘Hennepin County as a whole’ and make it the best county it can be.