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In Minnesota, GOP lawmakers see police problems mostly as a Minneapolis problem

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka speaking to the press last week as state Sen. Warren Limmer and state Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen look on.
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka speaking to the press last week as state Sen. Warren Limmer and state Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen look on.

The killing of George Floyd on Memorial Day in Minneapolis triggered a national and even global reaction, bringing attention to long-simmering issues around policing and racism in society.

Calls to address some of those issues have reached Congress, city halls, and state Legislatures, including Minnesota’s. Yet for many Republican legislators in St. Paul, the problems with policing aren’t global or even national. Repeated statements by GOP leaders at the Capitol make it clear they see the problems with policing in very specific terms — as a Minneapolis issue, a narrative that fits a broader and well-worn election theme of pitting Minnesota’s biggest cities against suburban and rural parts of the state.

“I talk to a lot of people around the whole state and the vast majority of people that I talk to around the state are very appreciative of the police that they work with,” Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said last week. “I hear very little negative, other than in Minneapolis and a little bit of St. Paul. I’m not saying there’s none. But the relationships I hear about in most places in Minnesota are positive.”

When the Senate GOP lead on criminal justice issues, Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, expressed his reluctance to limit binding arbitration in police contracts — a key plank of the policing agenda put forward by DFL lawmakers during the Legislature’s recently concluded special session — he said it was because it is a problem primarily in Minneapolis, caused by Minneapolis leaders.

“I’m not going to give the city council of Minneapolis a pass,” said Limmer. “They knew of police officers who were not getting the grade that they should. Why didn’t they make that an issue when they signed those collective bargaining agreements?”

And on Tuesday, when three GOP senators called on the U.S. Department of Justice to conduct an investigation of the Minneapolis Police Department, they said it was because they didn’t believe  state of Minnesota’s Human Rights Department was capable of conducting a fair probe based on statements made by its commissioner — while also blaming calls by Minneapolis City Council members to dismantle and recraft the department for the spate of shootings that occurred in the city over the weekend.

State Sen. Warren Limmer
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
State Sen. Warren Limmer, left, expressed his reluctance to limit binding arbitration in police contracts — a key plank of the policing agenda put forward by DFL lawmakers during the Legislature’s recently concluded special session.
“I fear for the citizens of Minneapolis, I really do,” said Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, one of the three GOP lawmakers who signed the letter to the Justice Department. “When you lose your law enforcers, the enforcers end up being the criminal aspect, and I think that’s now being seen.”

Trying to make ‘defund’ a defining issue

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic halted much of the work of the Legislature earlier this year, Republican lawmakers had attempted to make an issue of crime in the Twin Cities and what they described as an anti-police response from local politicians.

“Minnesotans are worried about the increase in crime, and, unfortunately, there’s been a reluctance by our city leaders to take meaningful steps to address it,” House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said in February.

Minneapolis Police Officer Federation president Bob Kroll
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Minneapolis Police Officer Federation President Bob Kroll joined Republican House members at the February news conference addressing growing crime in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
“This is not just an issue for residents of Minneapolis and St. Paul,” Daudt continued. “We all represent constituents who travel to the cities to visit family and friends, who work, who go to sporting events, who go to concerts. And they all worry about their safety.”

Since the death of George Floyd, Republicans have been supportive of some changes to police accountability. At the same time, they’ve also been pushing more partisan themes, including making an issue of DFL elected officials’ response to street violence in the wake of the killing and calls by some activists and Minneapolis council members to defund the police. While national opinion polls show majority support for police reforms, defunding the police draws wide opposition.

The conservative Freedom Club has begun a regional ad campaign with the headline “Democrats Are Trying To Defund the Police,” and GOP lawmakers tried to link the issue to DFLers during the special session — despite the fact that most police funding comes from local and federal dollars, not state funds. 

In the closing hours of the session, as DFL and GOP negotiators exchanged offers, Gazelka stressed that his party would never agree to defund the police, even though Democrats hadn’t proposed anything related to the idea. “The House never had defund the police in its bills,” said House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley. “We didn’t agree to take it out because it was never there at all.”

Not just a big-city issue, say DFLers

DFLers and Gov. Tim Walz have pushed back on the notion police accountability is primarily a big city issue, especially a Minneapolis issue, noting that protests occurred throughout the state, including in cities across Greater Minnesota. 

Rep. Carlos Mariani, the St. Paul DFLer and chair of the House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform committee, described the death of George Floyd as “an issue that drove thousands of people across color lines, geography and gender to exercise their First Amendment rights in the streets of various communities throughout our region to demand justice.”

Speaking at a midweek press conference with Walz, state Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington stressed that a use-of-force study by a working group he co-chaired found that 60 percent of the 100 deadly force encounters that occurred in the state over the last five years took place in Greater Minnesota.

While the public attention on questionable shootings of Black residents tends to be related to big city incidents, he said, places all over the U.S., not just Minneapolis, have problems with policing and use of force against people of color.

State Rep. Carlos Mariani
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
State Rep. Carlos Mariani, shown on June 20, described the death of George Floyd as “an issue that drove thousands of people across color lines, geography and gender to exercise their First Amendment rights in the streets of various communities throughout our region to demand justice.”
DFLers were also quick to jump on Gazelka for saying that Walz owed an apology to Minnesotans for his handling of the violence in the two cities, including to “moms out in the suburbs scared to death about what’s happening all around them.”

Said Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury: “Right now, what I’m hearing loudly, and I would add clearly, from suburban moms and others is that we need to do a much-better job of protecting our Black communities and our Black neighbors.” 

Last week, after Walz and members of the Legislature’s People of Color and Indigenous Caucus dubbed Senate GOP policing bills “weak sauce,” Gazelka said that while the Senate is working on policing, it is also concerned with what he termed lawlessness exhibited in the arson, looting and vandalism that did damage to parts of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

“We all agree that the death of George Floyd was tragic,” Gazelka said, noting that no one disagrees that the four police officers involved should have been fired and that Derek Chauvin, who held his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes, should face charges. “But I also feel the one issue they want to not talk about is what happened after the death of George Floyd, because that’s another big issue that I’m having to address as majority leader.”

State Sen. Scott Dibble
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
State Sen. Scott Dibble
“I think people are upset about that too,” Gazelka continued, including what he has criticized as a slow response by Walz in activating state police and national guard when it was clear Minneapolis had lost control. 

DFLers have not been surprised by the GOP’s focus on Minneapolis. Kent, whose suburban district is one of the GOP targets for a pickup this November, said she expects the GOP will attempt to tie her to more-liberal politicians and more-liberal policies emanating from the cities, including defunding the police. “Campaign lit is what it is,” she said. 

But some have been more aggressive in criticizing the tactic. “Please remember that the Republican party is the party that in numerous campaigns across the state, including (for) Susan Kent’s opponent, put out literature that featured the Black guy from Minneapolis: Jeff Hayden; the gay guy from Minneapolis: Scott Dibble; and a Jewish guy: our mayor,” Minneapolis DFL Sen. Scott Dibble said at a press conference.

“It wasn’t just dog whistling,” Dibble continued. “They put it right out there: racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic; fear of people different and ‘othering’ us in order to win elections.”

Comments (45)

  1. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 06/24/2020 - 11:56 am.

    Nice to see Gazelka and Daudt sliding smoothly into the final phase of Trumpism: confinement to lasting minority party status where the only performance requirement is to assess blame to someone or something else. Anyone or anything else….

    • Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 06/24/2020 - 02:18 pm.

      Maybe blame should be attached to a Mayor and Governor who practiced their fiddle lessons while a city burned.

      • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 06/25/2020 - 12:31 pm.

        Yes, that is the view from the cheap seats.

        Which gets to my point of GOP second guessing being their new stock in trade.

        Maybe we should have shot a few vandals that night. Of course the result of that is further escalation and more shooting.

        Second guessing is easy, so I am sure GOP leaders will relish their post Trump 40 years in the desert when they will have no true responsibility beyond second guessing…

        • Submitted by Betsy Larey on 06/30/2020 - 07:58 pm.

          The national guard stopped the burning and looting in on night. They should have been here within 48 hours. Dems too terrified the blacks would turn on them if they actually stood up and did their job. Which is to protect and serve. Their job is to protect the public, including business owners. They admitted they didn’t want a confrontation so they let everything burn. If Dems cave to the progressives, that opens the door for Republicans to take the presidency back. Dem’s be careful and don’t overplay your cards. Signed, Betsy who is a Democrat

  2. Submitted by Paul Nelson on 06/24/2020 - 01:02 pm.

    The Minnesota Republican party neither seeks nor gets votes from nonwhite citizens (who aren’t REAL Minnesotans), so it can freely play the race card. You can see its November strategy already: The message to outstate voters will be: Dictator Walz and his Socialist, antifa cronies don’t want to punish the looters, they want to REWARD them — we say NO. White people are victims. It might work.

  3. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 06/24/2020 - 01:26 pm.

    What I see in the photo are three elderly white males, two of them from rural areas, one from an affluent suburb, who’d like to distract our attention from the causes of the demonstrations in question that go beyond the despicable murder of George Floyd. Their message – essentially the message of the state’s Republican Party to the Twin Cities especially, but to any part of the state where racism and discrimination are genuine issues – is this: “Your end of the boat is sinking,” as if they simultaneously bore no responsibility for creating the conditions leading up to those protests and, similarly, have no responsibility to address them. They’re living on Fantasy Island.

    • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 06/24/2020 - 08:11 pm.

      Go look up the stats… much of the really bad police brutality cases have been from Minneapolis. Gazelka isn’t wrong here. MPD has had a bad reputation for a very long time and nothing has been done about it. How does a police force keep on an officer like Chauvin who has 18 complaints against him since 2001?

      You simply don’t see the kind of brutality across the rest of the State (not even in St Paul) that you see with MPD. I’d also point out that “use of force” study… there is a very big difference in use of force.. from shoving someone around to shooting them. It’s kind of a bad measure to simply look at “use of force” when it can mean so many things.

      • Submitted by joseph olson on 06/28/2020 - 11:30 am.

        Correct. I spent 9 years on the Police Civil Service Commission in a major suburb. All the officers we rejected after the final personal interview as “too quick to go to force”, applied to the Minneapolis PD and were hired.

        This suburb’s peace officers are PART of the community. Capable of using force but loath to do so. We, the residents, like it that way.

      • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 06/29/2020 - 09:22 am.

        “How does a police force keep on an officer like Chauvin who has 18 complaints against him since 2001?”

        Last check it was called the Police Union and arbitration.

        A 2nd point, The level of diversification outside the metro area(s) is almost zero, and if you ask non-white folks why they don’t move to some of these areas, they fear for their lives, they won’t even go deer hunting for the same reasons, Seems they have more fear of living in rural Minnesota, in the supposed safer communities, than in living in the metro, why do you think that is? So wouldn’t you think these great rural Republican Politicos wouldn’t use this as an opportunity to promote the welcoming diversification of their communities, instead of kicking the metros when they are down. Not a republican voting strong point.

  4. Submitted by Bob Kraemer on 06/24/2020 - 01:45 pm.

    As usual Republicans blame Democrats and City leaders instead of the Racist Cops that made the problem in the first place! The Police Federation has been a Republican stronghold that harbored Police Brutality for decades! They blocked any kind of Police Reform measures and they continue to stand up for “bad apples”. Federation President Lt Bob Kroll heads up all the White Supremacist Racist attitudes in that Dept and he MUST be forced OUT if any real changes are to be made. It is naive to think this is just a Mpls problem. Systemic Racial injustice happens wherever people who are non white live! St. Paul is almost as bad as Mpls and they too have seen decades of Racist Cop behavior. If we do not enact tough new mandates to change the culture and make Law Enforcement Officers accountable nothing will change and there will be more “accidental” Police killings and more Rioting. #NoJusticeNoPeace #BlackLivesMatter

    • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 06/24/2020 - 08:13 pm.

      Who is in charge of MPD? That would be Democrats like the Mayor, the entire City Council etc. All of those jobs held by Democrats for almost 40 years now. IF Democrats truly wanted to make changes they would have long ago. Your blame is misplaced.

      • Submitted by John Evans on 06/25/2020 - 01:06 pm.

        Minneapolis is odd. At least since the Stenvig years, the president of the police union seems to have had more power than the mayor. Now it looks like democratically elected government is starting to reassert its authority. That seems like a good thing.

  5. Submitted by Curtis Senker on 06/24/2020 - 01:57 pm.

    I think it’s fair to say the GOP sees the elected leadership of Minneapolis as a problem, as does every rational American.

    The kindest description I’ve seen is “sideshow”.

    • Submitted by Joe Anderson on 06/24/2020 - 06:46 pm.

      You’re right, screw the leaders of the most populous and wealthy city in the state. Maybe the rest of the state should stop sucking off of Minneapolis’ wealth and get a real job.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 06/24/2020 - 11:28 pm.

      Nope. Its the Trumpers running the police union and the outstate Republicans blocking reforms. Rational Americans can see where the problem is.

  6. Submitted by Paul Nelson on 06/24/2020 - 04:32 pm.

    Also, police officers in small-town Minnesota probably mostly live in or near the towns they patrol, share the demographics of the area, and are seen as members of the community rather than an occupying force. In other words, Republican Minnesota has the kind of police that nonwhite Minnesotans would LIKE to have.

  7. Submitted by Scot Kindschi on 06/24/2020 - 04:54 pm.

    The do nothing backward Racist and selfish GOP is the whole problem. They call themselves conservative when they are actually regressive. Gazelka and Daubt are the worst that the state of Minnesota has ever seen. And there have been some really bad ones.

  8. Submitted by Aviva Breen on 06/24/2020 - 05:23 pm.

    I think one of he fire starters was from Brainerd

  9. Submitted by Orville H. Larson on 06/24/2020 - 05:53 pm.

    Strictly speaking, Senator Warren Limmer is correct:

    “I’m not going to give the city council of Minneapolis a pass. They knew of police officers who were not getting the grade that they should. Why didn’t they make that an issue when they signed those collective bargaining agreements?”

    Yeah, what about that, Mayors Frey, Hodges, and Rybak? What about that, Minneapolis City Council? What about that, Chiefs Arradondo and Harteau?

  10. Submitted by Gene Nelson on 06/25/2020 - 02:30 am.

    I’m guess the GOP doesn’t watch the news showing the videos of police brutality around the country. What an inane reply by the GOP, who obviously don’t care about this issue. If they did, they’d do something.

    • Submitted by cory johnson on 06/25/2020 - 12:21 pm.

      They did try to pass reform bills on a state and national which were promptly ignored because they “only” gave Dems 80% of what they wanted. The GOP is trying to improve the situation in these failed Democrat strongholds but the Dems won’t allow that in an election year:

      • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 06/25/2020 - 05:44 pm.

        I’m sure if the conference committee agrees to 80% of the House bill there will be an agreement.

        They’ll never do that. 25% at best and no deal…

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 06/26/2020 - 10:45 am.

        I don’t know where you get your number, but omitting a ban on qualified immunity for officers and refusing to put meaningful restrictions on lethal force strike me as big deals. That’s probably more than 20% of what the Democrats wanted.

  11. Submitted by Arthur F Meincke on 06/25/2020 - 08:38 am.

    Republican legislators nationwide turn their backs to significant issues and problems. The United States has 200 years of slavery and racism inherent in its culture. Racism permeates all facets of our society—pathetic and shameful Minnesota G.O.P. State Senators.

  12. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 06/25/2020 - 11:10 am.

    In Minnesota today, the Republican Party is an anti city, anti suburb party. They are against cities, and they are against things that cities want, even if it comes at the expense of their own rural voters.

    • Submitted by Betsy Larey on 06/25/2020 - 10:28 pm.

      They are not in favor of supplying affordable housing and funding the DFL controlled cities to spend copius amounts of money. I am not either. And I am a Democrat. But after all the riots, I’m not sure I want to vote for the DFL anymore.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 06/29/2020 - 09:21 am.

        Apparently you haven’t been paying attention to the many posters who have pointed out that the cities are the ones subsidizing rural Minnesota, and that tax money flows out of the urban areas.

        Why are you opposed to affordable housing?

  13. Submitted by Frederick Hippchen on 06/25/2020 - 01:42 pm.

    The outstate rednecks imperil any meaningful legislation that will improve life in the major cities. That is true for Minnesota, as it is for any other state.

  14. Submitted by Betsy Larey on 06/25/2020 - 10:20 pm.

    The state of MN is one of the best states in the country you could move to if you were poor. And a lot of people did. We have great social services, and we paid very high taxes to do this. 4th highest in the country. And when you are inundated with poor people, the costs are enormous. I am tired of seeing people camping in the parks, and the city bending over backwards, what can we do. You know what they could do? Stop using drugs and prostituting yourself and get a job. The minimum wage in the cities is 15 per hour. All of the people standing on the street corners with their signs asking for money, go get a job. This is not difficult. I am so done with MN, moving back to FL

  15. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 06/26/2020 - 06:32 am.

    The Fifth Congressional District race for the House offers the Republicans a tremendous opportunity, not to win, but to do better than they have ever done before. The DFL incumbent is divisive and out of step with a sizable number of DFL voters. She has issues that for many DFL voters, raise questions about her fitness to serve and who are open to an alternative. What that does is create an opening for a middle of the road candidate, one who aligns himself with the values of Minnesota. A candidate who doesn’t run against cities. That candidacy on the Republican side did not appear. Instead, the Republican establishment’s goal was to run a candidate who wasn’t there to get votes, but one who would raise outside money while not embarrassing them, by distancing himself from President Trump.

  16. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 06/27/2020 - 06:08 am.

    Gazelka is going to make a great minority leader next year.

  17. Submitted by T.W. Day on 06/28/2020 - 07:21 am.

    I wish I could say “unbelievable” from reading the GOP comments and delusions. It is, unfortunately, totally believable. The difference between the Cities and the rest of the state is the number of cameras aimed at urban cops when they violate the law, citizens, and common decency. Otherwise, racism is alive and well in all of Minnesota.

    • Submitted by Hiram Foster on 06/30/2020 - 06:51 am.

      What I am told is that rural Republican legislators will not support legislation that benefits their constituencies if it also benefits the cities.

  18. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 06/29/2020 - 09:49 pm.

    “put out literature that featured the Black guy from Minneapolis: Jeff Hayden; the gay guy from Minneapolis: Scott Dibble; and a Jewish guy: our mayor,” Minneapolis DFL Sen. Scott Dibble said at a press conference.”

    But isn’t Jeff Hayden African-American, isn’t Scott Dibble gay, and isn’t Mayor Frey Jewish? Are we now opposing truth?

  19. Submitted by Scot Kindschi on 06/30/2020 - 05:57 pm.

    Gazelka and Daudt continent
    to be wrong, as per usual. The police in my small town aka Marshall MN are probably even more corrupt than those in the entire Twin City area.

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