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Results in Virginia, New Jersey and, yes, Minneapolis offer a preview of Minnesota’s 2022 elections

If you liked the issues in the 2021 election, you’re gonna love 2022!

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy raising hands with wife Tammy and New Jersey Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver at an election night event in Asbury Park, New Jersey.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy raising hands with wife Tammy and New Jersey Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver at an election night event in Asbury Park, New Jersey.
REUTERS/Rachel Wisniewski

Welcome to the first day of the 2022 election, or at least the first day when 2022 no longer has to act as though it is politely waiting for the 2021 election to be over.

It is over. Yet many of the issues fought over in the Minneapolis and St. Paul city elections will make the transition to races for Congress, governor and for control of the Minnesota Legislature. At the top will be public safety and housing affordability. And GOP candidates for governor have already noticed that certain issues — like COVID safety rules for schools and curriculum changes — will be potent in suburban swing districts.

As much as those in each party’s core areas — DFLers in the Twin Cities and Republicans in Greater Minnesota — like to think they are the most important voting blocs, it’s swing voters in suburban areas who deliver victory for governors and legislative majorities in Minnesota. And it is the issues fought over locally and nationally Tuesday that will provide the fodder for 2022 campaigns.

Minneapolis voters managed to disappoint both the political left and the political right Tuesday in defeating the public safety charter amendment known as Question 2. The backers of the measure, which would have ended the requirement for a minimum number of police officers and created a department of public safety, saw it as the next step in a reform effort begun with protest over the murder of George Floyd.

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And while Republicans oppose those changes, they would have welcomed the ability to tout passage of the amendment in campaign brochures next year — the same way they did with law-and-order mailers in suburban swing districts in 2020, when DFLers in the suburbs had to defend themselves against charges that they would defund the police, even if they never supported defunding the police.

For the GOP, the “Defund the Police” slogan is a gift that keeps on giving. Though Question 2 didn’t specifically do that — and though it failed to pass — GOP candidates for governor had to pivot, but only slightly, to filter the results through that lens while giving grudging admiration to city voters.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka
“I congratulate the common sense of the majority of Minneapolis voters in voting down the defund the police ballot question,” said Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake.

“I am grateful the people of Minneapolis rejected this misguided attempt to defund the police,” said Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake.

And former Sen. Scott Jensen tweeted: “I’m happy sanity prevailed, but how did we even get here? These peacekeepers are our friends, families and neighbors. Enough of the demonization!”

State Sen. Michelle Benson
State Sen. Michelle Benson
Both Benson and Gazelka also found a way to use “defund the police” multiple times to criticize incumbent DFL Gov. Tim Walz — even though he was an early opponent of Question 2 and is likely to pay a price for it with the left flank of the DFL base. 

“It saddens me that Gov. Walz did not have the courage to stand up to his radical base and actively campaign against this amendment to defund our police,” Benson said.

Gazelka dismissed Walz’s opposition to the amendment because it wasn’t for the right reasons. “His stated opposition was based on ‘confusing language’ rather than the outrageousness of the policy behind Q2,” Gazelka said.

State Sen. Scott Jensen
Scott Jensen
The man responsible for overseeing DFL campaigns, who — because he doesn’t appear on the ballot — has more freedom to say frank things to his own party’s base, knows the potency of such “defund” attacks. But DFL Chair Ken Martin has also tried to find the space between calls for fewer cops and demands for reform.

“Let me be clear, tonight’s results are not a mandate for the status quo,” Martin said Tuesday night. “Democrats in Minnesota are committed to improving public safety by investing in our criminal justice system while fighting for common-sense police reform measures.”

Two national elections provide a glimpse into how races across the country, including in Minnesota, might shape up. 

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Virginia GOP nominee Glenn Youngkin beat former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe with a campaign that tapped into parental anger in the suburbs and rural parts of the state over COVID restrictions and allegations that schools would be adopting critical race theory in the curriculum. While no schools in the state have such plans, it has become part of a GOP agenda across the U.S., which has been extended to supporting parents who demand to be heard, sometimes aggressively, by school boards and teachers.

Glenn Youngkin speaking during his election night party at a hotel in Chantilly, Virginia.
REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Glenn Youngkin speaking during his election night party at a hotel in Chantilly, Virginia.
At the same time, what had been expected to be an easy victory for incumbent New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy turned into a very close one over GOP nominee Jack Ciattarelli. 

Both states went decisively for Joe Biden over Donald Trump in 2020, but attempts to link the GOP governor nominees to Trump didn’t work, or work well enough. 

The party of incumbent presidents often suffers in the first congressional election following their inauguration, and races like Virginia and New Jersey that come one-year after presidential elections are considered early tests. 

Benson and Gazelka both attempted to connect their campaigns to the themes that proved successful in Virginia and New Jersey. Gazelka said Youngkin’s win “demonstrates the value our citizens place on education. Our children are our future and we need to support their parent’s role in their education.”

Said Benson: “My campaign, like Glenn Youngkin, is focused on core issues like improving public safety, giving parents a voice in their children’s education, and creating a better business climate for job creation.”

And in a tweet, Jensen said: “From Virginia to Minnesota, the winners are the CHILDREN…. The heroes are the PARENTS. DON’T MESS WITH MAMMA BEARS. Whether it’s choices in education or health freedom, parents declared tonight, “THE STATE IS NOT OUR PARTNER.”

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On Wednesday, Walz had just toured a vaccine clinic at the Mall of America delivering the first vaccines to children ages 5 to 11 when he was asked about the election results. He mostly avoided the national races, saying “I was elected to do the job here in Minnesota. I don’t spend a lot of time watching what other races do. I’ll keep focusing on things that matter, and that’s this,” he said, pointing to the vaccination operation.

On the Minneapolis charter vote, Walz said his concern was that the issue of public safety and reform “wasn’t going to be settled by a vote. That work has been going on for a long time, and we’ll continue to do that work.”

Gov. Tim Walz
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
On Wednesday, Gov. Tim Walz had just toured a vaccine clinic at the Mall of America when he was asked about the election results: “I was elected to do the job here in Minnesota. I don’t spend a lot of time watching what other races do.”
Walz recognized the campaign implications of the Minneapolis vote and said the solutions are not either police reform or fighting crime, but both. “When people saw George Floyd being murdered on the street, they knew that was wrong and something needs to be done about it. When people are seeing crime go up or carjackings, they know something needs to be done about that,” Walz said. “They are not mutually exclusive.”

Walz also noted that most of the school funding referendums proposed by districts around Minnesota passed, a sign that people are supporting their schools. “People want to see work done,” he said. “They want to see compromise and they want to see real results.”