Incumbent sheriffs in Minnesota’s two most populous counties were turned out of office Tuesday when voters opted for a different brand of law enforcement leadership. In Hennepin County, that meant ousting longtime Sheriff Rich Stanek in favor of a relative newcomer. In Ramsey County, Sheriff Jack Serier lost the position he had held for about two years to a former longtime sheriff. Both outcomes reflect urban/suburban divisions that have been hallmarks of 2018 elections. Consequently, a priority for newly elected Dave (Hutch) Hutchinson in Hennepin and Bob Fletcher in Ramsey should be bringing staff and constituents together around common visions for their agencies.
Hennepin County: In a surprise, Hutchinson beat three-term incumbent Stanek by about 2,300 votes. A relative unknown, the Metro Transit sergeant waged a lower-budget, grassroots campaign that yielded overwhelming support of city precincts, while Stanek carried most of the county’s suburban areas.
The sheriff-elect campaigned against what he called Stanek’s “outdated iron-fist” management. Hutchinson argued that the sheriff’s department should reduce communication between the county jail and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. And Hutchinson said he would operate “a more progressive, open, inclusive” department.
A former Minneapolis police captain and GOP legislator, Stanek, 56, was perceived as being supportive of President Donald Trump’s policies, an opponent of sanctuary cities and cooperative with ICE efforts to identify and deport undocumented immigrants.
Hutchinson, 39, will have a steep learning curve. Though he has been in law enforcement for about 15 years, he has no experience managing and budgeting for an agency as large as the Sheriff’s Office.
Ramsey County: In contrast, the top-cop winner in Ramsey County will return to a job he knows well. Fletcher, 63, was sheriff from 1995 to 2011. The former St Paul City Council member was elected to the Vadnais Heights City Council and is currently mayor of that St. Paul suburb. Serier, 50, was the hand-picked successor of Matt Bostrom, who defeated Fletcher in 2010.
Two of Fletcher’s campaign issues were faster implementation of body cameras for deputies and bolstering drug treatment and crime-prevention programs, both welcome approaches. He also has an impressive background of working with immigrant communities on youth crime prevention. Still, Fletcher’s previous service was not without controversy. He clashed with county commissioners over budgets, and ethics concerns were raised about a police gang task force that he helped found.
When they take office, both sheriffs will have internal fence-mending to do because some of their deputies and other staff supported the incumbents. Hutchinson and Fletcher must also assure their divided urban/suburban constituents that they’re working for all county residents regardless of ZIP code. They’ll have strong partners in Mike Freeman and John Choi, the two excellent county attorneys whom voters wisely re-elected.