Race to the Polls
The Critical Role of County Government
Forward by Anika Robbins, Founder, Black Votes Matter
Contributing Writer - Cindy Kaigama
Hennepin County is the largest, wealthiest county in Minnesota, and one of the largest in the Upper Midwest. County government comprises the health & human services, transportation, hospitals, railroads and is governed by the County Board of Commissioners representing 7 districts.. The County Attorney, County Sheriff work together under the auspices of the County Board of Commissioners. Hennepin County Attorney is the chief attorney for the county, managing 400 employees, with a budget of $50 million. The Hennepin County Attorney's Office issues 7,000 adult felony and 10,000 juvenile criminal complaints each year. The office also provides complete civil representation to Hennepin County with its 8,000 employees and almost $2 billion budget. The County Attorney prosecutes the cases brought by the Sheriff. The current Hennepin County Sheriff wrote several pieces of legislation during his time as a Legislator in the House of Representatives-which he now enforces as County Sheriff-including the DWI code, mandatory minimums, life sentences, and specifying that an officer’s ‘use of less lethal munitions does not constitute deadly force.’
African Americans, Latinos and Indigenous Americans are disproportionately represented in the prison industrial complex. A Black Minnesota man under the age of 30 is 6 times more likely to be incarcerated than White Minnesotans. The current cash bail system is bankrupting families already living at, or below the poverty line. Jails are filled with the poor, and, in many cases, chemically dependent and/or mentally ill. Does a person's ability to make bail ensure court appearances? Does it mean the people who are able to make bail any more or less of a threat to society? Are they better or worse than someone who can't afford it? Should access to justice and freedom be based on a person's ability to make bail? Many of the current County Commissioners, County Attorneys and Sheriffs have held these positions for over 2 generations. And while some reforms and attempts to diversify their ranks, address mental health and apply some diversionary options for youth and low-level offenders, the fact remains, we've lost over 2 generations of men, women and children to the system. Accountability matters-for those who commit crimes and those tasked with prosecuting those crimes. When we talk to citizens, they're clear: it's not that they don't want those who commit crimes to be given a pass, but to make sure the law is applied evenly regardless of race, class or income. But when Prosecutors and Judges have so much levity and discretion to interpret and enforce the law as they see fit, or target ‘hotspots’-neighborhoods deemed likely to be home to offenders i.e. communities of color-shouldn’t we select those leaders who are aware of the bigger picture, who have the vision to project long-term impact on families, society and yes, offenders? Shouldn’t we select those leaders who embrace evidence-based community-informed practices being adopted around the country?
Law enforcement leaders around the country are coming to the realization that over-incarceration is not the answer. Not to mention, it costs Minnesota taxpayers $41,000 per inmate every year, according to the Vera Institute. If root causes and underlying systemic issues remain at play-crime, violence and other disparities persist. Many members of society are dealing with multiple intersecting issues. While it’s not law enforcement’s job to treat all of society’s ills, as a first responder-and sometimes, the perpetrator of these disparities-at the center of society- they can be trained and empowered to apply a 21st century lens and methods to 21st century problems.
Up until recently, many were not aware that the County Attorney, Sheriff or Commissioners were elected positions. With so much attention given to presidential elections, people often lose sight of municipal and mid-term races. These are the races that have a direct impact on individual lives. With several judgeships, senate and house seats and the gubernatorial race, voters will want to thoroughly research candidates. What is their voting record on key policies? If they’re a judge, what is their ruling record? With county attorneys and sheriffs, what does the data reveal about police stops, arrests and prosecutions and incarceration rates? Juvenile detention?
The county races will influence criminal justice, families, scholars, even voting rights. BVM has prepared candidate profiles for your convenience, but we still encourage you to conduct your own research based on the issues that are important to you. The results of these elections will impact housing, criminal justice, education, gun control, environmental, healthcare and several other policies that WILL affect you and your family. Take your time and make an informed decision…and VOTE.
2018 Minnesota Candidate Profiles
Governor, Attorney General, US Senator, Hennepin County Senator, etc.