In the aftermath of the Nov. 2 off-off-year election, largely because of what happened elsewhere in the nation, Democrats were in shock over their sorry results. They lost the governorship in Virginia and almost lost the governorship of New Jersey, both heretofore solidly Democratic states. Cries went out from liberals to their more progressive allies that they had to unify to hold off the impending Republican flood tide expected to wash over America next year.
But not in Minnesota. Especially not in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
In this state, the question of whether Minneapolis would still have a police department sucked the air out of all other issues. The so-called Question 2 on that city’s ballot included an explanatory note that said a new Department of Public Safety “could” include law enforcement officers, which a majority assumed meant the possibility existed it also “could not.”
That was too big a risk for Minneapolis voters to take. They had spent the last 17 months ducking behind trucks, trees and bar tables to avoid joining the city’s exploding list of homicide victims. Car hijackings and rolling gun battles on city streets added to the terror.
“No cops? No, thank you,” said 56% of Minneapolis voters. However, they did not go much farther than that, and, in some ways, doubled down on holding police more accountable for their actions. Whether they will find enough people with law enforcement degrees willing to take the risks of working for politicians who don’t have their backs remains a key question.
The incumbent council had a vision for reform, but zero expertise in how to implement such a transformation. No serious plan was ever presented. The question put to voters said a new plan would be implemented within 30 days. Few people believed in that proposed miracle. Regardless, only seven new members were elected to the City Council. All but a couple of the 13 members of the new council voted “Yes” on replacing the police department, and a few newcomers are even more liberal than the incumbents they replaced.
Meanwhile, incumbent Mayor Jacob Frey proved again the political truth that your record doesn’t matter as much as who you run against. Frey came out against Question 2 which had to be balanced against his decision to allow the mob to burn down the Third Precinct station. As it was, with ranked-choice voting and 17 candidates, he received only 43% of the vote in the first round to 39% combined for his two closest challengers, Kate Knuth and Sheila Nezhad, who were campaigning in concert for Question 2. Under ranked-choice voting, candidates almost always gain 50% of the vote after the ballots for weaker also-rans are shifted to voters’ second or third choices. Not Frey. After all ranked-choice votes were shifted, he won with 49.1% of the vote to 38.2% for Knuth. That meant that 12.7% of voters refused to list either one as even their third choice. That’s no vote of confidence.
On another question, Minneapolis voters decided that it would better to hold the mayor responsible alone for implementing city policies, including overseeing the police, The existing procedure was to have a council committee share in management decisions, making it impossible to identify incompetents. Even so, the Council will still have control of the budget, but if it doesn’t adequately fund public safety efforts – whether with more police or more mental health workers – the debate will be over whether the mayor is an incompetent manager or the Council failed to give him the resources he needs to be successful.
None of this seems like Minneapolis voters are suddenly shifting toward conservatism. Were there any doubts, confirmation came from how voters in both Minneapolis and St. Paul decided another question: Should rent control be implemented? The question was interpreted by 53% to read, “Do I want to keep my rent affordable?” Because the police question dominated, lost was the fact that rent control will result in fewer new rental properties being built if builders can’t get market rates. Property owners’ only out is to come begging to the city council for an exemption. The truism that money flows where it is most welcome will be confirmed by making that city’s housing shortage more severe.
St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter, a rent-control proponent, is already backtracking on his city’s exceedingly restrictive ordinance. (Minneapolis, as with the police, has yet to formalize a plan.). Carter now wants to exempt new units because many builders have put their projects on hold. He might have thought of that before initiating the referendum in the first place.
If there were any doubt that Minnesota remains a blue state, it can be put to rest by how those several school board elections held statewide played out. Just over 100 levy questions were on school ballots and about two-thirds of them passed, which is about normal.
More tellingly, in some districts, challengers ran against two issues: mask mandates and critical race theory. The anti-mask, anti-CRT candidates were mostly defeated. In summation, Minnesota voters mostly acted like the Republican wave has yet to reach here.
As for party unity, while the Democrats feel they need it, Republicans are issuing death threats to the 13 GOP congressional representatives who dared to vote for the Democrats’ infrastructure bill.
Tom West can be reached at email@example.com.