Rep. Ryan Winkler has announced he plans to run for Hennepin County attorney rather than seek re-election to his current legislative seat.

The current top prosecutor for the county, Mike Freeman, has said he does not plan to run for re-election next year.

Winkler, the House majority leader and a DFLer who represents a district in Golden Valley, St. Louis Park, Plymouth and Medicine Lake, said he would focus on strengthening public safety, improving police accountability and reforming criminal justice as county attorney.

“People in Hennepin County are frustrated that their leaders have not delivered basic public safety needs for our communities,” said Winkler in a statement. “I’m running for county attorney because we need progressive leadership that will bring people together around a common vision for addressing public safety and racial justice.”

He said he would address violent crime through law enforcement and public health strategies.

“As county attorney, I will work to address the root causes of crime such as mental health and addiction while focusing prosecutorial resources on seeking justice for victims of violent crime,” Winkler said. “I will show up, listen, and follow through – not get caught in the political infighting that has prevented an effective response to violence in our communities.”

He said he would create an independent Police Accountability Unit in the office and indicated he would keep a “Brady list” of officers with a history of issues relating to integrity “to promote accountability in local police departments.”

Winkler said, “Police officers who abuse their power damage the legitimacy of law enforcement and make all of us less safe. The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office should not sit on the sidelines while people are demanding that our leaders address the racial injustices in local police departments.”

He noted that he supported a bill in the Minnesota House of Representatives that would have legalized cannabis. The bill cleared the House but died this year in the Minnesota Senate. Along with legalizing marijuana, the bill would have expunged nonviolent cannabis convictions from criminal records, according to the statement.

“Too often, our criminal justice system has defined success by how many people have been put in jail, rather than by whether the law is promoting justice and keeping us safe,” said Winkler. “I will focus on protecting our neighbors, not on low-level drug crimes. The county attorney’s office should help people who are not a threat to public safety rebuild their lives and get a fresh start.”

Winkler has been House majority leader since 2019. He was first elected in 2006 and served until 2015, when he resigned amid a move to Belgium. After returning to Minnesota, he successfully ran for his seat again in 2018.

The primary for the nonpartisan county attorney’s race will not take place until Oct. 9, 2022. The general election will then occur Nov. 8, 2022.

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