Dave Hutchinson’s uphill fight to take down a conservative sheriff

He says Hennepin County has a Trump fan running the sheriff's department, but most people don't know it.

He says Hennepin County has a Trump fan running the sheriff's department, but most people don't know it. Dave Hutchinson

Dave Hutchinson is a lawman. He’s been a Metro Transit Police officer for 15 years, and for the last five, a sergeant. These days, he spends a lot of time making calls and sending letters, because he’s running for sheriff.

He’s got a straightforward platform. He wants to change the way Hennepin County hires officers, which right now, is basically a written test and an interview with the sheriff and HR. Instead, he wants three full-on hearings by three different panels of law enforcement, county staff, and trusted civilians.

He also wants to make things better for Hennepin County Jail staff by hiring more corrections officers, and not forcing cops to work overtime in jail when they’d rather be patrolling.

He’s pro union. He’s anti-deporting undocumented immigrants because they’ve been arrested for minor offenses. He loves his husband, Justin, and his dog, Nike, and riding his Harley.

Now he’s just got to get enough people to care about all that stuff.

Hutchinson is running an uphill race against a three-term incumbent. He’s hopeful that his campaign can get real traction if he can just get an endorsement from the DFL. He’s attended every meeting he could and pushed his support for unions. In a blue state like Minnesota, he said, and a particularly blue area like Hennepin County, that can make a big difference.

The person who’s running the show now – Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek – isn’t exactly a liberal darling. In fact, he’s a former Minnesota House Republican. But that hasn’t stopped him from getting elected three terms in a row.

“He’s a smart guy,” Hutch says. “He’s a very, very smart politician.”

Still, Hutchinson isn’t giving up. This year, he thinks, will be different. He thinks that Stanek’s conservatism didn’t become apparent until the last few years. The sheriff’s worked with ICE to help get undocumented immigrants deported. He also sent deputies to work the Dakota Access Pipeline protest. And he talked some sugar about Donald Trump after he and a small group of sheriffs met with the president in D.C.

“We need leadership, not somebody who’s going to D.C. and hanging out with Trump all the time,” Hutchinson says.

He’s confident this year will be the tipping point, that Hennepin County liberals won’t stand for Stanek’s brand of law enforcement and an insistence on clinging to what Hutch calls “the ’90s model” of policework: two guys in a police car responding to 911 calls and making traffic stops.

“In my opinion, it’s an outdated model of being less open and less community-oriented… instead of having community input. There’s a big push for getting out of the squad car and getting out onto the street.”

He thinks Hennepin County will appreciate that. As long as they’re paying attention.

The fact is, only about 347,000 people voted in the 2014 sheriff’s race. Stanek snagged 68 percent of those votes. This was after the majority of Stanek’s own deputies endorsed his opponent, Eddie Frizell.

The rub: About 714,000 people were registered to vote at 7 a.m. that morning.

But “it’s just kind of hard” to get people interested in an urban sheriff’s race, Hutchinson says, “because it doesn’t affect them at all – or, they think it doesn’t.” So his staff of two part-timers and around 50 volunteers’ main job, is to get people to vote. Period.

Then comes convincing people that Hutchinson is their candidate. Even if he’s hopeful about it, he’s still realistic. It’s not going to be easy.

“I know when something’s broken, and I know when something needs to be fixed,” he said. “If no one else is going to do it, I’m going to do it.”