Election 2022: Hennepin County Sheriff

During the primary, I endorsed Dawanna Witt because she struck me as a lot more likely to be able to beat Jai Hansen, who I really didn’t like. I totally assumed Jai would make it through the primary! He did not. So now the question is — absent that, do I prefer Dawanna Witt, or Joseph Banks? Despite having some doubts about Dawanna, and having taken a somewhat closer look at Joseph Banks … I’m going to say it’s still Dawanna Witt.

On the ballot:

Dawanna Witt
Joseph Banks

Dawanna Witt has worked for the Hennepin County Sheriff’s office, specifically, for a really long time — mainly she runs the jail. Joseph Banks is a retired former chief of police for the Lower Sioux Community and Morton, MN. They both talk about wanting to improve public safety, transparency, and community relationships. They’re both Black, and Dawanna talks about fearing and distrusting police for years before getting an entry-level job working at the jail.

Dawanna is endorsed by the DFL and a lot of other organizations; Joseph Banks, as far as I can tell, doesn’t have any endorsements at all. (ETA: I missed that he was endorsed by the Independence-Alliance Party, aka the Jessecrats. But he doesn’t put that on his website, and given that this group also endorsed Hugh McTavish in the Governor’s race, I’m not reassured that they’re vetting people with any criteria I’d recognize as useful.)

There was a debate earlier this month and I watched the recording of it to see if I could get any better clarity than “look, Dawanna’s at least been vetted by people who know more about this job than I do, and they think she’d be OK.” The debate is online here.

One really interesting exchange took place about an hour in. (It actually starts at 57:15, if you want to watch.) Joseph said, in response to a question about tangible steps toward accountability, “Let’s be clear on this: the Sheriff department is the top cop in the county. […] It is the Sheriff’s responsibility to police the police. It is the Sheriff’s job to make sure that we’re holding law enforcement officers accountable in our county.” When Dawanna got the floor she opened with, “There is no statute that will give you the authority to tell a municipality what to do. That is not your job as a Sheriff.”

This left me really wanting to know — could the Hennepin County Sheriff’s staff go out and investigate and arrest Minneapolis police officers who commit murder or assault or whatever in their line of work? Because that’s not happening right now, but if Joseph were elected and just decided it was part of the Sheriff’s duties, could they? I asked Twitter and did not get a particularly conclusive answer. It’s not written in the statutes but it’s not forbidden by the statutes, and Sheriffs as elected officials (rather than appointed/hired staff) can in some ways kind of do what they want (see, for example, Dave Hutchinson’s refusal to resign despite wrecking a car while drunk off his ass). Also — would we want this? I mean it’s sort of tempting to say “hell, yes,” given that the cop who pepper-sprayed nonviolent protesters out his car window while driving by has to my knowledge never even been identified, never mind charged.

But … okay, so having looked at Joseph Banks’ website, he doesn’t mention this anywhere as a goal, he just pulled it out during the debate. His platform talks about better coordination with MPD and other agencies; it does not say anywhere, “by the way, we could TOTALLY go arrest Minneapolis cops for brutality, vote me in and we’ll start doing that,” which is kind of funny because that would have gotten him a lot of attention from some of the local groups, especially if he really seemed like he could make that stick.

“Does he seem like he could make that stick” is another question. In addition to “is he serious about this thing he brought up at a debate but doesn’t mention on his website,” I’m reminded of a comment someone made during the primary about Mary Moriarty vs. one of the other candidates running as a reformer — reform is extremely hard and you’re a lot less likely to succeed at it if you don’t know the existing system really well. Dawanna has worked for the Sheriff’s office (for years); Joseph Banks has not.

Joseph has worked as a chief of police, though: “In 2005, I started working for the Lower Sioux Police Department until I accepted a position as Chief of Police with the Upper Sioux Police Department. I then served as the Chief of Police for Morton, Minnesota. I then returned to the Lower Sioux Police Department where I was the Chief Investigator and the acting Chief of Police.” The Upper Sioux reservation has a population of 120. Morton, MN has a population of 411, and at the present time does not have a police department — its policing is done by the Renville County Sheriff’s Department. This is pretty standard for very small towns and honestly, I’m surprised that they ever had their own Chief of Police, with a population that small. By comparison: the Hennepin County Sheriff’s office has 800 people working for it.

So — yeah, okay, that detail all by itself makes me deeply skeptical of Joseph, even as it also explains why (in the debate) he kind of airily said that anyone who committed misconduct would be gone, he’d fire them. (It’s frequently not that simple, which is part of the problem. Dawanna said that she would fire the bad actors if she could, but if she could not, she’d put them on desk duty.) He’s been a Chief of Police, twice, but in the larger of the two places, the whole community was less than half the size of the department he’d be running as Sheriff.

In some ways, Joseph Banks presents himself as more of a reformer than Dawanna. But when someone comes in to a high-level position where they’re kind of over their head, what tends to happen is that all the people under them just kind of keep doing what they’re doing. And this is a department that was run for years by Stanek (and then for the last four by Hutch, but he’s been largely checked out for most of the last year. His car crash was in December of 2021 and he apparently spent a bunch of 2022 vindictively running up bills.) I think the changes Dawanna is proposing (things like an information dashboard, making it more efficient to check people into the jail, an expansion of education and treatment options for people who are in the jail awaiting trial) are more modest, but also she’s vastly more likely to get them done.

I would vote for Dawanna Witt.

ETA 10/25: There was a good article in the Sahan Journal about the race. Some additional details mentioned: Joseph Banks hasn’t worked in law enforcement since 2009; his job in Morton, MN only lasted four months; he was fired by the City Council in a closed session after a meeting to discuss a no-contact order filed by his former partner. The article also notes that he wants to triple the number of deputies to 2,400, hiring 500 deputies per year until they reach that number; Dawanna Witt says that’s not in the budget (even remotely) and she will hire 30 additional deputies, the number actually budgeted for by the county.

Anyway, this article confirmed my broad impression that Dawanna Witt is competent and would know what she is doing in this office and Joseph Banks is sort of a flake.

In addition to writing political commentary, I write science fiction and fantasy. My book that came out in April 2021, Chaos on CatNet, takes place in a future Minneapolis. It’s a sequel to Catfishing on CatNet and signed copies of both books are usually available from Dreamhaven and the NOW REOPENED Uncle Hugo’s (it’s at 2716 E 31st St in Minneapolis, in the former Glass Endeavors.)

I do not have a Patreon or Ko-Fi, but you can make a donation to encourage my work! I get a lot of satisfaction watching fundraisers I highlight getting funded (or, in the case of the Movement Voter fundraiser, continuing to raise money past their goal). I explained back in May why I’m fundraising for the Movement Voter PAC and that fundraiser is still active.

I also went looking for some DonorsChoose fundraisers. In Minneapolis, I found a science teacher at Sullivan STEAM magnet needs some better computers so his students can actually program the cool robots they got. In St. Paul, I found an English teacher at Harding Senior High who would like snacks for her students.


Primary Elections 2022: Hennepin County Sheriff

I’m starting with an easy one — though, hmm, how should I say this, this is one of those races that feels jinxed for me personally because I strongly supported Dave Hutchinson four years ago and while I do in fact think he was the lesser available evil compared to having Stanek in office from 2018 through 2022, the guy also drove while absolutely hammered, crashed his car while going 126 mph, and lied to try to cover it up. (Modern cars are a wonder of technology.) (And then yesterday another story about Hutch hit, which was about him appearing to engage in a pattern of deliberately overspending because the county was garnishing his paychecks to cover the cost of the car he crashed while shitfaced, and when I went just now to look for that link I found a NEW story about him sending racist and homophobic texts to subordinates.)

Anyway. In 2022, there are three people running, two of whom will advance to the general.

Jai Hanson
Dawanna Witt
Joseph Banks

Jai Hanson

Jai Hanson is a Bloomington police officer who was adopted from India as a child. Two minutes of reading his website made it pretty goddamn clear why I don’t think anyone should support him.

Hanson was disgusted by the video of officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck, and he was disgusted at the destruction.

THESE TWO THINGS ARE NOT THE SAME AND EQUATING THEM IS HORRIFYING. (And yes, this framing absolutely suggests that these are two things of equal weight.)

Later, he drove to his parents’ house, and in their front window he saw a big sign. “SAY THEIR NAMES,” it read, listing people killed by police. Anti-police sentiment was everywhere. Now it felt like it was in his childhood home.

And Jai Hanson was furious. […] The sign felt flippant and anti-law enforcement. He drove off in a huff. Later, he wrote his dad an e-mail that the sign deeply offended him. In 14 years in law enforcement, he’d never heard his parents express sadness about a police officer getting killed.

His snit over this sign was less than a week after George Floyd was murdered. And regarding memorializing police officers: there are multiple big stone memorials on the capitol grounds and another one at the airport and that’s off the top of my head, I’m pretty sure there are others around the area. When Ron Ryan Jr. and Timothy Jones (and Jones’ dog) were murdered in 1994, the city mourned and their murderer was swiftly sentenced to life in prison.

And honestly: this is all I really need to know about Jai. He’s a police officer who immediately made a crime committed by a police officer all about his hurt feelings as a police officer. I would absolutely not vote for him, regardless of his other positions.

Today I saw a news story about a Somali woman who was named teacher of the year in 2020 who is now leaving teaching. One of the incidents mentioned in her reasons why: after she read the picture book Something Happened In My Town, which was written specifically to help young kids process the trauma of high-profile police violence happening in their community, Jai condemned this on his blog, inciting a huge amount of harassment. (And also, you know, complaining about reading a book that was written to help kids process trauma that the kids in our community experienced and his rationale for his bitching about this was, “it’ll teach them to be afraid of police.” Jai, kids in the Twin Cities are afraid of police because a police officer murdered a man in front of cameras while three other cops stood by, and then another police officer murdered a man because apparently she couldn’t tell her taser from her sidearm, and then a SWAT team murdered a man after breaking into his house in the middle of the night. Kids in the Twin Cities are afraid of police because the police have demonstrated that they’re really fucking dangerous to the community.

Dawanna Witt

Dawanna Witt works in the Sheriff’s office; she’s a Black woman who’s spent 22 years working in law enforcement. Her website emphasizes public safety and restoring trust. She’s endorsed by the DFL and I think all the DFL electeds who have endorsed in this race have endorsed Dawanna.

Worth noting for those who want someone law-and-order-y — Dawanna is endorsed by the DFL Senior Caucus, LaTrisha Vetaw, and Dean Phillips. She starts out by talking about prioritizing violent crime. So like: you’ll get that. There’s no option that isn’t that. With Dawanna you can have that but without the whining and “actually, it’s police officers who are the real victims” bullshit of Jai.

Joseph Banks

Two weeks ago, a friend noticed that Joseph Banks had an events calendar on his website that had zero Joseph Banks events but was displaying all upcoming Yankees games. He’s now fixed that, but the “Become a Volunteer!” button on his Get Involved page says, “I’m a paragraph. Click here to add your own text and edit me. It’s easy. Just click “Edit Text” or double click me to add your own content and make changes to the font. I’m a great place for you to tell a story and let your users know a little more about you.”

Joseph ran four years ago and my main comment on him at the time was that he hadn’t seemed to get much traction. That seems to be true this time, as well. I watched the LWV forum for Sheriff candidates and Joseph seems smart and committed, but so does Dawanna.

I would vote for Dawanna in the primary and I would vote for whoever isn’t Jai Hanson in the general election. Fingers crossed that the next Hennepin County Sheriff is smart enough to stay at the hotel instead of driving home shitfaced and also won’t be a racist Trump supporter! Seriously the lowest of low bars. The absolute lowest.

In addition to writing political commentary, I write science fiction and fantasy. My book that came out in April 2021, Chaos on CatNet, takes place in a future Minneapolis. It’s a sequel to Catfishing on CatNet and signed copies of both books are usually available from Dreamhaven. You will also be able to get them from Uncle Hugo’s when it reopens at 2716 E 31st St! (and maybe by mail order now? I’m not sure how much mail order Don is doing while getting ready to re-open.)

I do not have a Patreon or Ko-Fi, but you can make a donation to encourage my work! I get a lot of satisfaction watching fundraisers I highlight getting funded (or, in the case of the Movement Voter fundraiser, continuing to raise money past their goal). I explained back in May why I’m fundraising for the Movement Voter PAC and that fundraiser is still active. (Also, I owe some embarrassing readings of my juvenalia to the Internet.)

I also went looking and found two DonorsChoose fundraisers for classrooms at Bethune Community School in North Minneapolis: math manipulatives for pre-K students (this is such a good idea) and a nice book organizer for a first-grade classroom where the shelving is coming apart.

Election 2018: Hennepin County Sheriff

One of those small silver linings to the hurricane of storm clouds that is the current presidential administration: a lot more Hennepin County residents realized in the last year what a flaming dick Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek is.

In 2016, he sent deputies out to North Dakota to the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. He notifies ICE when foreign-born people get booked into the jail.  He’s a Trump fan and lackey.

I’m not sure if it’s fair to blame him for the fact that his son downloaded child porn on a cell phone connected to the Stanek campaign.

In his favor, he punched a Nazi sympathizer while in Reno. I mean, credit where credit is due.

But it’s not like Stanek being an asshole is new news. (Here’s what I wrote about him in 2014 — the quick summary involves use of the n-word, a road-rage incident where he beat up another driver, and an arrest of someone for being on a public sidewalk because she’s previously annoyed him. That road rage incident was back in 1989, but I’m struck by the fact that he got into another fist fight in March, which suggests he’s still got a volatile temper, even if the March dude, as noted above, probably deserved to be punched a few more times.)

Here’s who’s on the primary ballot:

Dave Hutch
Rich Stanek
Joseph Banks

Joseph Banks is hard to Google because he shares a name with a fancy menswear store. He appears to be a decent guy with law-enforcement experience who wouldn’t be Rich Stanek, but he hasn’t gotten a ton of traction.

Dave Hutch (also a decent guy with law-enforcement experience who isn’t Rich Stanek) has the DFL endorsement; I think he’s (maybe) got a shot at beating Stanek, if people actually vote in this race:

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.

In Hennepin County in 2016, 429,288 people voted for Hillary Clinton; 191,770 voted for Donald Trump. Even with the suburbs, Hennepin County swings very, very blue. But most people, even the ones who vote in the midterms, don’t vote in this race.

One note: I think his name is actually Dave Hutchinson? So on the ballot he might be Dave Hutch, Dave Hutchinson, or Dave “Hutch” Hutchinson, which was probably what he was going for when he filled out the forms.

Vote for Dave Hutch in the primary, and talk to your friends about voting for him, too (especially once he gets past the primary, talk to them about voting for him in the general). Tell them why they shouldn’t vote for Stanek, and why they should vote for Hutch. There are thousands of people in Minneapolis who’d vote for Stanek’s opponent if they knew more about Stanek; maybe enough to swing this race.