Police association endorsements among most coveted, controversial in Minnesota politics


How important is it to get an endorsement from the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association for this election cycle?

Ask Dan Wolgamott (a St. Cloud DFLer sitting in a swing chair whose campaign brochures include a picture of the badge of the organization — as big as his head. Wolgamott stated that “it’s definitely the one (endorsement), that comes up most.”

Wolgamott’s sentiments are not shared by all candidates. In 2022, the MPPOA stamp of approval is a common feature in the state. It can be seen on television ads, mailers, and websites for many Republicans and Democrats who want to project a support for law enforcement in their bids for offices at the Capitol or in Congress.

This is partly because crime is a major issue for votersspan styling=”font-weight 400 ;”>. It’s also evidence that the MPPOA has a notable and growing impact. This unique political actor is a powerful and influential 10400-member group representing first responders and frontline officers.

Despite a long history of supporting the DFL, the MPPOA has become a majorstay of the Republican Party. The MPPOA is one of few groups in the state that backs candidates from both the largest parties.

Once, the MPPOA backed DFL

Sometimes, individual county sheriffs make endorsements. A few police unions like Ramsey County Deputies Federation also make endorsements. The MPPOA is the most prominent and well-known police group involved in political campaigns. This is especially true since the associations representing sheriffs and police chiefs do not endorse.

It wasn’t that long ago, the MPPOA was supporting most Democrats with its collective weight. Brian Peters, the executive director of the MPPOA, stated that collective bargaining has been a major issue for the trade organization. This led to a preference for DFL.

For example, in 2012, an organization linked to the MPPOA ran ads against many Republicans. One was in a swing district that opposed King Banaian (who was a GOP state representative from St. Cloud. Banaian was criticized by a flyer as “putting the public safety at danger,” partly for voting in support of crime lab funding and domestic violence service.

Banaian speculated that the MPPOA had endorsed his opponent in an email shortly before 2012’s election. He said it was “most probably unhappy about my pension work.”

A flyer criticized King Banaian, the state representative, as “putting public security at risk” in part because of votes regarding crime lab funding and domestic violence.

The MPPOA supported 32 DFLers in the 2016 election for the state Senate. This included many legislators from the more liberal wing, such as Roseville Sen. John Marty. The MPPOA supported 39 Democrats in the House. The Senate only gave Republicans four endorsements, while the House received 14 that year.

The MPPOA supported more Democrats than Republicans for the state House in 2018 alone. Along with three Republicans, the organization also endorsed U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar as well as U.S. Reps. Betty McCollum & Collin Peterson.

This trend changed dramatically in 2020. In 2016, the MPPOA supported 43 Republicans in state Senate and 87 Republicans in state House. Only 12 Democrats were endorsed by the organization in both chambers.

The MPPOA has supported 45 Republicans in the state Senate and 85 Republicans at the state House this year — compared with just eight DFLers across both chambers. Nearly all of the group’s fundraising for political causes has been directed at Republican candidates.

The relationship between DFL and MPPOA is deteriorating

Peters stated that the political swing from DFL to Republicans in the Legislature was caused by DFL’s police reform agenda following Floyd’s murder by Derek Chauvin, a Minneapolis officer in 2020.

Democrats led by legislators of color demanded wide-ranging reforms to policing in response to the murder. They sought tougher laws that govern when officers can use deadly force and gave cities the power to impose residency requirements on officers. The DFL majority supported many of these proposals in a House bill.

The majority of Democrats saw the bill package as part of a legitimate effort to reduce police brutality and to make systemic changes to hold officers accountable. Many also viewed the MPPOA, which provides legal defense funds for officers charged with crimes such as Chauvin, as resisting change.

The Republican-led Senate blocked many House DFL plansspan styling=”font-weight 400 ;”>,_ siding with MPPOA. They argued that much of DFL legislation would hinder officers’ work or make their jobs harder or more dangerous. Both the Senate and House agreed to a limited number of police reform and accountability laws. This included limiting chokeholds and training in warrior-style.

Peters stated that the MPPOA was open for reform and cited his involvement in a task force alongside Attorney General Keith Ellison, before Floyd was assassinated. Later, the recommendations of the task force helped to inform what legislation was passed.

“The Republicans really came in, and at the end of the night we need legislators that will stand up to the profession and stand against their party if necessary,” Peters stated. “The Republicans came in and it was Paul Gazelka (the Senate Majority Leader) who stood firm and did not allow much of the negative reforms .”

Similar events took place after Amir Locke and Daunte Wright, both Black men, were shot and killed by police in 2021. The Senate accepted some regulations, however, as the House DFLers sought to limit no-knock warrants in both years.

MinnPost photo taken by Walker Orenstein
Karen Wells and Andre Locke, parents of Amir Locke; and Ben Crump, attorney, speaking at a press conference held at the Minnesota State Capitol.

A flash point was the push for many Democrats to

prohibit officers from being members of hate groups created by white supremacists

This was primarily due to extremists with military and law enforcement ties at U.S. Capitol during pro-Trump riot of January 6, 2021. Peters stated that the MPPOA was not happy with the suggestion of white supremacists infiltrating local police ranks. Instead, they backed GOP legislation to prevent officers from joining a wider range hate groups. The police licensing board was eventually established.

adopted an antiwhite supremacist strategy

It can be used on its own.

Other issues, besides the Minnesota Capitol, have led to the DFL and MPPOA’s relationship deteriorating. The burning of the Minneapolis Police Department’s third precinct was one example. The majority of Minneapolis council members vowed to end the department amid protests from activists who wanted to defund the MPD. The U.S. House approved a bill to remove “qualified immunity” legal protections for officers. This was opposed by the MPPOA.

They were frustrated at the lack of a response from Rep. John Thompson to beating up effigies of Bob Kroll, former Minneapolis police union president, and Liz Collins outside their home. The public safety charter amendment that would replace the Minneapolis Police Department by a department for public safety was the subject of heated debate.

Rep. Rep. She said that the negative view on the MPPOA was formed after the deaths of Floyd and Philando castile.

Hollins stated that there was a divide between the community and law enforcement. “I’m trying my best to figure out how to communicate this diplomatically.” “There was a division, I would suggest, between law enforcement and the community. There was a strong sense in the community that law enforcement was there, and MPPOA was there for its officers .”

She stated that the MPPOA had been “steadfastly in support of the status-quo” at the State Capitol and was less open to change than other groups such as the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association.

Hollins stated that she believed the MPPOA would not engage with DFL lawmakers who advocate for greater reform. Peters stated that he felt the DFL dismissed many of their policy suggestions.

The MPPOA supported Republican Scott Jensen as governor and held a press conference in front of the 3rd Precinct Building. Peters stated, “Over my shoulder used be a police station.” It’s gone. Gov. (Tim Walz) has not been active during his term .”

MPPOA is a Republican fixture

When Peters was asked why the MPPOA only endorsed eight DFL-related legislative candidates, Peters stated that the board of directors had been disappointed in the support for many Democrats and wanted to give Republicans the chance to “deliver on their campaign platform, which is tougher on crime.”

Many DFL members, including Walz, pushed for more money to the Legislature earlier in the year to assist police with their recruitment and retention needs. However, a contingent of the party were reluctant to approve the cash , without any money for other public safety initiativesspan styling=”font-weight 400 ;”>. This year, the Legislature failed to agree on how to spend its large surplus for public safety.

The MPPOA backed many Republicans in swing seat thought to be critical to the balance in power in the Legislature such as GOP Rep John Heinrich of Anoka and Republican Heidi Gunderson who is mayor of Vadnais Heights.

Gunderson stated that most voters see endorsements as “just logos on lit pieces.” However, this year, voters are concerned about public safety. She created a mailer focusing exclusively on the issue, with the MPPOA endorsement, and other support for law enforcement.

Gunderson’s opponent, DFLer Brion Curan of Vadnais Height, has prominently highlighted the fact that she is a former officer in police and promised to invest money to improve public safety. Gunderson stated that if the candidates are arguing about who supports cops, only Gunderson is supported by the MPPOA and Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher.

Heidi Gunderson, Republican, created a mailer focusing entirely on public safety that included the endorsement of the MPPOA and other support for law enforcement.

The MPPOA also supported Jim Schultz as GOP attorney general candidate. Schultz has made combating crime his top priority. Schultz was also endorsed by 40 sheriffs and has relied on this support in his campaign.

The MPPOA is so deeply rooted in Republican politics that it intervened in primary elections and endorsement contests. The MPPOA supported Gazelka in the governor’s race because it considered him a key ally in the legislative police reform debate.

The group also supported a number of more centrist Republican candidates who were running in primary races featuring hard-right opponents.

In one instance, the MPPOA donated $1,000 to state Rep. Tony Jurgens from Cottage Grove this year in a senate primary against Republican Tom Dippel. The MPPOA frequently fights with GOP leaders , and accuses them not being conservative enough.

Peters stated that he wanted to support moderate people. “Not that far right and far left won’t work together but there are just so strong differences” when it comes to issues such as police reform.

Although the MPPOA endorsement is highly sought-after by candidates, it didn’t always convince Republican primary voters or activists. Dippel defeated Jurgens and Tina Riehle, who was MPPOA-endorsed, lost to Action 4 Liberty-backed Mark Bishofsky. Dippel has been supported by the MPPOA, but not Bishofsky. )

Gazelka also lost his bid to be the GOP governor’s endorser. The MPPOA supported Kendall Qualls, a businessman who quit the race after trailing in endorsement balloting rounds. Qualls addressed the crowd and the large screen at Rochester’s Mayo Civic Center showed proof of his endorsement, rather than Qualls’ usual video.

Jensen was endorsed by the Republican Party. The MPPOA also supported Jensen about five months later.

MPPOA backing is granted to some DFLers

Peters stated that even though the MPPOA has supported the GOP, more candidates have sought their endorsement than ever before, including some Democrats.

Interviews are conducted by the organization. Candidates complete a questionnaire asking how they plan to support and protect legislation that affects public safety services. They also ask whether they support pension, benefits, and collective bargaining rights of officers. It is also important to know what they don’t support during the public safety discussion. The endorsement decision is made by the board of directors, led by David Titus.

The MPPOA rejected some DFLers, much to the dismay of Tom Stiehm, former Austin mayor and officer. The MPPOA supported a few DFLers and many of them are in critical swing seats that could allow Democrats to keep control of both the state House of Congress and the U.S. House.

The campaign brochures of Dan Wolgamott, State Rep., feature a photo of the MPPOA badge.

Wolgamott is the representative from St. Cloud stated that an endorsement by MPPOA can debunk conspiracy theories that he supports defunding police. Republicans tried to tie DFLers to defund movements for two elections.

DFL state representatives were also supported by the MPPOA. In what are likely to be close races, Rob Ecklund from International Falls and Dave Lislegard (of Aurora) will face off.

Leslie Rosedahl spokeswoman for MPPOA and said Ecklund is a champion on labor issues. MPPOA staff highlighted several bills that they supported in relation to pensions, labor deals, increased local government subsidies, and frontline worker wages.

The MPPOA backed U.S. Rep. Angie Craig for Congress. Craig is a Democrat representing the 2nd Congressional District, one of the most important swing districts in the country. Kistner was supported by the MPPOA in 2020. (This year, the MPPOA also endorsed U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips from the 3rd District. )

Craig’s TV ads highlight her opposition to the Minneapolis charter amendement and her support for the MPPOA, Dakota County Sheriff Tim Leslie.

Screen shot
Many television advertisements featuring Rep. Angie Craig emphasized her opposition to the Minneapolis charter Amendment and her support for the MPPOA, Dakota County Sheriff Tim Leslie.

Peters claimed that Craig’s endorsement “made some people mad,” especially since she voted in Congress for the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would have limited qualified immunity. He said Craig “came into, she interviewed, and she owned it.”

According to Peters, she said that she knew what she knows now and would vote differently if it came to her desk. An MPPOA news release cited Craig’s advocacy for more funding for local, federal and state police. This was something that often angered members the Congressional Black Caucus as well as progressives who desired new accountability standards.

The MPPOA also cited Craig’s legislation to pay death and disability benefits for police officers and their families if they die from PTSD or suicide. This bill was passed.

The MPPOA is one among a few high-profile organizations that back Republican and Democratic candidates. This makes it a rare find in Minnesota. Some trade unions support both parties, like the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49 or the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters. The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce supports Republicans mainly, but occasionally supports Democrats.

Peters stated that the MPPOA will “not hesitate to support people who have supported us.” This is especially true in a state like Texas, where Democrats control some of the power levers in government.

Peters stated that if you only work with one side, it may be a good idea now but could hurt you later. “I think people are coming back to the idea that “we need to collaborate on these issues” because, for example, when you look at recruitment and retention, or crime. One party will not be able to solve it .”

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