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Republican Scott Jensen urges tougher penalties for repeat offenders, screening for judges in safety plan

The candidate for Minnesota governor broke with members of his party in leaving out what state lawmakers have deemed a top concern in public safety: more funding for police agencies.

Scott Jensen
Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Jensen, left, and his running mate Matt Birk share details of their plan for public safety outside the Minnesota Capitol on Thursday, June 9, 2022.
Dana Ferguson / Forum News Service
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ST. PAUL — Republican candidate for governor Scott Jensen on Thursday, June 9, rolled out his priorities for public safety in Minnesota complete with tougher penalties for repeat offenders and stricter rules that would prevent judges from departing downward on sentences for those who commit violent crimes.

Jensen and his running mate Matt Birk pitched their 10-point framework outside the Minnesota Senate Building on the Capitol complex. And the pair sought to make the case that they could provide more effective leadership to crack down on crime in Minnesota compared to Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan.

"We need to ask ourselves a question: do we feel safer today than we did four years ago?" Jensen said. "And I think everybody knows the answer to that question."

Some of the points Jensen put forward echoed Senate Republican priorities from the legislative session such creating a specific crime for carjacking, increasing scrutiny on Minnesota judges and toughening penalties for repeat violent offenses. He also proposed prohibiting nonprofit groups from bailing out people in jail, issuing executive orders to deploy the State Patrol with greater frequency and calling on the National Guard more quickly to step in when a situation suggests they might be needed to backstop local law enforcement.

The measure would boost spending to law enforcement agencies to help them recruit more officers and stiffen penalties for violent and repeat criminal offenders.

Jensen pointed to the state's response to the riots in the Twin Cities area following the 2020 murder of George Floyd and said local leaders, along with Walz, could've acted sooner and prevented some of the destruction that ensued. After-action reports indicated that Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey lagged in calling for help from the state and that delayed the activation and deployment of guard members.

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The state called for the largest Minnesota National Guard deployment since World War II in response to the unrest and rioting and members were called and in place on the ground within a matter of days.

One area where Jensen deviated from Minnesota lawmakers and Walz was in leaving out of his proposal additional funding for police agencies around the state. Legislative leaders and the governor agreed that the state should spend an additional $450 million on a public safety and judiciary supplemental budget this year, which would include additional funds for recruiting and retaining officers. But details around how that should be spent prevented the bill from moving forward before the Legislature adjourned last month.

Lawmakers continued work this week to try to compromise on that bill and others ahead of a possible special session.

Asked why he didn't include a plan to increase funding to police, Jensen said he should've included the provision in his framework.

"I think we need to do far more investing," he said. "Honestly, if I were to rewrite this I would make it an 11-point program."

Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party Chair Ken Martin on Thursday said Jensen's framework showed that he wasn't planning as comprehensively to address crime as the Walz administration was.

“After seeing how hard he has been trying to sink a bipartisan budget deal that would provide $450 million for public safety, it’s unsurprising that funding local police departments isn’t a priority for Scott Jensen," Martin said. "From opposing universal background checks to the budget deal on public safety, Scott Jensen has shown that he’s unserious about stopping crime and gun violence. ”

Jensen also said the state should create a designated division to "protect the innocence of children," boost education and skills training for inmates and set up a restorative justice program that would require offenders to clean up graffiti and vandalism.

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While his proposal didn't address firearm provisions, Jensen said he would push to pass constitutional carry legislation and "stand your ground" provisions if elected. He didn't say whether he would oppose plans to require universal background checks to purchase a firearm or "red flag" legislation.

MORE FROM DANA FERGUSON:
Several incumbent state legislators, particularly in the Senate, edged out competitors with more extreme views on COVID-19, election security and more.

Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter  @bydanaferguson , call 651-290-0707 or email  dferguson@forumcomm.com.

Dana Ferguson is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. Ferguson has covered state government and political stories since she joined the news service in 2018, reporting on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the divided Statehouse and the 2020 election.
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