Candidate Q&A: Minnesota Senate District 27
By Michael Stoll, Austin Daily Herald
Author’s note: This is a continuation of the Tribune’s candidate Q&A features and the second such feature with Minnesota Sen. Dan Sparks (DFL-27) and challenger Gene Dornink (R). In this feature, the candidates were asked questions regarding public safety and police reform. Here are their responses.
Given recent events, what concerns, if any, have you heard from citizens and law enforcement regarding public safety and police reform?
Dan Sparks: I’ve heard from many citizens and members of law enforcement alike, and I’ve heard a wide variety of opinions from across the spectrum on public safety and police reform. I got the overall impression that we should examine how we can make thoughtful and positive changes to policing, but we absolutely must not hamper the ability of law enforcement to effectively serve our communities and keep them safe.
From law enforcement, the message I heard most was that they wanted to be a part of the conversation on potential changes and that they didn’t want their already challenging and dangerous job to be made even more difficult.
I have always been a strong supporter of law enforcement. Many friends and family members of mine work in law enforcement, and I rely on them heavily for their input. It’s extremely helpful to discuss potential changes to policing and public safety with the folks who do the job every day to ensure that we stop proposals that go too far and hinder their ability to carry out their duties. To that point, I do not and will never support any proposal to defund or weaken law enforcement.
Gene Dornink: What folks have been telling me at the doors and around the district is they support our local law enforcement. The cry to defund the police is a reaction stirred by emotion, rather than a concise evaluation of police policies. It is unreasonable to think that defunding police will reduce crime and should not be on the table.
Furthermore, our communities are concerned that the rampant criminal activity is going to trickle down here. People want to feel safe and secure in our communities. Common sense, which St. Paul needs right now, tells us we need our law enforcement community and leaders to help them do their job.
Do you believe the killing of George Floyd represents a broader problem in law enforcement or was an isolated event not reflective of law enforcement as a whole? Why?
Sparks: I think it’s representative of problems within the Minneapolis Police Department, but it is not at all reflective of how our local law enforcement do their jobs. I’m proud of all that our local law enforcement does to serve and protect our communities; they truly do outstanding work. I see trust in our communities between citizens and law enforcement.
Building and maintaining this trust happens at the local level, within the community. I’m thankful that our communities have taken the time and effort to foster these important relationships and are so committed to keeping that level of trust high. In my opinion, it’s one of the things that make our communities great places to live.
Dornink: All of us were horrified at what happened to Mr. Floyd. I support efforts to put politics aside and have the Department of Justice conduct a “practice or pattern” investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department.
Crime runs rampant in Minneapolis right now. The understaffed Minneapolis police force is on a daily fight against drug trafficking, human trafficking, assault, robbery and murder. What happened to Mr. Floyd is tragic, but the numbers do not support the thought that the event is a widespread issue, rather, it’s an isolated tragic incident.
Do you think the recent police reform bill, passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Tim Walz, is too restrictive, appropriate or not enough in reforming police practices? Do you think it will have a positive or negative impact on public safety? Why?
Sparks: Overall, I think it was a good bill with appropriate measures and I voted in favor of it. It passed the House and Senate with overwhelming support from both Republicans and Democrats, which speaks to the contents of the bill and the work that went into it. I’m glad agreement was reached in the end. I believe that the bill will have a positive impact on public safety. It includes new training for law enforcement on crisis intervention, conflict management, cultural diversity and autism.
We also know that there is a lot of stress and difficult emotions for members of law enforcement, which is why the bill establishes peer counseling services for law enforcement and first responders, as well as critical incident stress management services. We ask so much from these dedicated individuals and we must ensure they have access to these important support services.
The bill also includes measures to increase citizen input on the Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Board and creates an advisory council on police excellence and community relations. By bringing together stakeholders from both the public and law enforcement, I am optimistic that we can continue to cooperate and work together to ensure the needs and concerns of law enforcement and citizens alike are being met.
Dornink: The bill that was signed into law was reform that was an appropriate step in the right direction and was supported by the law enforcement community. The provisions signed into law include new policies that require officers to intervene if they see improper use of force and a ban of chokeholds. The bill also makes major strides in acknowledging and addressing mental illness. This new law in my opinion will not only have a positive impact on public safety, but also police safety.
Anything else you want to add?
Sparks: As I said before, I’m a strong supporter of law enforcement and I’m grateful for their dedication to our communities. I’m also thankful for the trust that exists in our communities between citizens and law enforcement. This positive relationship is critical to strong public safety.
The police reform and public safety bill passed by the Legislature is a great example of what can be accomplished when legislators set aside the politics and genuinely dig into the issues. We can bring together a wide variety of perspectives, find common ground, and enact meaningful and positive change.
As your state senator, I am always committed to working with others, Republican or Democrat, to find solutions and do what is best for our district and our state.
Please visit www.dansparks.org to join our campaign.
Dornink: Based on what I am hearing around the district, law enforcement will be a major issue this election. Minneapolis Democrats are working in lock step to defund police and that just isn’t a direction we can go or should go. Parents and grandparents across the district have a simple message: Keep us safe.
The issues I mentioned earlier are real; sex trafficking, drug trafficking, robbery and murder are becoming the norm in Minneapolis. These real issues are being obscured by metro Democrat leaders screaming to defund the police. It is just plain nonsense. I will never support defunding the police. We need to work together to support these communities in obvious need and restore them. It’s more important than ever to send someone to St. Paul that will stand up for our values and not fold to metro leadership.
Learn more about our campaign at Dorninkforsenate.com or find us on Facebook.