House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (Photo: Kevin Featherly)


‘We need leadership in Hennepin County,’ he says

UPDATE, 3:15 p.m., Tues., Oct. 5: Noting that there has already been significant turnover in legislative leadership recently. a campaign spokesperson for Rep. Ryan Winkler confirmed Tuesday that Winkler will remain in his role as House majority leader during his campaign for Hennepin County Attorney. 

House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler will run for Hennepin County Attorney.

Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, told WCCO Radio on Tuesday morning that he is running because “we need leadership in Hennepin County, in Minneapolis and in surrounding suburbs on public safety, on criminal justice reform and racial justice.”

“I hear a lot of frustration,” he said. “Because people basically want the same thing. And our debate about public safety that we are having now, and have had for the last year, really has not delivered what people want.”

Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, got his juris doctorate from the University of Minnesota Law School in 2001 and has primarily worked as a corporate attorney for tech companies. He lacks trial experience but touts his record of fighting economic injustice and for bringing people together as a lawmaker.

Since his return to the legislature after a three-year hiatus, he has authored legislation to beef up staffing in prisons, to create a special master panel to award compensation for civil unrest damage and for pot legalization, among other things. The pot bill passed the House but went no further. He has also been a vocal supporter of police reform. 

Speaking to the radio station, Winkler said that trust and confidence are lacking in the criminal justice system and that it is critical both that there is accountability for crime and that “people’s voices are being heard in the system.”

“I think without doing both of those things at once we are not really delivering public safety,” he told WCCO Radio.

“We know that our system is flawed,” he said. “We know that there are deep disparities based on race in our criminal justice system and we have to address them.”

Opposes ballot measure

Winkler said he opposes the current ballot initiative to replace the police department with a new public safety agency that could include police and that would have “administrative authority … consistent with other city departments”

“I think the reality is that Minneapolis is living through a partial abolition of their police department with the number of officers they have on the street,” Winkler said, referring to the city’s loss of more than 200 officers since May 2020, some because of PTSD stemming from the mayhem after George Floyd’s death.

Winkler was critical of the Minneapolis mayor and city council for failing to create a better police department along the lines of what the ballot initiative calls for. The amendment shouldn’t pass, he said.

Everyone agrees, he said, that armed police officers should not respond to every incident. Social workers, mental health workers, substance abuse treatment and healing community trauma should all be bigger parts of the picture, he said.

“All of that can happen while having an effective, fair and just police force,” Winkler told the radio station. “I think that’s what most people want. But I don’t think the debate we are having right now in Minneapolis is really about that enough.”

He said that the county attorney and others in law enforcement can help lead the community in that direction. “I think that is the role of public leaders,” he said. “That is what I have tried to do at the state legislature.”

Winkler said he would carry on retiring County Attorney Mike Freeman’s policy of avoiding grand juries when deciding whether to prosecute police misuse of deadly force.

A House spokesman said that Winkler is unlikely to resign his House seat before the 2022 elections, and instead will simply not seek reelection to the House while he runs for county attorney.

He likely will continue on as House majority leader too, the spokesman said, but that is not confirmed. Session/Law has requested an interview with Winkler.

Former Hennepin County chief public defender Mary Moriarty has also announced she is running for county attorney. According to the StarTribune, assistant Ramsey County Attorney Saraswati Singh and Richfield City Council Member Simon Trautmann are also candidates.

  Session/Law logo by Kirk Anderson