Rep. Raymond Dehn didn’t win his race for Minneapolis mayor, but he hopes a strong second-place finish set him up as a champion of progressive goals at the State Capitol.

After nearly a year in the city spotlight, Dehn returns to the Legislature as one of the DFL caucus’ most prominent progressives — bringing accrued political capital and deepened policy knowledge. Now in his sixth year at the Capitol, Dehn, 60, hopes to use his boosted profile to push progressive policies and offer legislative support to Minneapolis in the face of skeptical Republican majorities.

“I think that I’ll be able to have a higher profile to talk about the things that … are critical to not just the people in the city of Minneapolis, but the people in the state and the party and the progressive movement,” said Dehn, who finished second last November behind Mayor Jacob Frey — and ahead of the incumbent, Betsy Hodges, who finished third.

Dehn’s new standing hasn’t come without scrutiny. He faced backlash during the mayoral campaign when he called for disarming the police following the shooting death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond. He later dialed back his comments, and said police should prioritize de-escalation and ban military-grade equipment.

Rep. Nick Zerwas, R-Elk River, said Dehn’s comments could hurt him with Republicans.

“I think that increased profile comes as a double-edged sword,” said Zerwas, who serves with Dehn on the House Public Safety Committee. “He is not afraid to ever back down from upholding those ideals and those beliefs.”

After devoting nearly 11 months to his mayoral run, Dehn said he spent weeks debating whether to run for the House again this year — noting it will mark his third straight year of campaigning. But he thought that confidence and knowledge from his mayoral run would boost his ability to address issues like gun reform; he’s now co-sponsoring a measure that would classify bump stocks as automatic weapons.

“He didn’t want to make the choice to go back … without thinking really [critically] about if he still had work that he needed to get done,” said Joelle Stangler, who managed Dehn’s mayoral campaign.

The north Minneapolis resident talks openly about his past and its influence on his political platform, which focuses on criminal justice reform, racial equity and affordable housing. Dehn grew up poor and abused drugs and alcohol as a teen, later being convicted of a felony for burglary. He received a pardon and went on to graduate from the University of Minnesota.

Some of Dehn’s legislative work includes a bipartisan measure that banned the box felons must check on job applications. This year, Dehn said he would focus on city infrastructure and housing. He’s crafting legislation to limit the time unlawful detainers remain in effect. Unlawful detainers show up on tenants’ public records when a landlord begins the eviction process, making it harder to rent in the future.

“With this really, really hot rental market where rents are skyrocketing, I think there’s going to be more of a need for that,” Dehn said.

Sen. Jason Isaacson, DFL-Shoreview, said Dehn’s understanding of Minneapolis’ progressive base would help him at the Capitol, predicting his high profile could lead to an eventual leadership role in the House.

Dehn also hasn’t ruled out the prospect of another mayoral bid, which he said will depend on how Frey’s first term goes.

“I hope the mayor does a good job and that the city succeeds, because then it’s something that I don’t have to consider,” Dehn said. “I’m not going to say no, I’m not going to say yes.”

 

Ryan Faircloth is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune. ryan.faircloth@startribune.com