WASHINGTON – Three of Minnesota's leading Democrats oppose the Minneapolis ballot question that could replace the city's Police Department with a new public safety agency, but they aren't campaigning against it.
More than a year after George Floyd died at the hands of Minneapolis police, the divide over Question 2 has torn through established partisan political lines. With polls closing Tuesday, U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith and Gov. Tim Walz have made their opposition clear but appear to be staying away from actively campaigning to defeat the measure.
The ballot question is a complicated one for Democratic politicians, said Kathryn Pearson, a University of Minnesota political science professor. It's a rare local measure that has attracted statewide and national attention.
"They would just as soon not get involved in Minneapolis politics and be out front on an issue that's, no matter what position they take, guaranteed to upset some of their supporters," Pearson said. "If they were to be actively campaigning, it would also really highlight the divide within the Democratic Party."
Two of the most prominent Democratic supporters of the measure are taking a more active approach. Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, both progressives who live in Minneapolis, are working to see Question 2 pass.
"I have been campaigning with Yes 4 Minneapolis and the candidates for City Council and mayor who support the efforts to put control of Minneapolis' public safety in the hands of its people, and my organizing team has been working hard doing what they do best: getting out the vote," Omar said in a statement.
On Oct. 24, Ellison and Omar headlined an event supporting a yes vote on the question that was publicized as an "early vote rally and caravan to the polls." Ellison's campaign said he's also knocking on doors to help turn out voters.
"I'm voting yes because we've got to be able to do better than this," Ellison said at the Oct. 24 event. "I'm voting yes because the status quo is just not working."
The Minneapolis vote comes as lawmakers in Congress have failed to find a bipartisan solution on federal police reform legislation. When Smith announced her opposition to the Minneapolis ballot question in October, she stated "that Amendment #2 does not address the core public safety challenges we face, and may well move us in the wrong direction."
Smith, who like Klobuchar lives in Minneapolis, said in an interview that she wanted "Minneapolis voters to think this through carefully for themselves and reach the conclusion that they think is the right conclusion."
She added: "And I'm not planning on campaigning on it."
Walz, who lives in St. Paul, recently announced he's running for a second term. A spokesperson for the governor's campaign said that while he has come out against Question 2, he hasn't donated to opposing the question or actively campaigned on the issue.
And a spokesperson for Democratic U.S. Rep. Angie Craig, another opponent of the measure who lives outside Minneapolis, said Craig hadn't done any campaigning or spending against the amendment following her criticism of it in an August announcement.
Klobuchar, whose 2020 presidential primary campaign made her more well known across the country, has posted on Twitter in the last two months about campaigning for Democratic candidates for governor in Virginia and New Jersey. Her spokesperson noted Klobuchar has made her opposition to the Minneapolis policing ballot question clear and talked about it privately.
However, the spokesperson said, "Senator Klobuchar has not been asked to do any campaigning against Question 2 and her campaign has not spent any money on the ballot question." Klobuchar later said in a statement of her own: "The police chief cannot report to a dozen bosses and I have made my opposition to this amendment clear from the beginning."
Republicans are vocally opposed to the ballot question. U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer, who chairs the House GOP's campaign arm, has slammed the measure as part of the party's broader charge against Democrats over "defunding the police." Supporters of Question 2 say it's not a defunding effort, but a GOP spokeswoman signaled that Democrats' handling of the police measure isn't likely to be forgotten by Republicans regardless of the result Tuesday.
"Minnesotans know Tim Walz, Amy Klobuchar, Tina Smith, and Angie Craig were too scared of the implications in 2022 to stay silent on the defund the police ballot initiative, but their lack of action speaks volumes," Republican National Committee spokeswoman Preya Samsundar said in an e-mail.
Positions taken on the ballot question could also be a factor for Democrats within their own party, where activists play a major role. Democratic politicians who run statewide face the challenge of attracting not just urban votes but support throughout the state, where views on policing and reforms can vary considerably.
Matt Bennett, co-founder of a moderate Democratic think tank in Washington called Third Way, said he worries about the ballot measure's impact on Democratic politics.
"Look, I think it can be very politically dangerous for anybody in Democratic politics to appear to get crosswise with activists," he said. "So I'm not surprised that those offices were unwilling to get into it."
Staff writer Briana Bierschbach contributed to this report.