WASHINGTON – Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek urged President Donald Trump on Tuesday to restore the position of White House drug czar to a Cabinet-level position, to help local law enforcement deal with the opioid crisis.
Stanek, the incoming president of the National Sheriffs’ Association, was among a small group of sheriffs invited to the West Wing for a meeting with the new president. He said they had a wide-ranging conversation that also touched on Stanek’s hope that the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy would be elevated.
Former President Barack Obama de-emphasized the position, and Stanek said he would like it restored to where it was under former President George W. Bush — citing 144 heroin/opioid-related deaths in Hennepin County last year. He said the number is of crisis proportion.
“Every single one of them is tragic and every single one of them is preventable,” Stanek said. “If we had that many murders, people would be off-the-charts mad about it.”
Stanek, a Republican, said he found Trump’s supportive assurances refreshing, and a contrast to similar visits with Obama.
“With Trump, it was what can he do for us,” Stanek said in an interview after the meeting. “He said he had our back, he said he will work with us. I was proud to be there.”
Stanek was first elected sheriff in 2006. He is seen as a potential candidate for statewide office, and he has said he is considering a bid for governor in 2018. That’s when his current term as sheriff ends.
Trump told the sheriffs he was with them in fighting the war on drugs and reinforced his desire to build a wall on the Mexican border.
On Trump’s executive action on the travel ban, Stanek said he told Trump that his office will “support the rule of law and due process and proper vetting of individuals.”
Trump’s order prohibits people from seven Muslim-majority countries — Somalia, Libya, Sudan, Yemen, Iraq, Iran and Syria — from entering the United States for three months, including refugees and those who were legally permitted to be here before.
Judges have halted the order, which Trump defended on Tuesday as “common sense,” and said he would fight all the way to the Supreme Court to keep it intact. Minnesota is among the top states nationally for refugee resettlement from the blacklisted countries.
Trump is making a speech Wednesday to the bigger group of sheriffs in town.