DFL Gov. Tim Walz on Thursday came out against the Minneapolis ballot measure to replace the city's Police Department with a new public safety agency, citing concerns about a recent spike in crime and confusion for voters who will decide the fate of policing in the state's largest city.
"We see this both here and across the country, increasing crime coming out of COVID. We need to recognize that the police force is going to be part of that solution," Walz said, when asked in an interview about the ballot question.
"We can ask for that to be reformed, but I just think that the debate appears to be too simplified and I think it's fraught with peril to just use a slogan like 'defund the police.' "
A spokesperson for U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who lives in Minneapolis, said Thursday that she also opposes the ballot measure, adding that she has long advocated federal police reform legislation but "has also repeatedly stated her opposition to defunding the police."
The ballot question, which emerged in response to George Floyd's killing by a Minneapolis police officer, would amend the city charter to eliminate a requirement to keep a department with a minimum number of officers based on population. The city would then be required to create a new Department of Public Safety.
The proposal also would strike language from the charter that gives the mayor complete control over the police, thus giving the City Council more sway than they have now over police operations.
Wording of the ballot question and how much detail it should include has been the subject of intense debate. Yes 4 Minneapolis, the political committee that wrote the proposal, successfully sued to remove an explanatory note the city had attached to it. Officials with Yes 4 Minneapolis did not respond to a request for comment.
TakeAction Minnesota, a statewide progressive group, issued a statement Thursday that Yes 4 Minneapolis wants to create "a new Department of Public Safety that includes licensed police officers, similar to the structure the state of Minnesota already has." While Walz had failed to pass police reform at the state level, the statement said, "the vast majority" of Minneapolis residents want "meaningful change ... We deeply regret that [Walz] has not yet joined us in living up to his commitments to Minneapolis."
Critics of the policing proposal argue that the current wording hides from voters the basic facts of what it would do. Walz said he thinks the measure is too complicated for a referendum and is better debated among elected officials.
"I think asking a question this big and putting it on the ballot poses some risks because people are busy," he said. "I'm not sure people even know the difference between vote yes and the vote no campaign."
Walz's position against the ballot question came just days after U.S. Rep. Angie Craig also spoke in opposition to the measure, demonstrating how politically fraught the issue is for Democrats across the state. Republicans weaponized the "defund the police" slogan in 2020 against swing district Democrats in Minnesota and across the country.
Neither Craig nor Walz lives in Minneapolis, but Craig said passage of the ballot question could have implications for the whole region, including parts of her Second District in the south metro.
"I feel a responsibility to speak out against this initiative, which would create confusion and uncertainty around public safety in the largest city in our state, while potentially undermining the safety and security of our communities," Craig said in a statement.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, who like Klobuchar lives in Minneapolis, said she's still deciding how she will vote on the ballot question.
"I do not support defunding the police, but I strongly believe we need to reform policing and create much better ways of focusing on public safety and violence prevention," she said in a statement. "Everyone in Minneapolis deserves to be safe in their homes, their neighborhoods, and their city."
Staff writer Hunter Woodall contributed to this report.