Mark Haase for Hennepin County Attorney

Mark Haase is running against longtime incumbent Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman. If you’re overlooking an important local race in 2018, it’s probably this one. This one has the highest stakes. Elected prosecutors have a lot of power, and a lot of discretion in how they choose to use that power.

A few of the most basic examples of things that fall under the awesome power of the prosecutor:

  • how seriously, or whether, to charge someone
  • whether a person sits in jail for no other reason than they are too poor to pay bail
  • whether to pursue charges that lead to the deportation of nonviolent undocumented immigrants
  • whether police are charged in cases of misconduct

Mike Freeman has been elected to five non-consecutive terms as Hennepin County Attorney–20 of the last 28 years (Minnesota’s senior US Senator Amy Klobuchar held the office from 1999-2007). Freeman was previously elected to two terms in the Minnesota Senate (1983-1991) and ran two failed campaigns for Governor in the 1990s. He is the son of Orville Freeman, former Minnesota Governor (1955-1961) and Secretary of Agriculture under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.

Here are two recent examples of how Mike Freeman’s leadership is failing Hennepin County.

In June, Minneapolis police ended the practice of conducting low-level marijuana stings after discovering “nearly every one arrested was black.” The county’s chief public defender notified Mayor Frey of the problem, who then ordered the police chief to end it. The story became a minor national headline. Much like the public defender who noticed it was a problem that these stings were almost exclusively targeting black people, Mike Freeman’s office was in a position to know it was happening. His office was even notified of the problem. But Mike Freeman’s office didn’t act. Freeman waited until after Minneapolis officials ended the stings, to great fanfare, before acting to dismiss these cases.

In July, Freeman was asked about a Star Tribune investigation that found fewer than 1 in 10 rapes reported in Minnesota result in a conviction. His response:

OMG. Oh my God. I didn’t think the numbers were this bad, and I didn’t think there were that number of cases that the victim was never talked to, or almost no investigation was done. I really honestly thought more was done.

While it is true that in many cases it is the police who simply aren’t investigating or forwarding reported rapes, I would prefer that a 20-year elected prosecutor have learned WTF is going on when it comes to how our criminal justice system is absolutely failing victims of sexual violence.

I would also prefer that a 20-year elected prosecutor not say “OMG” out loud. I assumed it was a mistake in the transcript, but I have obtained the audio, and he really did say “OMG” out loud:

In the time since I originally published this post, Mike Freeman’s office was involved in another case in which they were in a position to know about police misconduct (a manipulated search warrant), but took no action to resolve it until after public defenders got involved.

Also in the time since I first published this post, there was a candidate forum hosted by the organization Black Votes Matter. A few times during the forum, Freeman acted as though Haase’s criticisms were based on the fact that Mark Haase just didn’t know enough about the work of the County Attorney’s office.  The problem with playing Mr. Know-It-All is that Freeman and his office keep dodging responsibility by claiming they don’t know when bad things are happening.

In response to a forum question about cash bail, Mike Freeman said, “I support the goals behind eliminating cash bail.” The previous day however, Freeman told the Star Tribune, “With all the changes I want to do if I’m re-elected, cash bail reform wouldn’t be a priority.” Mike Freeman tells one thing to the Star Tribune, and the next day pretends to have a completely different position in front of a black audience interested in criminal justice reform.

We should want a prosecutor who is capable of recognizing disparities in the criminal justice system and is motivated to fix it. If Mike Freeman tries to convince you he’s a reformer, don’t believe him. His track record is three decades long. If he was a reformer, he’d have told you before now. And if you’re wondering why Mike Freeman is suddenly selling himself to you as a reformer, it’s because Mark Haase is the first candidate to challenge him in 12 years.

Mark Haase is a US Coast Guard veteran and attorney who has devoted his life to criminal justice reform: founding the Second Chance Coalition, working on initiatives like Ban the Box (banning questions about criminal records on employment applications), and reforms to drug sentencing and juvenile records laws.

If you have never met Mark Haase, I can tell you he is incredibly earnest, and endearingly soft-spoken. It’s obvious he’s not running for Hennepin County Attorney because of a lifelong ambition to get elected to something. Haase is running because these issues are deeply important to him–and because it’s about time Mike Freeman had an actual challenger on the ballot.

As Hennepin County Attorney, Mark Haase won’t be embarrassingly ignorant of all the ways our justice system fails our community. Mark Haase will be a prosecutor who thinks systematically about mass incarceration; a prosecutor who will end cash bail; a prosecutor who will stop pursuing low-level marijuana offenses; a prosecutor who will help people get their warrants cleared and records expunged so they can move on with their lives. Mark Haase will be this kind of prosecutor because he hasn’t spent his life thinking like a prosecutor.

I implore you to vote, support, and volunteer for Mark Haase for Hennepin County Attorney. Election day is fast approaching, and not enough people realize how much power this office holds over so many lives.