If you want to know which way the Minneapolis City Council is headed, keep an eye on Ward 11.
Why it matters: Ward 11 is a clear-cut race. It pits Jeremy Schroeder, a progressive incumbent who pledged to dismantle the Minneapolis Police Department last summer, against Emily Koski, a moderate from a prominent Minneapolis DFL family.
- Koski is the daughter of the late mayor Al Hofstede and niece of former council member Diane Hofstede.
This time last year, in the midst of her re-election bid, U.S. Sen. Tina Smith declined to take a position on whether to expand the size of the U.S. Supreme Court.
- Fast forward 12 months and the Minnesota Democrat is the first Senate co-sponsor of a bill to do just that.
Driving the pivot: Smith told Axios that events of the last year, including Justice Amy Coney Barrett's confirmation just before the 2020 election, persuaded her that adding justices "to restore balance to the court becomes the most sensible and reasonable thing to do."
- "The Texas case was really the final straw for me," Smith added of the court's recent decision against blocking the state's new abortion restrictions.
Minnesota House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler will run for Hennepin County attorney next year.
What he's saying: In a statement released Tuesday, the Golden Valley Democrat said he'd focus on addressing "root causes of crime such as mental health and addiction while focusing prosecutorial resources on seeking justice for victims of violent crime."
- He also said he'd work to create an independent Police Accountability Unit.
Minnesota Republican Party delegates elected former state Sen. David Hann as the party's new chair on Saturday, capping a tumultuous two months of controversy for the state GOP and its leaders.
Why it matters: A series of internal and external crises since late summer have created a distraction and a PR problem for the state party as leaders and gubernatorial candidates gear up for the 2022 midterm election.
- Yes, but: With little cash in the bank and a weakened infrastructure, candidates and independent political committees will likely have a bigger influence next year.
Election officials across Minnesota are facing threats and vitriol from voters questioning the 2020 results, leading some local administrators to consider early retirement, Secretary of State Steve Simon tells Axios in an interview.
- "There is real anxiety out there among people who run elections," Simon said. "And it's deeply disturbing."
The big picture: False claims that the 2020 election was "stolen"— popularized by former President Trump and other Republicans, including some in Minnesota — are fueling backlash and intimidation campaigns across the country.
- A Reuters investigation published in September documented more than 100 threats of violence or death targeting election officials and workers since last year's race.
Zoom in: Some threats in Minnesota have been serious and specific enough to be reported to law enforcement. In January, following the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, Simon and his wife had to consider temporarily moving their family into a hotel.
- "Secretaries of state in other states were getting visits at home from armed protesters, people brandishing guns," he said. "We had to meet with our local police chief and mayor and Capitol Police and come up with a safety plan."
What's changed: Simon's office has seen shifts in both the tenor and the target of complaints from the public. Instead of raising concerns about the actions of specific candidates or campaigns, folks are "alleging that people running elections are involved in the wrongdoing."
- One July tweet targeting Simon suggested "treason punished by death" was "the only way to deal with them, so it never happens again."
What he's saying: Simon condemned the rhetoric from Trump and others, saying it "eats away at the fabric of democracy and it eats away at the well-deserved confidence people have in elections."
What he's doing: Instead of simply dismissing voters who believe what's become known as "The Big Lie," Simon suggests telling them "you have been misled by people peddling conspiracy theories for their own purposes."
- "I'm not claiming that's going to break the fever on its own," he said. "But I think that's important because it happens to be true. There are people who have been taken in by these dangerous conspiracy theories”
What to watch: The Justice Department has launched a new task force to investigate and prosecute threats against election officials, in partnership with the FBI and U.S. attorneys offices.
- Meanwhile, some members of Congress, including U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, are pushing for stronger protections for election workers.
- Simon said he's also looking into possible state legislative responses.
Former Hennepin County chief public defender Mary Moriarty is running to be the county's top prosecutor.
What she's saying: Moriarty announced her campaign to succeed retiring County Attorney Mike Freeman on Twitter Monday, calling for "transformational reform in the criminal legal system."
State of play: Expect a crowded race next year. Several other candidates, including House Majority leader Ryan Winkler, are weighing a run.
Background: Moriarty, the first woman to serve as the county's chief public defender, received a $300,000 settlement this year after a clash with leadership resulted in her contract not being renewed.
- Her public profile rose during the trial of former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin, when she provided legal analysis for local and national TV coverage.
One of the Minnesota Senate's longest-serving lawmakers is facing a primary challenge.
Driving the news: Labor organizer Sheigh Freeberg announced a run this week for Senate District 65, the St. Paul seat held by DFL Sen. Sandy Pappas.
- "For too long status quo politics have ignored the voices of many of our neighbors," Freeberg said in a statement calling for a "strong voice advocating for working people at the capitol.”
The intrigue: Primary challengers calling for new voices and a more aggressive approach to pushing progressive policies defeated four DFL incumbents in 2020, including three in the metro.
- Freeberg's bid could be the first in a new wave of intra-party fights in 2022, when all 201 legislative seats are on the ballot.
The other side: Pappas, first elected to the state House in 1984 and the Senate in 1990, confirmed to Torey that she's running for reelection. She defended her record, citing her seniority and leadership posts on key issues such as bonding.
- "If Mr. Freeberg has a problem with how I have been representing the district, he has every right to make that case to voters and delegates," she said. "I'm up for the challenge."
What to watch: Open seats created by retirement and redistricting could also attract competitive primaries between progressive and more moderate Democrats.
As he campaigned across the state this summer, GOP gubernatorial candidate Scott Jensen gave props to one of the state's most recognizable — and controversial — Republican figures: MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell.
Driving the news: At an event in St. Paul in August, the former state senator bemoaned what he predicted would be a lack of action from Gov. Tim Walz and DFL legislators on election changes sought by Republicans, such as passing a voter ID law and reducing use of mail-in ballots.
- "All we can do is hope that Mike Lindell reaches some success in terms of getting rid of machines," he said, according to video of the event posted online by the Minnesota DFL.
Weeks earlier, in Mankato, he told a crowd of Republicans: "Mike Lindell's gonna work his tail off trying to get rid of machines, and we should thank him for that."
The big picture: The "Big Lie," the false claim from Lindell, former President Donald Trump and other Republicans that the 2020 election was "stolen," threatens to undermine the results of future elections and faith in democracy. There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in 2020.
- Dominion Voting Systems sued Lindell in February over his baseless claims about voting machines in last year's presidential election, which have been debunked by political and cyber security experts.
What he's saying: In an interview with Axios last week, Jensen said he shares concerns about election integrity in general. But he said his comments were not necessarily an endorsement of Lindell's specific theories related to 2020.
- "He and I have never talked about that so I wouldn't know what he's saying," Jensen said of Lindell’s efforts.
- "Let's not play a gotcha game," he added. "Anyone with lawsuits I wish the best of luck."
Of note: Jensen posted a video to Twitter in August featuring a conversation with a state senator about Lindell's "cyber symposium" in South Dakota.
What to watch: Jensen said he views concerns about fair elections as a nonpartisan issue and wants to see paper ballots — not vote-counting machines — used in 2022.
Reality check: Minnesota already uses paper ballots. They're fed through ballot tabulator machines that add up the results.
- Election officials conduct random audits post-election and check some precinct results by hand.
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