Hennepin County law enforcement priorities: whose mandate holds?

In the intramural fight between Keith Ellison and Mary Moriarty, is “democracy” at stake?

Earlier this month, state Attorney General Keith Ellison, with the approval of Governor Tim Walz, removed the Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty from a high-profile murder case. (My colleague David Zimmer has all the details.

Afterward, Moriarty took to the airwaves to denounce Walz and Ellison. As quoted by MinnPost, Moriarty says,

“This governor and this attorney general are doing exactly—precisely—what their opponents in the last election promised they would do,” she said. “Their actions here show that they also don’t really believe fully in democracy because they are stopping me from doing the job voters elected me to do, only very recently by the way, because they don’t like this particular outcome.”

Let’s look at the results of the last election in Hennepin County. Here are the four candidates on the county-wide ballot who play in role in law enforcement policy.

All four winning candidates were endorsed by the state Democratic party. Moriarty received the fewest votes and the smallest percentage of the four.

What’s remarkable is the drop-off in the number of votes cast in the various races. The race for County Attorney drew 130,000 fewer votes than the race for state Attorney General. Moriarty received 134,000 fewer votes than Ellison.

Given that Moriarty prevailed by only about 70,000 votes over her opponent, the nonvoters in the County race could have tipped the balance against her candidacy.

The law enforcement priorities of the County is no small matter. By population, Hennepin County is the state’s largest, and home to the state’s largest city. At last count, the county had a population of just under 1.3 million. At that level, the County is larger than 8 individual states. Its population is almost exactly equal to the combined population of the two smallest states, Vermont and Wyoming.

For his part, Ellison has indicated that the removal of Moriarty from the case was a one-time event. We shall see.