Meet the Candidates: Republican gubernatorial candidate Rich Stanek

A man stands in front of a large white building
Rich Stanek, former Hennepin County Sheriff and candidate for governor.
Courtesy of the campaign

Republican Rich Stanek was Hennepin County Sheriff for 12 years and before that was Minnesota's Public Safety Commissioner under Gov. Tim Pawlenty, and a state representative from 1995 to 2003. Stanek is running for Minnesota governor. 

During his conversation on Politics Friday, Stanek discussed public safety, emergency powers, government spending and more.

The following transcript has been edited for clarity. You can listen to the full conversation using the audio player above.

Why do you want to be governor?

I think there are things that are really important to hard-working Minnesotans. You know, I was born and raised here in the Minneapolis metropolitan area. I look at public safety. I look at electability and certainly taxes in the economy are what affect all of our hard-working Minnesotans. I think I have the best chance to do that and take on Tim Walz in November representing the Republican Party.

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What would you do to cut down on violent crime?

Clearly public safety is job one for local government, state government. And it should be prioritized that way. Tim Walz has not prioritized it that way. Everybody recalls just a short 20 plus months ago, the iconic images of Minneapolis burning — stores looted and buildings being burned down, people being hurt.

We were on the national news for something that should have never went that far because of the inaction. I think under a governor Stanek, what it would look like is using my 38 years of public safety experience to leverage prosecutors, police, the judges to come together to work towards some common interests and goals to both reducing violent crime, not allowing repeat offenders back on the streets to victimize again and to provide the resources to the men and women who serve in law enforcement that they so desperately need and deserve from our elected officials.

Are you the right person to address both crime on the one side and keeping police officers in line on the other side?

Absolutely. I served as a local police officer, I served the governor (Pawlenty) as his Commissioner of Public Safety in the governor's Cabinet. And I've been elected by the people of Hennepin County, 1.3 million residents, to represent them. In this role, I ran an agency of 1,100 personnel. If we had to fire police officers, they were fired. They were disciplined.

Nobody likes police officers who betray that public trust more than another police officer. I also had a chance to chair the Minnesota Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, what we call POST, back from 1990 to 1995. So I've had a career both in public service, but also accountability and integrity. Those are the things that we stand for. I think Minnesota could do much better. But first and foremost, you've got to stop the nasty rhetoric from elected officials about the police themselves. Defunding the police, the failed democratic experiment of defunding police in Minneapolis. It was tragic in and of itself. Luckily it was voted down about 60 to 40 percent.

But nonetheless, all that did was emboldened criminals, the bad guys, to do even more than what they do today. I was just looking in the paper at an 84-year-old woman out in Stillwater who was leaving, coming back to her car after a funeral service. She gets in her car. And there's a man who she does not know in her backseat who says drive me to Minneapolis. It's a carjacking, 84-year-old woman in Stillwater, Minnesota. And she doesn't drive into Minneapolis. Rather she drives to her home close by. He bangs her upside the head, takes her car and leaves. We can do so much better. So much better than that.

What is the governor’s role in fixing that? What would you do to fix it?

I think the governor and (I) in particular would prioritize public safety, where it belongs. Would provide both the resources in terms of funding, and also the support to the men and women who serve in law enforcement. Helping the local cities, not standing by and watching this happen and then blaming others for those tragedies, but rather getting engaged. If that means hiring bonuses for police officers, or additional funding in order to retain current police officers while also holding them accountable through the POST board and other sources.

But it's really about at the end of the day, Mike, providing that support to law enforcement. I don't I don't for faintest idea how you would expect Minneapolis police officers to go to work every day for 13 members city council that has disowned them, and doesn't like them to begin with. Why would you go to work every day for somebody like that.

That's about the morale of the agency itself. And again, we can do so much better. Hiring and recruiting across Minnesota is at an all time low. It's really hard to convince a young man or woman to go into law enforcement today. Given all that's happened over the last couple of years, but it is a worthy profession is a profession that we need. We are a civil society and you need police in a civil society. Simple as that.

Why didn't you get the endorsement from the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association that went to Paul Gazelka, another Republican in the race?

Well the MPP away is a political entity. They're an eight or nine member board of local, elected union presidents traditionally endorsed Democratic governors, they endorsed Mark Dayton, they endorsed Tim Walz. And so they didn't ask the rank and file police officers across Minnesota who they wished to be their endorsed candidate for governor, but rather they locked it up to this eight or nine member political board to choose. And they so chose.

I'm OK with that. I don't have to rely on others to tell me after 38 years of experience in public safety to know which way to go, and how to get this done. I've been doing it for 38 years.

A lot of Republicans have been critical of the emergency orders Gov. Walz used during the pandemic. Would you ever use emergency orders if you were governor?

I think emergency powers have a proper role with the governor. But not 15 times, 30 days at a crack. And then having the Legislature say, “well, I'm sorry, but there's nothing we can do about it.'“ I served as Commissioner of Public Safety for Governor Tim Pawlenty for a couple years, there was several times where we had to issue executive orders in order to provide assistance to towns or communities for natural or manmade disasters to get them the relief that they need. That is proper, but it is limited in duration.

And then, you know, there was no problem with going back to the Legislature and asking for their concurrence. Either calling a special session, requiring some percentage of the Legislature to agree it does, it should never be a partisan issue when Minnesotans are in need and need help.

So you would keep the powers in law largely as they are, but just be more judicious about their use?

I am in favor of keeping executive powers for a governor. But going back to the Minnesota Legislature, who are elected by the people themselves, all 201 of them, and asking for their concurrence for those executive powers. Not just doing it unilaterally going to a four-member board, which are made up of four members of his own political party and say well that will was enough. Back to the Legislature, they elected the people to represent them on behalf of hardworking Minnesotans, 201 of them, that is the right place to have that check and balance on that emergency powers.

State has a big surplus right now. Let's say the surplus is still there next January when the new governor takes office. What would you do with it?

Well, Mike, I think it's wishful thinking, and your listeners will probably agree, that $9.25 billion is still going to be sitting there that Tim Walz isn't going to spend it beforehand.

He’s got to get a deal. But it's wishful thinking to think that that money's still going to be sitting there come November. Having said that, though, $9.25 billion, what is essentially 7 percent of our biannual state budget. I think that we could do a couple of things with it.

One, it absolutely has to go back to the hard working people of Minnesota. It can come back in some form of direct rebate. And I don't like this gimmick of Walz checks. But it should come back through tax breaks, tax incentives, I know the Legislature has already taken significant action on not taxing Social Security benefits.

Whatever they decide to do with it, it needs to go back to the people of Minnesota, not reinvesting it, where it goes into the biannual budget as part of the base budget itself, and then next year, you've got to make up even more in order to get to that amount. That's the wrong way to go. Give it back.

So would you would you cut taxes permanently?

I would cut taxes permanently. I'd look at I'm looking at property tax relief. I'd look at gas tax. I'd look at an 8 plus percent inflation that we've had here in Minnesota. I give relief to the hard working men and women across Minnesota.

Where would you like to cut spending?

You know, I think probably all the governor candidates answer this the same way. You know, give us a chance. I ran an agency of 1,100 people, I ran an agency with over $140 million budget. But my budget was not unlimited. And if the county board said, hey, we've got to reduce your budget by 8 percent, or 6 percent, or 10 percent, we made those reductions. So give me a chance to look at state government in totality. And I'll figure out where to make those reductions with my Cabinet who will be reflective of the people in Minnesota themselves.

Was the 2020 presidential election fair? Was it stolen from Donald Trump, like the former president says?

I think rightfully so, Joe Biden is the President of the United States. We always respect the office. I don't know what happened back in 2020. I was neither in elected office, or running for governor at the time. I was just like the other five and a half a million Minnesotans watching this unfold.

I think we can do better in terms of election integrity here in Minnesota. You already talked about my former law enforcement career, I spent 20 plus years as a detective. I know where to find the bodies and how to dig them up and figure out what happened. And we will continue to do so as we reform the election system here in Minnesota, first and foremost, so that we have fair and safe elections moving forward.

What would you do to improve election integrity?

Well, first, I think you have to have voter ID at the polls themselves. People that come in to vote, provide some identification about whom they are. Secondly, I would consider provisional ballots, ballots that are challenged by poll watchers or election judges, that those ballots are counted, but put off to the side. So if there is a challenge to the election itself, or the integrity, you can provide some direct line of accountability. Third, I think you got to take a look at the mail in ballot system that we currently use. Is it best serving the people of Minnesota and what we're trying to accomplish in terms of election integrity? Those are three right off the bat.

Where do you come down on social issues or what some people are calling the culture war? Florida, trying to prevent schools from talking about sex in the early grades, and gay and transgender issues. Do you support that kind of move?

I think I'd take a look at the entire country, Mike, in terms of what other governors are doing. Could be Republican may even be Democratic, right? It doesn't mean because they belong to one party, that they don't have good ideas, but you've got to find things that fit for Minnesotans themselves.

As far as schools, look, we should have school choice here. The money should follow the student, not the other way around. I remember back in the time when I was born and raised in Minneapolis, I went to Minneapolis schools, we had a great education system. Now today, not so much. The achievement gap is greater today than it ever was before. We need to get back to being proud of Minnesota's education system. Throwing money at the problem in and of itself is not going to fix the problem.

Would you significantly restrict abortion, especially if the Supreme Court rules this summer to overturn Roe vs. Wade?

I've been, as you mentioned before, I'm a five-term state legislator, while serving the legislature, I was endorsed every year by the pro-life groups. I think you know, where I stand on that. I will continue to support life, continue to support individuals who make choices and help educate them about options that are available to them. I think parents absolutely have a right to understand what is happening with their minor children. And give them an opportunity to be well informed.

I know that all the Republicans have said they're going to abide by the endorsement at the convention next month. Is there any circumstance that you could foresee under which you would run in a primary if there wasn't an endorsement?

You know, Mike, I think you're right. I mean, all of us have said that we would abide by the Republican endorsement. You were also right when you started out the radio show this afternoon by saying, you know, it is a crowded field, eight of us. It doesn't look that anybody has this locked up by any means. So I think it's going to be a big battle on May 14, hopefully, we will find a candidate that will resonate with those delegates on behalf of the Republican Party, and move forward. But for now, I along with the others are focused on the endorsing convention or May 14.

Anybody out there you see as your biggest competition?

Tim Walz. I think that Walz as my biggest competition, right? I'm looking forward to November. Doesn't mean I'm skipping over anything in between. But I think it's ridiculous to continue fighting or arguing with the other candidates. We all kind of look alike at the end of the day in terms of the things we say and how we do it. I mean, I've been endorsed nine times as a Republican. So there's not anytime soon that I'm going to be changing the way that I think or the principles and priorities I believe in. But I've also been elected eight times and something none of the other candidates bring to the table, including being elected three times countywide in the 3rd and 5th congressional districts. So electability is going to be an absolute issue in this election come November against Tim Walz. He knows it. I know it. And the other candidates know it.