Minn. GOP candidate suggests jail for Dem elections chief

Rally against vaccine mandates at the State Capitol
Dr. Scott Jensen, a Republican candidate in the 2022 Minnesota governor's race, speaks during a rally against COVID-19 vaccine mandates outside the State Capitol in St. Paul on Saturday, Aug. 28.
Tim Evans for MPR News | 2021

A leading Republican running for Minnesota governor has suggested that the state’s Democratic secretary of state should go to prison for his running of the state’s election system, without providing any evidence that he’s done anything illegal.

Scott Jensen, a doctor and former state senator known for his skepticism of the COVID-19 vaccine and the state’s response to the pandemic, attacked Secretary of State Steve Simon at a recent GOP district convention.

“We are not voter suppressors,” Jensen told the delegates. “We have a simple attitude. Make sure that every ballot in the box belongs there. Make sure that it’s easy to vote, hard to cheat, and if you cheat, you’re going to jail.”

“And Steve Simon, you maybe better check out to see if you look good in stripes, because you’ve gotten away with too much, too long, under (Democratic Attorney General Keith) Ellison, and the hammer’s coming down,” Jensen said to applause and cheers.

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Jensen’s April 23 remarks had echoes of Donald Trump’s threats during the 2016 presidential race to send Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton to jail. Chants of “Lock her up” from his supporters were a defining feature of his campaign.

President Joe Biden beat Trump in Minnesota by 7 points in 2020. The crowded field of candidates in Minnesota’s GOP gubernatorial race has generally been reluctant to acknowledge Biden’s legally won the 2020 presidential election, despite a lack of credible evidence to support Trump’s allegations of mass voter fraud.

“It’s bizarre and irresponsible; a cynical attempt to use extreme conspiracy theories to radicalize political supporters,” Simon said in a statement. “The truth is that Minnesota’s election system is fundamentally fair, accurate, honest, and secure. It’s also nonpartisan, and we need to keep it that way. The voters of Minnesota showed their confidence in our system by making us No. 1 in America in voter participation for the third time in a row.”

Jensen’s campaign did not immediately return a message Monday seeking comment on his remarks, nor did the campaign of one of his leading rivals for the GOP endorsement, business executive Kendall Qualls. Another leading Republican candidate, state Sen. Paul Gazelka, declined to characterize Jensen’s remarks.

“He’s going to have to swim in his own comments,” Gazelka said in an interview.

The Minnesota GOP holds its state endorsing convention in Rochester on May 13-14.

Democratic U.S. Rep, Dean Phillips, who represents the western suburban 3rd District, where Jensen spoke, defended Simon in a tweet Sunday as “a principled public servant and outstanding Secretary of State.”

“Minnesota is recognized for our secure and fair elections and highest voter turnout in the nation. Shame on @drscottjensen for his despicable, dangerous, and remarkably unpatriotic vitriol,” Phillips added.

Ken Martin, the Democrats’ state party chairman, added to the criticism in a statement Monday, calling Jensen “a dangerous right-wing extremist” who “won’t let go of the Big Lie.”