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The county attorney is on the ballot this year in Dakota County, the first time the race has been contested since 1994. We’ve asked the candidates a series of questions to see where they stand on the issues. We’ll share one question and the responses at a time leading up to the general election on November 8. See our 2022 voter’s guide for more.
Previously we asked about guiding philosophy, criminal justice reform, public safety, abortion, and drug policy. This time we’re asking about mental health.
Mental health continues to present challenges to society as a whole. How do you see it impacting the criminal justice system and what will you do about it?
Here are the candidates’ responses:
Editor’s note: Kathy Keena opted not to answer our questions and instead submitted the following note. (She did answer most of our questions during the primary.)
First let me thank you for contacting me regarding the questions for the West St. Paul Reader.
That being said, my position as the Dakota County Attorney and the Oath of Office which I swore to uphold, require that my positions on matters of legislation and the law remain non-partisan. I truly believe that justice can only be served fully and appropriately by remaining such. Therefore, I cannot in good conscience answer your questionnaire.
As the Dakota County Attorney, I must support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Minnesota. In that role, one of my primary responsibilities is to oversee the appropriate enforcement of constitutionally sound laws enacted by our state legislature and to seek justice for victims. I believe that the people of Dakota County expect this and will accept nothing less than objectivity, fairness and equity in carrying out the duties of the office. Anything else is partisanship and visual bias.
Thank you to your readers for their understanding.
The last few years have reminded us all of the importance of fair, effective, respectful law enforcement to keep our communities safe. Dakota County, like the rest of the country, must choose between repeating the past or prioritizing greater cooperation between police and the community. But it is vital to also remember that we place an unfair burden on police—in addition to fighting crime, they must also be social workers, mediators, drug counselors, paramedics, and family counselors, just to name a few. Not only does this burden put tremendous pressure on officers, it also drains them of the time, energy, and resources needed to keep our communities safe. Matt will collaborate with law enforcement and state officials to pioneer a system that reflects our community’s diverse needs.
In the State Senate, Matt fought for investment for the new Dakota County Safety and Mental Health Alternative Response Training (SMART) Center, a new base of operations for collaboration between law enforcement, the people they serve, and other dedicated parties. Matt will continue with this vision of a collaborative effort to reduce crime by fighting discriminatory practices and equipping law enforcement with de-escalation techniques and the correct resources. As County Attorney, Matt will prioritize diverting nonviolent issues such as mental illness, drug use, and family disputes to other professionals, while focusing police time and resources for cracking down on the most serious threats to the safety of our community.
Vote on November 8
The general election is on Tuesday, November 8. Learn more about where and how to vote. You can also vote early with an absentee ballot, either by mail or by stopping at the Dakota County offices.
See our 2022 voter’s guide for more on the candidates and other races.
Thank you to the candidates for taking the time to respond to our questions.
This local election coverage only happens thanks to the support of our members. Consider joining West St. Paul Reader to ensure local election coverage continues. Membership starts at just $3 per month.
I think that you were asking the candidates if a mental health condition excuses someone who commits a violent crime. You did not get a good answer from either candidate. My thought is that someone who is dangerous needs to be separated from ordinary people.
Jim, no, that’s not what we were asking. Mental health has come up frequently in conversations about policing and the criminal justice system. We wanted to know how candidates saw mental health impacting their role and what they would do about it.
My comment was based on my understanding that “The county attorney primarily prosecutes felony crimes…” – quotation from the Minnesota County Attorneys Association. I do not see that the county attorney has any role or responsibility in managing mental health.
Jim, they obviously don’t manage mental health, they’re not therapists or case workers. But there is a mental health crisis and it’s one of the challenges they face, just like drugs or alcohol or anything else. If you’ve been following this race, you’ll see it’s an issue that comes up fairly often. That’s why we asked about it.