Amy Klobuchar’s ‘Tough-on-Crime’ Prosecutor Past Could Sting During Primaries

Klobuchar's time as head prosecutor of Hennepin County could hurt standing with Democratic base

Amy Klobuchar / Getty Images

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Sen. Amy Klobuchar's (D., Minn.) tenure as a "tough-on-crime" prosecutor may prove a problem and could damage her standing among progressives during the Democratic primaries.

Klobuchar, who entered the crowded field for the Democratic nomination on Sunday, began her foray into politics in 1998 when she was elected Hennepin County attorney, a position to which she was reelected in 2002 and held until winning her U.S. Senate seat in 2006.

As the head prosecutor in Hennepin County, Klobuchar took a tough-on-crime approach that was prevalent at the time but is now viewed as draconian by her party's base.

Klobuchar's prosecutor past has already come under scrutiny in the days following her presidential announcement, as many see the actions adopted by Klobuchar and others during this time as being a driver behind the likes of overcrowded prison populations and the incarceration of more African Americans.

The Daily Beast reported this week that while some with knowledge of Klobuchar's time as a prosecutor viewed her as effective due to decreased crime in the county, others view the Minnesota senator's time in the position as having an adverse effect on black communities.

"People are going to say she did a great job, but I do think she had a blind side to racial disparity types of issues," David Schultz, a law professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law, told the publication. "There's nothing to indicate to me that when Klobuchar was in office, she particularly was paying attention to these issues of racial disparities."

Experts added that Klobuchar pushed the "tough-on-crime" approach as "aggressively" as any prosecutor, and the rates at which drug dealers were sent to prison doubled during her first year as attorney.

Klobuchar also began prosecuting more crimes as felonies while serving as attorney, the Daily Beast noted.

As part of a "livability" initiative, Klobuchar set up a task force to crack down on graffiti and other issues in the county that led to dozens of people being hit with felony charges. Most of the individuals who were prosecuted were minors and the sentences that came along with the crime could carry years in prison.

Klobuchar was a leading advocate for a 2001 DWI bill in the Minnesota state legislature that became law and made drunk driving a felony in the state.

Fifteen years later, an analysis found that the law had increased the prison population more than any law in the state since the early 1990's. Between 1992 and 2016, the number of people in prison grew by more than 150 percent.

Twenty-three percent of those in Minnesota prisons in 2004 were locked up because of drug infractions, an increase of 14 percent since 1990. This led some in the state to become concerned that policies advocated by individuals like Klobuchar were zeroing in too much on drug-related crimes.

Additionally, the number of criminal trials in the Hennepin County ultimately increased by 50 percent throughout Klobuchar's tenure as attorney, according to the Minnesota Post.

The Week later noted that both Klobuchar and Sen. Kamala Harris (D., Calif.) now face a Democratic electorate that has "tired" on the War on Drugs and is concerned about over-incarceration.

"Like California Sen. Kamala Harris, another former prosecutor running for the Democratic nomination, Klobuchar built her early political reputation as an aggressive prosecutor," the Week reported. "Now Klobuchar and Harris face a primary electorate that has tired of the War on Drugs and is worried about the effect of over-incarceration—a late 2018 poll suggests 87 percent of Democrats support a reduction in the prison population."

Harris has attempted to rebrand herself as a "progressive" prosecutor but has since faced criticism for doing so given her past actions.

Harris recently came out in support of marijuana legalization, despite years of opposition, and admitted past use.

However, during her time as attorney general in California, prisons were packed with individuals prosecuted for marijuana-related offenses, the Washington Free Beacon reported Thursday.

Like Harris, Klobuchar also recently changed her tone and has advocated for criminal justice reform and has said that there is racism in the system that needs to be addressed.

Klubuchar's campaign did not respond to an inquiry on her time as the Hennepin County attorney by press time.

Joe Schoffstall   Email Joe | Full Bio | RSS
Joe Schoffstall is a staff writer for the Washington Free Beacon. Previously, he spent three years with the Media Research Center and was most recently with the Capitol City Project. He can be reached at Schoffstall@freebeacon.com. His Twitter handle is @JoeSchoffstall.

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