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DFL-endorsed Mark Haase received 45.41 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s election. (Staff photo: Kevin Featherly)
DFL-endorsed Mark Haase received 45.41 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s election. (Staff photo: Kevin Featherly)

Bar Buzz: Upstart shows strong in Hennepin County attorney race

Incumbent County Attorney Mike Freeman won the election with 53.98 percent of the vote. (AP file photo)

Incumbent County Attorney Mike Freeman won the election with 53.98 percent of the vote. (AP file photo)

Despite his strong showing against a formidable incumbent Tuesday, Mark Haase came away a little disappointed in his Hennepin County attorney race results.

Haase, the DFL-endorsed candidate, received 229,879 votes Tuesday, according to the Secretary of State’s office. That equates to 45.41 percent of the vote.

Incumbent County Attorney Mike Freeman won the election—which posed his first electoral challenge in 12 years—with 273,260 votes. That’s a 53.98 percent total.

Haase thought he would fare better. “I was actually a little surprised because of every conversation I had across the county,” he said. “There is a really broad and deep desire to change our justice system.”

Haase is the attorney who co-founded the liberal Minnesota Second Chance Coalition, a group that hopes to restore felons’ voting rights after they are released from prison.

Late Tuesday, Haase said it proved difficult to get his message out to a critical mass of voters, and he found many were uninterested in the down-ballot race.

He said his campaign workers knocked on 3,000 doors on Election Day, only to find that many people weren’t sure they would vote for county attorney. Others said they had already voted, but skipped that line on their ballot.

Nonetheless, Haase thinks his justice-reform message has staying power.

“It’s clear to me that people see that the justice system, in many ways, is not fair and it’s not effective,” he said. “I think this campaign is going to bring a heightened scrutiny in our system and the leadership in that system.”

Freeman’s victory follows a rough couple of years that have involved difficult charging decision in high-profile police shootings. But David Schultz, the Hamline University political science professor and attorney, said that despite those difficulties—and despite Freeman’s lack of support among progressives—the incumbent’s victory is no surprise.

“He is still part of an establishment DFL in Minnesota and he has a very long-lineage name,” Schultz said. “I think that still carried the weight for him.”

Schultz speculated that the 2018 race might be Freeman’s last. That’s partly because of his age—Freeman turned 70 on May 7. But it’s also because the county attorney’s base of old-line DFL support, built up during days when the Freeman name carried similar clout to names like Mondale and Humphrey, is slowly dying off.

“The new generation doesn’t really know who he is and in another four years the number of old line Democrats is going to decrease even more,” Schultz said. “I just don’t think he is going to have that base in four years.”

In an email to Minnesota Lawyer, Freeman said, “First, it’s way too early to make any decisions about four years from now. Right now, I am concentrating on doing a good job of protecting public safety and looking for innovative ideas to make the criminal justice system more fair for everyone.

“I complimented Mr. Haase for running a positive campaign centered on a debate over ideas on how to improve the criminal justice system. I think I’ll be a better county attorney for having run again and against an opponent.

“I have established many strong relationships throughout the county. I think I developed those relationships over a long period of time. So when the left wing came in and tried to beat me up, I think people said, ‘that doesn’t sound like Freeman. We know him. We’ve seen him. We’ve talked to him.’”

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