TO TED MONDALE, THE UPSURGE IN VIOLENT crime in the early 90s marked the end of an era of liberal-minded innocence in Minnesota.
Mondale: We had the model system. We had the lowest rates of crime, we had the lowest cost per inmate, we had the lowest rates of recidivism - people going out and in of jail. The world has changed. And crime now goes where real enforcement is lax.
Mondale says the criminal justice system in Minnesota lets too many suspects back out on the street without a trial and without serving time. He says he doesn't blame prosecutors or judges for this. Instead, he holds everyone responsible for what he considers an outdated mentality.
Mondale: We're still working under that old theory that you let these hardened criminals out on the street, and that's okay. That's wrong. We need a total new approach to crime and violence. We need to put career criminals in jail. They need to do time if they sell drugs. We need to focus on youth; get guns out of the hands of kids and gang members and repeat felons. Police need the technology to do a better job to solve the crimes, and prosecutors as well. There's a whole host of things we need to do differently.
But in the past 10 years, Minnesota has been doing things differently. Every year, lawmakers come up with new anti-crime initiatives, new anti-gang laws and tougher sentences for violent crimes. Mondale says the problem with the state's reaction to crime is that it's been too scattershot.
Mondale: We have 24 different state programs going on at once. Nobody is overseeing them. Nobody is saying what's working and what's not working. So one of the things I want to do is promote someone, create someone, who reports directly to me that's going to oversee all of these policies, looks at the bigger picture, and puts investments in the places that work. The bottom line is, we're gonna be - I'm gonna be accountable.
Mondale tempers his law-and-order stance with some traces of more traditional liberal Democratic thought. He says he considers violent crime a public health problem, and for that reason he thinks the state should spend some of its $6 billion tobacco settlement on crime prevention programs. He also says his plan to provide scholarships to high school graduates would do a lot to keep kids from embarking on lives of crime. And he's dead-set against the Republican proposal to allow law-abiding adults to carry concealed weapons for self-defense; an idea he calls crazy.
Mondale: Go talk to shop owners, and see if he or she wants half the people in the store to have guns. It's not something we need here. You know what it is, it's a way to get the National Rifle Association's red-hot support, and I don't think anybody in their right mind could really argue that this makes a lot of sense.
But in general Mondale parts company with his party, especially the urban-liberal wing, on issues of crime and punishment. He says Minnesota has already failed once under the old liberal approach to criminals. With another demographic surge of crime-prone teenagers predicted for the next few years, Mondale warns that Minnesota may soon fail again and perhaps more dramatically than the failure of the early 90s. The only remedy, he says, is to get a lot tougher now with prevention and punishment.