VIOLENT CRIME IS DECREASING IN MINNESOTA, but politicians know voter perceptions about crime are what matter. According to the Department of Public Safety, violent crimes increased in Minnesota throughout the first half of the decade. However, from 1996 to 1997, violent offenses declined 4 percent, and homicides alone dropped 28 percent. Doug Johnson and his fellow candidates have made fighting crime a priority in their campaigns. Johnson says if elected, he'd spend up to $50 million every two years on jails and prisons.
Johnson: These folks that are taking over our neighborhoods, particularly in Minneapolis, these thugs that are selling drugs, we have to get tougher with them, and if that means increasing penalties, if the state has to provide assistance for more prisons to get these people off the street, I'm not afraid to back off from that.
A state senator from the Iron Range may not be best equipped to deal with Minneapolis drug dealers. To bolster his crime-fighting image, Johnson has picked Washington County Attorney Tom Foley as his running mate. Foley also spent 16 years as Ramsey County Attorney. Johnson says he favors mandatory life sentences for all first-degree murder convictions. He says guilty verdicts by reason of mental illness would not preclude a full sentence.
Johnson has staked out the strongest position of any candidate on concealed weapons. He is the only DFLer who favors concealed weapons permits, and his support goes beyond Norm Coleman's stance that people should have to show they're in danger in order to receive one. Johnson says most law-abiding adults should be able to obtain them. He supports the proposal currently before the Legislature.
Johnson: What that bill does is requires someone to have an intensive training program so they know how to properly use firearms, and requires them to have a clean record in terms of crime. A number of my colleagues in the Legislature - women - support this bill because of the violence that's going on in our society today.
Johnson says the justice system is equipped to handle people who commit crimes with guns, but too often those people are released through plea bargains.
Johnson: I'm going to get tougher on criminals who use guns, not on good law-abiding citizens. Again, for those who aren't sure, it sounds kind of scary, like everyone's going to be carrying a concealed weapon. I'm telling my opponents and Minnesotans, "Read the bill." It's a well-drafted bill, there's 30 - 40 states where it's law, and there's no evidence of any problem.
But Johnson does not want to see concealed weapons in public schools. He says a key part of his crime and education platforms is countering guns and drugs in school.
Johnson: I advocate, on a random basis, using drug-sniffing dogs and metal detectors, so the 99 percent of kids that go to school to learn and don't want to deal in drugs and weapons, so they're safe.
Johnson says if he's elected, his wife Denise hopes to address domestic abuse and getting abused children out of their homes more quickly. And he says one of his first acts as governor would be to chair a statewide crime summit. True to form, he manages to work a fishing metaphor even into his discussions of crime, decrying liberal sentencing policies as "catch and release."