"After many conversations, I have concluded that Amendment #2 does not address the core public safety challenges we face, and may well move us in the wrong direction," Smith said in a statement Tuesday, Oct. 19.
If Minneapolis voters approve the measure in the city's Nov. 2 election, the city could replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a new public safety agency. Fellow Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who, like Smith, lives in Minneapolis, opposes the ballot question along with DFL Gov. Tim Walz. But Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, two Democrats who both live in the city, are openly backing the measure.
"With the murder of George Floyd, Minneapolis became the epicenter of a global reckoning around racial justice and police brutality," Smith said. "People need to make up their own minds about the best way forward, and we must engage in deep discussion and action to transform policing and public safety. The status quo is unacceptable."
TakeAction Minnesota, a statewide progressive group that supports the measure, expressed disappointment in Smith's stance.
"This Election Day, we have a choice: we can vote to uphold the status quo elected leaders say is 'unacceptable,' or we can vote to transform and expand public safety with more public oversight," the group said in its statement. "Upholding the status quo is not a plan."
Republicans are harshly critical of the ballot question. The GOP mounted national attacks against Democrats during the 2020 election over the "defund the police" slogan and appears primed to do so again in the 2022 midterm campaign. Supporters of the Minneapolis measure counter that it isn't an effort to defund the police and would bring needed change to the city.
For weeks, Smith was the top Minnesota elected official who had yet to take a public stance. After Klobuchar and Walz made their opposition to the measure clear in August, Smith said in a statement at the time that "systemic challenges with policing and public safety in Minneapolis are long standing and must be addressed." While Smith said she didn't support defunding the police, she emphasized that policing needed to be reformed.
Smith's announcement comes just two weeks before Election Day. In her statement, Smith said she "wrestled" with her vote on the question.
"While there is much I agree with in the Amendment, one component poses an insurmountable problem -- the requirement that the new Department of Public Safety report to both the Mayor and the City Council," Smith said.
She cited her own background in local government, working as chief of staff for then-Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak. Smith said her City Hall experience "tells me that this change will exacerbate what is a deeply flawed city governance structure, where accountability, authority and lines of responsibility between the Mayor and City Council are diffused and dysfunctional."
"I believe imposing this dysfunctional structure for public safety would likely have a negative effect on public safety and the operations of the police department," Smith said.
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