Candidates vie for Hennepin County counsel seat

Coralie Carlson

Despite holding similar views on major issues like gun control and juvenile crime, the two candidates for Hennepin County attorney sparred Thursday over job qualifications and fund-raising techniques.
Candidates Amy Klobuchar and Sheryl Ramstad Hvass debated for an hour in front of about 125 people, mostly law students and faculty, at the Law School. The League of Women Voters and the Law School Council sponsored the debate.
One of the two candidates will fill Mike Freeman’s position as chief prosecutor for the county, heading up the 150-lawyer office that provides public prosecutors for the community.
Klobuchar, 38, is a partner at the law firm Gray Plant Mooty and lives in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood near the University. Endorsed by the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, she said she wants to assign lawyers to specific neighborhoods to work with community groups and police.
Republican-endorsed Ramstad Hvass, 48, graduated from the University in 1972 with a psychology degree. Ramstad Hvass, sister of Rep. Jim Ramstad, R-Minn., worked as a Hennepin county public defender and judge and has experience in the federal and private law arenas. Now a partner at the law firm Rider Bennett Egan & Arundel, she said her law experience makes her the best candidate.
Ramstad Hvass said Klobuchar did not have enough courtroom experience for the job, claiming many new law school graduates have more experience than Klobuchar does now.
Klobuchar denied the attack, pointing out that she worked at the largest law firm in the state as a trial lawyer for five years and she continues to try cases at her current job. In addition, she said her community involvement enhances her qualifications.
“I think it’s important to look beyond the resumÇ,” Klobuchar said, adding that Ramstad Hvass exaggerated her own law experience.
Ramstad Hvass “has stretched her experience longer than that bungee jump cord over at the state fair,” Klobuchar said.
The candidates also slung mud about fund-raising tactics.
Klobuchar proposed setting spending limits for the race, but Ramstad Hvass declined. Ramstad Hvass has raised more than $374,000 in 1998 and Klobuchar has rounded up $182,000 in funding, according to campaign finance reports. Contenders for the Ramsey County attorney collected less than $30,000 each.
“I’m convinced that she’s trying to buy this race by raising more money,” said Klobuchar, who also criticized Ramstad Hvass for accepting donations from criminal defense lawyers — future opponents in the courtroom.
But Ramstad Hvass justified her large budget.
“The county is the size of two congressional districts; it’s expensive to be able to provide the education (about the campaign) to the public,” she said.
Third-year law student Stacy Lynn Bettison said she enjoyed the candidates’ jabs at each other.
“It makes the debate lively,” she said. “They certainly tried to poke holes and I thought that was great.”
Despite the quarrelling, the candidates held similar views on major platform issues.
Both want to reduce the amount of trials plea bargained and bring more of those cases to trial. They both support stringent action on gun control and restructuring the juvenile court system. The candidates also advocate getting tougher on drug offenders and gang members.
Erica Prosser, College of Liberal Arts student, recently volunteered for Klobuchar’s campaign and said she attended the debate to learn about the candidates.
“The smaller races are overlooked,” Prosser said. “Voters don’t know as much as they should about the candidates.”