The Potluck

Gazelka calls for tougher penalties for ‘young hardened criminals’

By: - January 14, 2022 12:35 pm

Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, will be vying for the GOP endorsement this weekend in Rochester. Photo by Ricardo Lopez/Minnesota Reformer

Minnesota Republicans previewed their tough-on-crime legislative agenda on Friday, with one state lawmaker and GOP gubernatorial contender calling for mandatory minimum sentences for those accused of carjacking. 

State Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said he planned to introduce two bills once the legislative session starts on Jan. 31. One would create minimum sentences for carjacking that ranges from 2 years to 6 years, depending on whether a weapon is used or bodily harm results. 

“We have a record number of carjackings,” Gazelka said. “It’s out of control.”

Gazelka said he also plans to introduce legislation to ban judges from waiving mandatory minimum sentences for repeat criminal offenders who commit crimes with firearms. He also said he wants to introduce legislation for sign-on bonuses for police officers, noting the low staffing levels for the Minneapolis Police Department. 

Gazelka is running for the GOP nomination for governor. Last fall, he resigned his position as Senate majority leader but has said he plans to work on legislation in his final session that he believes can pass in a divided Legislature. 

State Rep. Brian Johnson, R-Cambridge, joined Gazelka for the news conference and said he would support the legislation. He blamed the rise in violent crime on rhetoric critical of police and blamed Democratic elected officials who run the Twin Cities.

Gazelka also criticized the leadership of Gov. Tim Walz amid the rise in carjackings. Some carjacking suspects are teenagers, he noted. 

“Instead of learning math and science and social studies, they’re learning to become hardened criminals,” Gazelka said. “In Tim Walz’s Minnesota, there are now too many young hardened criminals terrorizing and victimizing residents of the core cities and suburbs. These children of Tim Walz must be dealt with, which is why I support 16- and 17-year-old carjackers being prosecuted.”

Asked to clarify, Gazelka said he doesn’t “necessarily” believe all teenaged offenders should be prosecuted as adults but it should be an option.  

Minnesota law already allows for such prosecutions of minors aged 14 to 17 who commit certain felonies.

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Ricardo Lopez
Ricardo Lopez

Ricardo Lopez was a senior political reporter for the Reformer. Ricardo is not new to Minnesota politics, previously reporting on the Dayton administration and statehouse for The Star Tribune from 2014 to 2017, and the Republican National Convention in 2016. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Los Angeles Times covering the California economy. He's a Las Vegas native who has adopted Minnesota as his home state. In his spare time, he likes to run, cook and volunteer with Save-a-Bull, a Minneapolis dog rescue group.