State rep who called black judge a racial slur to run for Hennepin County attorney

Winkler plans to bring "progressive leadership" to Hennepin County.

Rep. Ryan Winkler gives the middle finger to his Republican colleagues during a press conference at the State Capitol. (Facebook screenshot)

House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, announced his bid to replace Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman this week.

Freeman announced last month that he won’t seek reelection in 2022 after 24 years as county attorney. The experienced prosecutor has faced criticism from progressives for his decision to not charge the Minneapolis police officers who shot Jamar Clark.

However, Winkler has a controversial history of his own. He gave the middle finger to former Republican lawmaker Scott Jensen during a press conference in April 2020.

He also tweeted out a racial slur in 2013 against the only African American Supreme Court justice, Clarence Thomas, after the court voted 5-4 to void a part of the Voting Rights Act.

“VRA majority is four accomplices to race discrimination and one Uncle Thomas,” Winkler wrote on Twitter.

He then falsely accused a truck driver of being a white supremacist and “intentionally” targeting protesters during last year’s George Floyd riots. The claim was so egregious that it prompted a rebuke from Democratic Gov. Tim Walz.

Winkler said he will bring “progressive leadership” to Hennepin County by way of “police accountability and criminal justice reform.” He recognizes that “violent crime has increased” in Hennepin County but believes that “too many leaders are still focused on outdated approaches or political infighting” as the solution.

Winkler has long been an advocate for legalizing marijuana in the state of Minnesota, arguing that prohibition has “consequences for public health.” He also supports a “criminal expungement policy for non-violent cannabis offenders.”

His “criminal justice reform” agenda also extends to illegal immigration. On his campaign website, he cites his past support for “bills that would allow undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses” and says he intends to offer plea agreements to non-violent offenders to help them “avoid deportation.”

Winkler’s legislative history includes supporting an increase to the minimum wage, preventing states and counties from working with private prisons, and introducing the Paid Family Leave Act.

Winkler was endorsed in 2020 by Protect Minnesota, a group that calls gun violence a “public health issue” and helped raise money to send Minnesota students to the annual “March For Our Lives” demonstration in Washington. “We also need laws that will help keep guns off our streets,” Winkler tweeted this month. He supports red flag legislation.

Also running for Hennepin County attorney is Mary Moriarty, the first woman to lead the Hennepin County Public Defender’s Office in 2014. “Racial justice, equity, and reform in the system are so important to me,” Moriarty states on her campaign website.


Megan Olson

Megan Olson is a 2020 graduate of the University of Minnesota with degrees in political science and history. She works in public affairs in addition to serving on the Legislative Advisory Council for School District 196. She is also on the school board for FIT academy, a charter school in Apple Valley.