Hutchinson's guarantee: Why does Minnesota law give disgraced elected officials their old jobs back?

No matter how much trouble he got into, former Hennepin County Sheriff Dave Hutchinson had a six-figure job waiting for him after he left the sheriff's office thanks to Minnesota law.

That 1977 law guarantees city and county elected officials the public-sector jobs they left after winning office, like Hutchinson's position as Metro Transit Police sergeant. It forces employers to bring the politician back at the same pay and seniority as he or she left. Hutchinson actually got a raise, to $114,000, because of a union agreement while he was away, though he's now on administrative leave because of an internal complaint.

This week, Republican state Sen. Warren Limmer said he would introduce legislation softening up the ironclad guarantee that Hutchinson benefited from.

"There should be some type of review or reapplication. Your job should not be absolutely guaranteed to have again once you leave public office," Limmer, R-Maple Grove, said in an interview. "That doesn’t happen anywhere except government, and I think that’s wrong."

The 1977 law

So why does Minnesota have a law that guarantees employment for former politicians? The answer required trips to two libraries on Friday because legislative records from the 1970s exist only on paper.

The story starts in 1974,when lawmakers gave themselves a special perk that allowed them to get their public- or private-sector jobs back after leaving the Legislature. That measure also guaranteed employment for three years, during which time an employer couldn't fire the former politician except for cause. There wasn't much naysaying: the House passed the bill, 114-8, and the Senate approved it unanimously.

Three years later, it seems local officials asked for a similar perk -- and lawmakers were feeling generous. Committee meeting minutes from the era weren't detailed, but those that exist reflect how supporters made a parity argument between lawmakers and local officials.

Ultimately, the Legislature added city and county officials but gave them a smaller guarantee: only if they came from government jobs could they get their old gig back automatically.

State Sen. Jerome Hughes was the chief author of the 1977 legislation. Hughes, who went on to become president of the Senate, was a public school teacher. But it doesn't appear Hughes benefited from the law he wrote because he didn't run for city or county office. Hughes died in 2015.

The 1977 law passed with only slightly more opposition than the earlier 1974 measure. The vote was 125-1 in the House and 41-18 in the Senate. Neither the votes nor Gov. Rudy Perpich's signature attracted press coverage because the end of that year's session was dominated by other issues, according to news reports from the era held at the Legislative Reference Library in St. Paul.

It's not clear how intense the lobbying was. No audio exists of committee hearings prior to 1991, so there's no record of testimony for or against the bill.

Hutchinson's benefit

Hutchinson returned to Metro Transit Police on Jan. 2 but immediately went on administrative leave because of an internal complaint that stems from his behavior as sheriff, FOX 9 reported this week.

Hutchinson was censured by the Hennepin County Board after an outside investigation found he harassed and bullied coworkers. The state police standards board suspended his law enforcement license after a high-speed drunk driving crash in December 2021. He didn't run for re-election in 2022.

Without the 1977 law, it seems unlikely that Metro Transit would've re-hired Hutchinson. Sources within the agency told FOX 9's Tom Lyden this week that people were "furious" about the requirement.