Editor’s note: Welcome back to Capitol Retort, our weekly review of issues in state and national news, with input from a rotating cast of local characters.
Answers have been edited for length and clarity, but not unity. Any instances of agreement are accidental. Our respondents are comfortable sounding-off in any way, and about anything, and this is no place for them to stop.
Question 1: Gov. Dayton and House Speaker Daudt have exchanged letters about Syrians coming to Minnesota. If you were to write a letter about refugees from Syria, what would you say?
Ryan Winkler, former DFL legislator: My take is that turning refugees and terrorism into a political gotcha game is exactly what ISIS wants us to do.
Amy Koch, former Senate majority leader: America has a tradition of bringing in refugees from all over the globe, and that’s important because we are a beacon of hope for the whole world. Minnesota in particular has a strong tradition of that. But we also have to be very mindful of protecting the citizens here. I don’t think it helps to have back-and-forth arguments. I don’t think it’s helpful for the governor to stand up and say, this is what we’re doing and if you don’t like it, leave Minnesota. I don’t think any of that hyperbolic rhetoric is helpful.
Javier Morillo, president, SEIU Local 26: The people fleeing Syria are fleeing ISIS, so we should perhaps be more understanding.
Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston: What I would be looking at is, are they being vetted properly? That’s my biggest concern with any refugee from any country — what kind of vetting is there? Some of the problems they had in France … one of the [terrorists] came through as a refugee. So you have to be very careful. I think it’s very unfortunate, the rhetoric that the president is using, saying, “Are you scared of 3-year-olds?” That is just unconscionable rhetoric on this issue.
Question 2: Gov. Dayton floated the idea of a special session to extend unemployment benefits on the Iron Range. Senate Majority Leader Bakk said he’d add economic challenges facing black Minnesotans and the Real ID problem. House Speaker Daudt wanted assurances on the PolyMet mine and Sandpiper pipeline projects and suggested adding Syrian refugees. Would you like to see a special session and, if so, what issues would you add or subtract?
Winkler: Fixing an unemployment problem for one group of workers can take one day. If we begin to address the multiple challenges communities of color in Minnesota and think that we can do that in one day, we are very mistaken. It’s a long-term, systemic effort. Speaker Daudt is obviously playing more political games, and very little that he has said publicly in recent weeks is serious. He seems to be taking his inspiration from the clown-show Republican presidential candidates.
Koch: These are important issues. They have to decide what can be handled administratively, within the existing resources we have. If you’re going to actually deal with the income equality, that’s great, but what’s your solution, Sen. Bakk? Just extending unemployment benefits is not a solution. That’s good for you to say that, but what exactly are you introducing as a bill? The achievement gap is the real problem. They have to decide what can be dealt with now, and what can be dealt with in the upcoming session. Don’t just throw around platitudes. Have concrete plans.
Morillo: I have a long Christmas list.
Davids: I think they’re all very important issues. The income equality for blacks — I’m not sure what the approach is there. I’ve got a great approach for helping out black Minnesotans: Let’s cut the income tax rates. And let people — black, white, red or yellow — let them keep their own money. That’s how we could help all populations. I’m not sure what the proposals are for the black Minnesotans. I thought we were all Minnesotans. It’s unfortunate that we feel we have to split people apart.
Question 3: Minneapolis is in the international spotlight as Black Lives Matter protests continue over the fatal police shooting of Jamar Clark. What should happen next?
Winkler: I hope that calm and dispassionate conversation happen next. We all believe in due process of law, and that means lawful investigation of a shooting. We also have to respect due process and the constitutional right to protest. And without question communities of color in Minnesota have a lot that they can be protesting for and changes that we all think would make our state more just and fair. And we have to respect their right to peaceably assemble and make their voices heard. It is a shame that in Minnesota we can’t have due process of law for an investigation and peaceably assemble without seeing SWAT teams involved.
Koch: I think that all the leadership from Black Lives Matter, the mayor’s office, and law enforcement need to sit down and have very substantive, difficult conversations about what’s going on. Tensions are incredibly high, people are potentially getting hurt, there’s destruction of property. Everybody needs to be involved in the discussion. There are some very real concerns. There are some very real concerned citizens. There are security and safety concerns that need to be addressed. I don’t understand — it doesn’t seem like folks are coming to the table. The next step? Why aren’t you talking more?
Morillo: The BCA [Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension] should release the tapes.
Davids: First of all we have to properly investigate what actually happened. There are laws in place to take care of whatever situation occurs. I am disturbed by people blocking highways. I think that’s extremely unsafe and illegal. Law enforcement needs to step up and make sure that those areas are cleared out where people are trying to do that. It’s a public safety issue. People can get hurt. And why they are so interested in putting people at risk is far beyond me.
Question 4: In the last week, Rep. Ann Lenczewski and Sen. Barb Goodwin have announced they’ll leave the Legislature. Thoughts on that?
Winkler: They joined a special circle of quitters and will never look back, I’m sure.
Koch: Time in the private sector, whether it’s working for a company or sitting behind the bar at a bowling alley, is good for legislators. It’s good to get out of the bubble and hear what folks have to say. Good luck to all of them. Good luck to anybody leaving.
Morillo: On Ann Lenczewski’s departure, since she’s leaving mid-biennium, she’ll now get to lobby on bills that she actually helped to write. It’s all very meta. She wrote the tax bill. They never passed it. Now she gets to come lobby on it. How post-modern.
Davids: I wish Barb and Ann only the best. I served with both. Ann’s forgotten more about taxes than I’ll ever know. She had something around that place that everybody from both sides of the aisle strives for, and that’s respect. We were alternating tax chairs, if you will, over the last how many years. She’s very knowledgeable, and if you’re going to debate her on the House floor, you had better be prepared. You’d better do your homework the night before, or you weren’t going to do well.