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: What should Minnesota politicians say or do about Donald Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims entering the country; or about the number of Minnesotans arrested on terrorism charges growing to 10?
Nekima Levy-Pounds, president, Minneapolis NAACP: They should denounce Trump’s plan because it is offensive. Especially since we have a large Muslim and Somali population. We do not tolerate bigotry in any other form. Christian white men have engaged in terrorism on U.S. soil, yet no plan has ever been devised or articulated to remove them from the country or screen them in a discriminatory manner.
Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston: We have to be very vigilant. It’s concerning to see reports that the president is letting in unscreened refugees, if ISIS were to infiltrate those refugees. In the 1970s during the Iranian hostage crisis, President Carter put sanctions on Iranians, so there is some precedent for what Donald Trump is doing. He’s gone too far. You don’t go after an entire religion. You fight those that have been radicalized.
Ryan Winkler, former DFL legislator: Politicians should be very careful about what they say regarding religious groups who can be persecuted. Trump is unleashing a form of hate that is hurtful to people, can lead to violence and makes our country look awful. Minnesota politicians should not engage with the dark angel of Donald Trump. We need to be vigilant about the potential jihadist terrorist threat. We need to work with the Muslim community and Somali communities to do everything we can to de-radicalize anybody heading down that path to stop it. Without their engagement, we cannot dent the problem. A crusader-like, us-versus-them hysteria makes it that much more difficult. Trumpism is a far greater national security threat than millions of peace-loving Muslims.
Amy Koch, former Senate majority leader: People are not comfortable with the calling out of a religion. It doesn’t feel American or Minnesotan. But they have concerns the federal government is not doing enough about keeping people safe. What he’s saying, while it is extreme, most people I talk to, they say I’m scared about what’s going to happen. Then the arrest down in Eagan and you have to say, I understand your concern. The balance is not being struck.
Question 2. What lessons should we learn from the University of Minnesota athletic department audit and sexual harassment investigation released this week?
Levy-Pounds: It is shining a light on the fact that sexual harassment and discrimination is still a major problem, particularly in athletics. We need to take urgent steps to address those concerns and ensure that policies that are in place are enforced.
Davids: We’ll see how the regents react to it. If the Legislature isn’t satisfied with the regents’ reaction, the higher ed committee could take action and bring it before the Legislature. I will be digging into these reports because it sounds like there were serious allegations.
Winkler: Sexual harassment may not have been pervasive and rampant but what was pervasive and rampant was spending on luxury boxes, tickets, limo rides and private planes for those personnel. They’re public employees and the U of M has been identified as one of the universities with the highest administrative expenses in the country, and this report shows that that report in the Wall Street Journal was true. The U of M is continuing to hide from its own culture of high spending and administrative bloat. Higher education in general is a place for highly paid professionals to come in, make a lot of money and have somebody else pay for it. They need to have a complete culture change, top to bottom.
Koch: There’s a lot of work that needs to be done at the U of M. There’s a lot of things that are coming to light that they need to deal with.
Question 3. In St. Paul, teachers are ready to strike over assaults by students. In Minneapolis the new superintendent is facing questions about teachers abusing students in his old district. What should we do about violence in our schools?
Levy-Pounds: Violence in our schools is a microcosm of violence in our larger society. We need to take steps to safeguard both teachers and students. We need to look at the issues on an individual basis as opposed to painting students and teachers with a broad brush. I find it interesting that discussions are rarely about students who are abused in school settings or violently restrained, or that students of color in particular often have negative and sometimes demeaning encounters with school resource officers. There have been videotaped incidents of teachers or police officers abusing students. We need to teach mutual respect.
Davids: When I was in school in the ‘60s and ‘70s, this was unheard of. You had tremendous respect for the teachers and maybe even a little fear. Today the tide has turned. We need to instill respect in our children for our educators. Now if a teacher tries to discipline a student, the parents call Larry the Lawyer. We need to work at the family level to make our children understand teachers are important and acting out is not appropriate. I had wonderful teachers but I didn’t mess with them. If I did my mother would find out and it would be game over for me.
Winkler: Violence has no place in school, and the policy to try to slow suspensions and stop expulsions is sensible in many ways, but when it comes to actual violence, one person to another, school should not be a place for that. It takes thoughtful discussion. Teachers aren’t supposed to get a traumatic brain injury from a student.
Koch: I’m concerned about all of that, and about the results that we’re getting in the Minneapolis and St. Paul schools, with low graduation rates and minority students being left behind. It comes to a question of leadership. This anger and violence is like the result of years of people not doing their job. Kids didn’t just get violent — there has been a degrading of discipline and expectations. We have got to demand excellence.
Question 4. It’s looking like a record warm December. How are you coping?
Levy-Pounds: I am ecstatic. It is warm for once in the month of December. I haven’t had to shovel and I can still wear my light leather jacket.
Davids: When it’s 40 degrees in December, that’s a good thing. Like the old song goes, too much of a good thing is a good thing. Sure saves on the heating bills and it’s cutting down on the cold and flu season.
Winkler: Easy for me to say since I’m not there right now, but I actually like Minnesota winters. I think they’re supposed to be cold. When you consider what you know about the planet’s climate, it’s unsettling to have warm Decembers, even if this not a global warming event. It’s a Garrison Keillor kind of thing: You can’t truly enjoy the warm weather because you know there’s a price to be paid.
Koch: I’m waterskiing. Well not quite, but a couple winters ago it was deep and long. This is a bit of a respite. It’s strange.