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Capitol Retort: Columbus’ return; riot oversight; mask mandate

Kevin Featherly//July 8, 2020

Capitol Retort: Columbus’ return; riot oversight; mask mandate

Kevin Featherly//July 8, 2020

Question 1: Two GOP Senate committee chairs—Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, and Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria—have written the state Historical Society essentially demanding that the toppled Christopher Columbus statute be restored to its Capitol pedestal. Are you on their side when it comes to that question?

John Lesch, attorney, House Judiciary chair: That’s a little goofy. No. It has been objected to in the past and nothing ever happened. So now I think the shoe is on the other foot in a sense. The statue should probably stay right where it is right now, and we could find a better use for that space.

Fritz Knaak, attorney, former GOP state senator: On that one, yeah, I am. It’s not so much the argument about what Christopher Columbus did or did not do. It’s the way it was taken down. I think a valid argument can be made to take it down. At some point, a valid argument was made to put the thing up, though I always thought it was odd, to be honest, that Christopher Columbus was over there—we don’t have a big population of Italians in this state. But you know, you don’t just get to take it down.

Melisa Franzen, attorney, DFL state senator: Heck no! [Laughs.] Taking how it came to be out of the equation, I just don’t think we need to put it back up and risk any controversy over it. If anything, it belongs in a museum.

Rob Doar, political director, Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus: I don’t know that it needs to be restored. But there needs to be some sort of a process followed; it can’t just come down because of mob rule. But we also can’t ignore the voices of people who want to be heard about their thoughts on the statue.

David Schultz, attorney, Hamline University political science professor: No, I’m not. Had the authorities prevented the Columbus statue from coming down, or had they arrested people at the time when it was coming down, it should’ve stayed up. But at this point, it’s down and it’s probably time to move on.

George Floyd Minnesota Legislature
Video of the rioting, looting and arson is shown to lawmakers July 1 in St. Paul during a hearing on the unrest after the death of George Floyd in police custody. (AP photo: Jim Mone)

Question 2: During a joint hearing of the Senate Transportation and Public Safety committees last week examining sources of the rioting that damaged and destroyed more than 1,000 businesses a few weeks ago, a question was raised: Why is Transportation leading this discussion? The answer was that the State Patrol and Capitol Security fall within that committee’s jurisdiction. Is that explanation good enough for you?

Lesch: It’s a little thin. I think it’s probably the tail wagging the dog a bit. There were multiple sites that they had objected to, regarding what they characterized as looting. And none of them were at the Capitol. The videos that I saw during that hearing were of Lake Street and University—that was all local police jurisdiction, having nothing to do with the State Patrol or Capital Security. So I still don’t get it. [Editor’s note: The video that Rep. Lesch refers to is a video montage, produced by the Senate GOP caucus, of contemporaneous TV news coverage of the rioting. The montage was shown to oversight committee members at the beginning of last week’s hearing.]

Knaak: In the weird way that the Senate works, it does make sense. The State Patrol is actually in the Transportation budget. So you show up as you have to. It seems strange that State Troopers are actually trained for rioting, but they are, and that’s part of the expense and the damages generally. They need to do the hearings in that way, in terms of what it is that this actually cost the state, because for reasons of future precedent, you have to have you have to make some kind of a record here that shows why these circumstances are peculiar enough and unique enough that it’s worth the state’s money to invest hundreds of million in that. And then also to ask, OK, what can we do to prevent this from happening in the future? So that is a valid basis for looking at that that whole issue. And that has been the focus on the Senate side.

Franzen: No. It’s awkward, weird. I’m glad I was part of the discussion, but I truly believe it should have been the Economic Development and Public Safety/Judiciary committees, rather than Transportation. I think those are the more common-sense locations where this discussion belongs. [Editor’s note: Sen. Franzen is a DFL member of the Senate Transportation committee.]

Doar: No. I feel like the Commerce and Public Safety committees would have been a far better tag team than Transportation and Public Safety.

Schultz: No, it’s seems to me a tenuous connection. Even though it’s a joint committee, it should be Public Safety driving it. To the extent that it involves transportation—if, in fact, mass transit was used for criminal purposes—maybe the Transportation committee is brought in. But still, this ought to be Public Safety. Otherwise, it sounds like the wrong committee with possibly the wrong agenda and wrong motives for why they are doing this.

Question 3: Public health officials and clinicians reportedly have pressured the governor to mandate face masks in public. If that happens, how do you think you’ll respond?

Lesch: Well, I’ll probably wear a face mask in public. This has been amazing, conservatives uniformly objecting to precautions and [personal protective equipment] over the past couple of months, saying everything is fine. Then you see the rate of increased infections in the United States compared to everywhere else that is using masks. I just can’t figure out how the heck they’re going to justify this in the long run. If the public health officials—the experts—say it’s time for people to be masking up, I think that probably makes a lot of sense.

Knaak: I already wear one. I think people that don’t wear masks are rude, that’s what it really comes down to.

Franzen: I’m completely on board. I’m wearing a mask right now.

Doar: I am actually a volunteer EMT, so I know what masks do and what masks don’t do. I think there are a lot of misconceptions by proponents and opponents of masks, about the efficacy of them. That being said, I am in strong favor of letting individual localities—cities and counties—as well as individual businesses establish their policies, rather than the governor doing something for the whole state.

Schultz: For years, people have told me I should probably wear a bag on my head anyhow, or a face mask. So maybe this is a good idea.

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