Question 1: DFLers insist that further police accountability legislation is non-negotiable and a top priority for the session’s closing weeks. Senate Republicans are lukewarm at best, with Majority Leader Paul Gazelka emphasizing different priorities and declining to commit to any policing changes. Will we see any important police reforms in the remaining weeks?
Annette Meeks, CEO, Minnesota Freedom Foundation: No, and I think it’s very unfortunate if they hold up a final budget deal because of this. Better legislation comes from a thoughtful inclusive process, not a hastily crafted, narrowly focused process. I think it would behoove both sides to take a deep breath after May 17 and start putting together a thoughtful process on how to proceed. We’ve had enough chaos in the last year and a half in Minnesota. We don’t need a special session and the angst over a no-budget deal right now.
Corey Day, former state DFL executive director: I think the people have made it very clear that they want to see some type of reform—not just here in Minnesota, but throughout this country. I think after folks watched that [Derek Chauvin] verdict, they’ve made it extremely and abundantly clear that something has change.
Brett Corson, Fillmore County Attorney: I would anticipate that there won’t be in the short term, but there will be in the long term. We’ll just kind of have to go through the laws that we have and see if actually it’s a matter of changing them or just being more effective and in the way we implement existing laws. My position would be that we’ve got everything in place to make sure that we’re fair in our policing and that we treat everybody equally. I’m always opposed to knee-jerk reactions and I think that’s the danger of the approach that the Democrats want to take.
Scott Dibble, DFL state senator: Hope springs eternal. I’m encouraged that the People of Color and Indigenous caucuses of the House and Senate have engaged our DFL leadership and the governor. I and all of their other allies are committed to standing with them, to make sure that reform gets through and is not negotiated as a part of any endgame deal or negotiation. But Gazelka has already broken a major commitment to hold hearings in Senate Judiciary, not more than a week or so after the death of Daunte Wright. And he never loses an opportunity to cynically trade on white fear of urban unrest with very, very cynical and divisive comments on the Senate floor. They’re clearly investing their political future and capital in further dividing Minnesota. So we shall see.
Jeff Hayden, former DFL state senator: I think you will. I think the nexus to this thing is going to be the business community. The Minnesota Business Partnership and a couple of groups that are working on equity with them have sent the legislature a letter really supporting certain policies. I think that is what is going to help us find some more reforms.
Question 2: House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler has been tirelessly trotting his House File 600—an adult-use cannabis bill—through a nearly exhaustive list of legislative committees. It seems highly unlikely his bill will get anywhere this year. Is Winkler laying important groundwork for the future? Or is he blowing smoke?
Meeks: I think Ryan is on something. He is blowing smoke if he thinks this is going to go anywhere this year. The biggest impediment is that he has a really overreaching bill that is just wrought to be picked apart. If it had any serious chance of passing this year, that would be happening. Instead, everybody is kind of humoring him, hearing the bill and moving onto more serious subjects. And I just find it highly ironic that a group that’s trying to ban menthol cigarettes is trying to promote smoking pot.
Day: It is just a wide-ranging kind of bill and he has the need to go multiple committees, to make sure that it actually is cogent when it goes to the floor. We know it has a very uphill battle through the Senate, but I’m happy to see that folks are having this debate. I think this thing will probably happen on the federal level—fingers crossed—so that we don’t have to deal with this on a state-by-state level. But I do believe it’ll be legalized.
Corson: My position is that that recreational use is, for all practical purposes, legalized because it’s only a petty misdemeanor if you get caught. So, it’s not a crime. I don’t see that changing. I think there are still a variety of legitimate concerns about the use of marijuana if you are operating a motor vehicle and how you measure that; the impact on juveniles using it; how do you regulate anything that may be enacted—all those kind of things. So I don’t see that there’s going to be any change in the near future.
Dibble: No, I think absolutely this process is not pointless. It airs out the issues. This is a huge change and a big debate. It’s complicated. Pot is not benign. It does have effects and we just need to be honest about that and get all the issues out and deal with them with strong policies, regulations and guard rails. Politically, it helps go a long ways toward persuading those who base their political choices on this issue. This is a sincere effort. So I think it’s good.
Hayden: No, I think he’s doing important work. I think that it’s inevitable that we’ll get adult-use cannabis moving. I mean, the majority of the state is supporting it. And they’ve always told us that it’s better to do it legislatively than to do it by referendum, right? The Legislature is more thoughtful. The second thing that I think we should watch for: The Republicans have been recruiting adult-use cannabis candidates in order to pull votes away from the Democrats. I think that [Winkler] wants to make sure that those folks know that the Democrats are serious about passing an adult-use cannabis bill.
Question 3: Setting aside what you do now, here is a fun, left-field question for you: When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Meeks: I really wanted to be a flight attendant. I went on my first flight as a kid at 10 by myself and thought, “This is the life!” Flight used to be a lot more glamorous than it is today. I was just a little kid, flying up to Chicago by myself to go visit my grandfather and a flight attendant brought me a kiddy cocktail, I had the little TWA wings. I mean, I was like royalty on that flight. So I really wanted to be a flight attendant for a very long time.
Day: I wanted to be on that TV screen yesterday getting drafted by the Green Bay Packers. But that seemed never to come to fruition. Beyond wanting to be on the gridiron, I’ve always wanted to be in this arena in some form or fashion—as a child, through high school and through college. I’ve always wanted to have something to do with public service. So I can’t complain where I’m at now. But if the Packers come calling, I’m still ready.
Corson: Believe it or not, I wanted to be a farmer. I liked working with animals and the dirt and being outside. We raised a fair number of horses and had a small farm and things like that. But, at least when I graduated in 1980, we were in the midst of the farm crisis and that just really wasn’t going to happen.
Dibble: I grew up internationally, so I wanted some kind of a job that would allow me to live in other countries, even though all my origins are Swedish and Minnesotan. Because of my dad [who was in the Air Force] I grew up all over the place. So I really wanted to live all over the world. I held onto that idea for a long time. Then I got this job, which is very geographically based as it turns out, being in the Legislature.
Hayden: A football player. I’m a ’70s baby and I was an athlete. All my heroes were football players like Chuck Foreman, Alan Page, Ahmad Rashad, Sammy White and Fran Tarkenton. I was a die-hard football fan and a die-hard Vikings fan and I wanted to be just like them.