Capitol Watch: Do Black minds matter to Democrats?

Between the pandemic and the giant riot fence, there haven’t been that many political rallies in St. Paul this year. Saturday over 100 people gathered at the Governor’s Residence to call on Gov. Walz to support several school choice policies currently in the Senate version of the K-12 Education and Tax Bills.

The rally was organized by a new group called The Exodus Minnesota, made up of five Black moms who are tired of the status quo and want more choices for their kids and grandkids. Founder Kofi Montzka gave a passionate speech at the rally saying:

“They told my son he would face racism in education, criminal justice, in employment — he would have trouble getting a job, he’d have trouble getting a promotion, and he wouldn’t get good healthcare. It’s kind of hopeless, and contrary to everything he learns at home. We teach him that he can achieve if he works hard. We teach him not to be a racist and not to judge people on their skin color. We teach him that his mom, who had a drug addict for a mother, became a lawyer. We should all be able to pick a school based on what is best for our kids.”

Rashad Turner of the Minnesota Parent Union also spoke at the rally, drawing from his experience in the Black Lives Matter movement.

“The Governor, and I would even say more so, our teachers’ union, Education Minnesota, are doing everything they can to keep our children locked out of the buildings and locked out of a chance at a future. We as parents need to be able to take those dollars and go get quality.

I used to lead up Black Lives Matter, forgive me, until I realized that they weren’t about the Black minds. Black lives can’t matter if Black minds don’t matter. You’ll hear the Governor say Black Lives Matter, you go to some of the teacher union houses and see the signs in the yard, but when you go to their schools on Monday, you see Black minds don’t matter.”

Powerful words from Black leaders in Minnesota demanding school choice for their kids. But Democrats remain stuck with Education Minnesota, who spend millions on their election campaigns and have opposed every major education reform in Minnesota history. From open enrollment, to charter schools, to education tax credits and deductions, to academic standards and testing, the union is always opposed.

Democrats hold up funding for state parks over California emission standards
The strongest negotiator at the Capitol so far this session is Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen (R-Alexandria). Ingebrigtsen is Chairman of the Senate Environment Finance Committee and is negotiating the Environment Omnibus spending bill with his counterpart in the House, Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL-South St. Paul). The Senate version of the bill contains language halting the Walz Administration from continuing the rule making process to implement California emission standards here in Minnesota.

We’ve written extensively about why it’s a really bad idea to force car dealerships to carry a quota of electric cars in our cold-weather state, whether there is demand or not. The Senate shares that belief, but more importantly objects to Walz’s attempted end-run around the legislature on a policy that will change the way we purchase and drive cars. If Minnesotans were content to trade in their Ford F-150 pickups for a Toyota Prius, it should easily hold up to legislative committee scrutiny. Walz knows he can’t win in the legislature so he’s trying to do it through rules.

During a conference committee meeting this week, Ingebrigtsen and Hansen had this exchange:

Hansen: “So, if there’s not a repeal of the authority for the Clean Car rule-making coming out of this conference committee, then the budgets for BWSR, the Minnesota Zoo, the LCCMR, the Conservation Corps, the Science Museum … the MPCA and the DNR will not happen, unless we accede to the Senate position, is that correct Senator Ingebrigtsen?”

Ingebrigtsen: “That’s exactly correct.”

Ingebrigtsen then abruptly adjourned the meeting, giving the rest of his caucus a lesson in strong negotiating.

Democrats in St. Paul quickly turned to a tried-and-true message campaign against the Senate: “They’re going to close down the state parks!” Every time the budget gets cut, we hear about state parks closing. Democrats figured out years ago that state parks are one of the only things in the state budget Minnesotans deem valuable.

But the message can just as easily be turned against them in this case. Democrats in the legislature are threatening funding for state parks because they won’t let go of their plans to implement California emission standards through rule making. All they have to do to pass the Environment budget is to let this important policy debate move through the committee process on its own.

Missing Indigenous women task force turns into more government
Everyone at the Capitol recognized last year that missing and murdered indigenous woman is a real issue that needs to be addressed. That’s why there was bi-partisan support to set up a legislative task force to study the problem. The task force met and came up with a list of 20 recommendations, part of a 163-page report to the legislature.

The task force is perfect example of how government grows so big and so fast. The first recommendation is to create a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women office to provide ongoing attention to and leadership for this issue. The second recommendation is to ensure adequate funding and resources to implement these recommendations. What started as a study of the issue, its causes and possible solutions turns into a new permanent office in state government with new “FTEs” or Full Time Employees.

House Democrats immediately funded the new office in their budget and are now demagoguing the issue against Senate Republicans. In their minds, the only way to show concern or support for an issue is to spend money and create bureaucracy.

Budget Update
House and Senate leaders exchanged budget offers this week, but both offers essentially spelled out their opening positions, so there is no movement to speak of. There is not much optimism about finishing before the constitutional deadline of May 17, 2021. Everyone is waiting for guidance from the federal government about how Minnesota can spend the $2.8 billion coming from the American Rescue Plan.

A grand budget deal would have to be reached early this week (Monday or Tuesday) in order to allow time for conference committees to finish the details. Time is also needed by the revisor staff to physically put the bills together. The whole process takes longer over Zoom, making it even harder to meet the deadline.

Most Capitol insiders believe the budget deal will be finalized when the legislature returns to St. Paul in mid-June to deal with one last emergency powers resolution.

This piece originally appeared in our Capitol Watch newsletter. Click here to receive the weekly Capitol Watch newsletter.