by Charles Hallman
As will likely come as no surprise to most of our readers, the current economy has caused “tremendous anxiety” for Blacks, says Minnesota U.S. Senator Al Franken.
In a recent phone interview with the MSR, Franken explained, “Right now we have tremendous economic anxiety in this country, but certainly in the African American community. There’s higher unemployment and foreclosures.
“In the short run, it’s about getting people back to work, and about trying to solve this housing crisis,” Franken said. “In the longer run, I think it’s really about education and making sure that we approach education in a way that is going to close the disparities that we have.
“The best thing that could happen for the African American community in the long term,” the senator continued, “is that every kid has the same opportunity that every other kid has, and that means a good education.” He also wants to help increase economic growth “that is very crucial for the North Side. I also think that we have to do everything we can to make sure that small businesses are able to thrive.”
Franken expressed some concerns about the new Congress that begins in January. “The [Senate] minority leader says that his number-one legislative priority [is] to see that Obama is a one-term president,” he said. “I think their legislative priorities should be much different: getting people back to work, trying to do something about foreclosures, making sure that we implement health care properly…doing something about criminal justice.
“In terms of growing the economy and looking at our long-term deficit, I have some fear that instead of trying to solve that in a bipartisan way, that we may be seeing politics get in the way.”
When asked, Franken agreed that there have been many displays of disrespect toward the president by the opposition party. “I think you see a lot of that in rallies and in some of the words that we heard during the campaign,” he said. “It’s upsetting, but we’ve seen that before. I think there are some other things going on with Obama.”
Regarding his efforts thus far as a first-term senator, “I think that in the first year and a half I’ve accomplished a lot,” Franken said. “I have major provisions in both the healthcare reform bill and in the Wall Street reform bill that I think are very important.” He said he recently attended a White House meeting on health care, “making sure that the health insurance companies are providing large groups plans that at least 85 percent of the premiums are actual health care, and only 15 percent [goes] to marketing, administrative fees and profits.
“I’ve been doing a lot of follow-through on how that is computed,” Franken added. “That’s the kind of work that I am trying to do that is not readily apparent to the causal viewer of Washington.” Franken is a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
“We are looking at reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act,” he said of the current No Child Left Behind law. “I think it was misguided in many, many ways.” He also supports the expiration at the end of the year of the Bush tax cuts for those with annual incomes of $250,000 or more.
Although the next Minnesota governor still hasn’t been determined, Franken believes that Democratic candidate Mark Dayton ultimately will emerge as the winner. He too went through a recount two years ago, but pointed out, “There is a big difference between the two recounts. Ours was a far narrower margin.
“I don’t see any way a recount can make up a difference of 8,755 votes,” noted the senator. Franken added that both recounts are “an unbelievable, very transparent and clean process.”
Dayton will help solve some of the disparities that communities of color and low-income communities face in Minnesota, Franken predicted. “I think that the disparities that we have between affluent
neighborhoods and neighborhoods that don’t have a big tax base, that [really] is a State issue.
I think Governor-elect Dayton will address that, but I am afraid about the [incoming Republican-majority] state legislature.”
He expects the next two years could be tough in Washington, legislatively speaking. “I think it is going to be hard to advance a lot of new stuff, especially if the attitude is that our top legislative agenda is to defeat the president. I’m hoping that [the GOP] will back off that, and that the Republicans will work with us to try to get people working again.
“I’m very serious about my job, which is to improve lives of people in Minnesota,” Franken said in closing. “That’s what I am focused on.”
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