By Charles Hallman
There was a throwback feel of a civil rights rally at Monday’s African American Lobby Day on the Hill at the State Capitol in St. Paul, organized by nearly 50 local groups. Marching songs were sung, and speakers warned of legislative attacks on communities of color.
Several elected officials and others strongly enjoined the crowd — 400 to 500 strong by organizers’ estimates — to march off to see their lawmakers in committee meetings, in their offices, or wherever else they might be in the Capitol. They were urged to share their feelings about proposed budget cuts and recommendations that potentially have an adverse impact on the Black community, other communities of color, and low-income people statewide.
This year’s legislative session ends in a few days. Among the pending bills, mainly introduced by the GOP majority in both houses of the Minnesota Legislature, are provisions eliminating such human services programs as General Assistance; childcare services development grants; culturally specific health, human services and aging; prescription drug assistance grants; adoption services; deaf and hard-of-hearing grants; and the K-12 education bill that would force more cuts in public schools, especially in the urban districts of Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth.
Such actions are “just mean practices” according to State Senator Linda Higgins (DFL-Minneapolis), who was among several state legislators speaking during Monday’s two-hour rally. “Whether it’s health care, property taxes, education, higher education, they are under attack and money is being taking away,” Higgins said. “Please talk to everybody you see about the importance of a budget that is neutral, balanced, and it doesn’t hurt people.”
Higgins later said that the GOP “is taking away the integration money that is used in Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth and spreading it out to our more affluent communities.”
Both Bernedeia Johnson and Valeria Silva, the respective school superintendents in Minneapolis and St. Paul, also spoke. Both women alerted the audience that their districts will be adversely affected by the proposed cuts.
“What we are trying to do is educate our communities about the impact of the legislation on our communities and schools,” said Johnson.
“We have been testifying and having private meetings with [legislators],” said Silva. The question is, do they want to listen?
Higgins disputed published reports that legislators are making a proposed Minnesota Vikings stadium bill a top priority. “Ninety-nine percent of us aren’t talking at all about the stadium,” the senator said. “But what the mainstream media chose to focus on is the stadium.”
“Your voice is powerful, has meaning, and can and will create change,” noted State Representative Rena Moran (D-St. Paul). Afterwards she told the MSR that although lawmakers are very busy all around the Capitol, “We need to leave here from this rotunda, pull our legislators out of session, and begin to have this one-on-one conversation with them.”
Prior to his scheduled remarks, State Representative Jeff Hayden (D-Minneapolis) told the MSR that the GOP “plans on being hell-bent on taking anything [away] that gives preference to people of color and African Americans. The particular brand of politics that the Republicans have shown nationally and here in Minnesota, not only is it right wing…but it also is racist.
“There have been many times on the House floor where we have thwarted or fought back racist initiatives, or them trying to remove things,” added Hayden.
However, Republican Assistant Senate Majority Leader David Hann, one of two GOP legislators who spoke to the Capitol rotunda audience, told the MSR, “We are in favor of all people, and we want to try to find policies that work for everybody, regardless of what their economic condition might be or ethnic background. That’s what we are about.”
Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton, who also spoke to the audience, called the GOP proposed budget cuts “barbaric.” Amidst a standing ovation and rousing applause, the governor declared, “I ask for your help and support. We are one Minnesota.”
“Coming here and having our rally is very important, but for you to get nose-to-nose and face-to-face with a legislator is even more important,” said U.S. Representative Keith Ellison.
Although this year’s state legislative session is set to conclude in a few days, the state budget won’t be completed in time, and Higgins strongly believes that Gov. Dayton will call a special session. “I will guarantee it,” she predicted.
“I hope that [a special session] is soon so that we can get to work,” added State Senator John Harrington (D-St. Paul).
When the MSR asked the governor if a special session is likely, he said, “I hope not.”
To view a photo montage of the Capitol event, visit the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder website (www.spokesman-recorder.com) and click on the African American Lobby Day link to our Facebook page.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.