What is happening to my home state? I was always proud to be a Minnesotan. Proud to have grown up in a state that was humble in its farmer and labor roots where folks are for the most part, unpretentious and, well, nice. A place where we eat bratwurst, jello molds, and hotdish at school fundraisers and talk about Saturdayís Prairie Home Companion. It is a state home to civil rights leaders and Vice Presidents Humphrey and Mondale; musical legends Bob Dylan and Prince; and more than 10,000 beautiful lakes.
Like many of us, Senator Paul and Sheila Wellstone called Minnesota home. They dedicated their lives to helping the people of Minnesota and the nation. When you listened to Paul, you couldnít help but feel proud: "When I can do something as a United States Senator that can help a 2nd grader do better in reading or do better in math, when I can do something as a United States Senator that can mean that our community can have less violence and theyíre safer places, when I can do something as a United States Senator that can help a family, help a wage earner, help a small business person, help a farmer, itís not me. Itís not left, right or center. Itís the richness and the goodness of Minnesota. I am so proud to be a Senator from the State of Minnesota."
I lost some faith in Minnesota last November. And I am feeling a little less than proud of our newly elected officials. But I had no idea that the climate would turn so hateful and so much damage could be done, so quickly. With the election of Paulís opponent and a new Republican Governor, the rollbacks on reproductive freedom (including the passage of one of the most Draconian 24-hour waiting periods in the nation); education (including hundreds of millions of cuts in higher education, $185 million cut in K-12 education - which the Governor promises will not hurt "classroom learning" - and $62 million in special education cuts), health care, affordable housing, the environment, social services and local government aid are almost too much to bear.
As horrible as this yearís legislative session was, Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty sunk to a new low this week. In todayís Minneapolis Star Tribune (http://www.startribune.com/stories/462/4244969.html), Pawlenty says that he is "fed up" with violence and will push to bring the death penalty back to Minnesota, after almost 100 years since the last execution.
Rather than support and fund law enforcement and work to reduce and prevent violence, the Governor made it his top legislative to pass the conceal and carry weapon bill that every major law enforcement organization in the state opposed and called "extremely dangerous for the citizens of our state". Thanks to Governor Pawlenty and his friends, concealed and loaded weapons are now permitted in our neighborhoods, places of worship, public parks, bars, and sporting events.
When Pawlenty states that he is going to push for the reinstatement of the death penalty (which was abolished in 1911) because he is a father, Pawlenty could consider that because of him, people can carry guns to places where his children and ours play. This even includes parks, school parking lots and ball fields. And, to top it off, the consequence for bringing guns into a school or a daycare center is only a misdemeanor. Tell me, Gov, why donít we try a policy of deterrence that might actually result in less violence? The fact of the matter is that during the past decade, the murder rate in states that do not have the death penalty has been consistently lower than the murder rates in states with the death penalty.
My heart goes out to the family and friends of Dru Sjodin. I think that we should do everything we can to prevent terrible tragedies like these from happening again. But the Governor is using this as an opportunity to politically grandstand, push his dangerous social agenda and turn a blind eye to the victims of violence and needs of the people of Minnesota. And heís doing a whole lot of damage in the process.
Over the objections of officials across the state, law enforcement, and the majority of Minnesotans, the Governor pushed for the conceal and carry bill that does not allow most places where we live, eat, shop, work, play and pray to prohibit guns. Now Minnesota has one of the worst handgun permit laws in the nation. Repeat drunk drivers, some sex offenders and even people convicted of firearms violations can still obtain permits to carry concealed, loaded weapons under this law. Tell me, Governor Pawlenty, where were you in April speaking out against violence? Wasnít it politically advantageous to try to prevent violence then?
I guess not. Because this Governor, despite his rhetoric and quick wit, did not support measures to end the cycle of violence in our communities. At the top of his budget cuts were huge setbacks to domestic and youth violence prevention, as well as to those agencies that work on our streets every day to reduce violence. Firefighters and public safety officers have lost their jobs. Among the cuts were $3.8 million in funding to battered womenís shelters which has led to a reduction in staff and closures throughout the state, especially in much needed rural areas.
As the year comes to a close, and we take the time to reflect on 2003 and be thankful for our blessings, it is almost impossible to believe the many "gifts" that Minnesotaís new governor has given us. The official legislative estimate from the State suggests a 750% increase in those licensed to pack heat in our state. Thatís more than 70,000 more loaded hand guns in our communities in Minnesota. Fewer police and peace officers. Less funding for violence prevention and crime victims assistance. And that is just the beginning.
Governor Pawlenty, your rhetoric is extreme and it is dangerous. Make your rhetoric real. And get your priorities straight. You are think you are fed up? I am fed up of seeing the great progressive state of Minnesota lose its roots and everything that is good and true about it. We are not a state that rushes to judgment. The vast majority of Minnesotans have never lived in the state under capital punishment because the last instance of the death penalty was a botched hanging in 1906! We are not a state that abandons the folks who need our help most. We are not a state that values our communities, schools and children and then puts all of them in harmís way. Thatís not us. Thatís not Minnesota.
I want to be proud again. In order to believe in that, I look back and remember a man named Paul who never forgot who he was, who reminded us of who we were and of what our great potential was and still is: "I call on all Minnesotans and all of Minnesota to light a candle and lead the way. We can lead the way in Minnesota. We will lead the way. This is the state I love. This is the state I represent."
Letís do it.
Kelly Bjorklund is enjoying a slightly more forgiving climate in the Bay Area, but still enjoys hotdish and calls Minnesota home. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.