With the election, the Republican Party took firm control of the legislative branch. The “Party of No” must transition from sitting in opposition these past two years into the role of governing. The fate of healthcare, environmental protection, transportation, racial justice, policing, economic inequality and fiscal policies lie in the balance as the new majority negotiates with an executive committed to his own proposals… No, not the Donald, but Governor Mark Dayton.
It is easy to forget the politicians and policies of Saint Paul amidst the hellfire of Washington politics, even back when the latter was not bracing for impact with a divisive and hateful demagogue. The absence of Donald Trump in Saint Paul does not, however, warrant neglect of state-level politics and policy. State politics may not have the same glamour of national activity, but I argue that they are just as influential, polarized and advantageous.
A number of issues echo in the halls of Capitol Hill that have enormous impact on our daily lives. Most recently in the news is healthcare. The StarTribune reports that premiums are likely to rise for thousands of Minnesotans by 33 to 67 percent, causing even Gov. Dayton to label the MNsure state exchange “unaffordable.” The Minnesota legislature will act, likely in a special session, regardless of legislative activity by Trump and his GOP Congress. Policy band-aids or sweeping alternatives must wrestle down premiums while maintaining coverage, hopefully without privileging insurance corporations over the interests of the (un)insured.
Also on the docket is environmental protection. The legislature and governor have in recent years debated overfishing in Lake Mille Lacs, agriculture runoff in the Minnesota River, and whether to permit mining in protected areas of the arrowhead region. We can expect these debates to continue in the next two years, but economic and environmental pressures will only grow. Our state requires action now to balance the needs of the present without jeopardizing the needs of future generations.
Transportation is another hot-button state issue. The expansion of light rail proves the most divisive in Saint Paul, even to the point of sinking mandatory bonding and spending bills this past session. Politicians have talked past each other and remain sharply divided across party and geography. Nonetheless, rural roads and bridges are crumbling, and expanding alternative public transportation remains imperative for a growing metropolitan area.
Racial justice and policing will continue to receive attention at the state level. The deaths of Jamar Clark and Philando Castile and continued education and wealth disparities call for public action. Police body camera legislation was passed this session, but Gov. Dayton is also requesting $100 million in spending to bolster discrimination litigation, help POC home-buyers and provide capital to new minority businesses. The death of Philando Castile and the impending trial of Officer Yanez have also made it evident that new legislation must clarify legal definitions of murder and self-defense to ensure police accountability on the road and in the courtroom.
Of course, the state looks to balance its books with fiscal policy. In the past Gov. Dayton increased progressive taxes on the wealthiest Minnesotans to match increased spending. If spending and bonding bills can even pass in the next session, then the legislature will have to determine who receives tax hikes or cuts, resulting in major consequences for economic equality and spending levels in both urban and rural communities.
These issues matter, and our action on these agenda items can have profound and immediate impact. I encourage us as Macalester students to increase our involvement in state-level elections and policymaking. Doing so will situate us in a space that can bridge political divides, not the least of them between rural (Republican) and metro (Democratic) interests. This includes protesting on the Capitol Lawn and in the Rotunda to magnify our voices, especially now that remodeling is finishing up. Entrance to the Capitol is free and open to the public, and all three branches are located there. Let’s use it.
We can forge the future we seek in Minnesota on a multitude of issues despite Trump’s rise to Washington. Entering policy discussion at the state level expands our impact as well as our definition of “local” to include all Minnesotans, potentially bridging what divides us. There is much to grieve and rage about regarding Trump’s America, but we also have the opportunity and obligation to fight for equity and justice in our Minnesota. When we begin fighting the good fight, our own backyard is a great place to start.