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Excerpts from recent Minnesota editorials

March 19, 2018

Minneapolis Star Tribune, March 16

Should the Minnesota Legislature lose party labels?

It says much about the degree of dissatisfaction with the partisanship that infuses modern American government that a state House committee last week took up a bill that would end party designation in the Legislature.

Just as noteworthy: The bill’s sponsor is not a starry-eyed rookie. He’s eight-term Republican Rep. Jim Knoblach of St. Cloud, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee.

The bill may not advance beyond the House Government Operations and Elections Policy Committee in this year’s short legislative session. It was set aside “for possible inclusion” in a larger measure, with committee chair Rep. Tim O’Driscoll, R-Sartell, making no promises.

We’re rooting for more discussion of Knoblach’s idea. It’s not a new one. The Legislature operated without party designation from 1911 until 1973. Through many of those years, caucuses named Liberal and Conservative were de facto DFL and Republican, respectively — but it’s not a given that a newly nonpartisan Legislature would again organize itself in that way.

Knoblach touts a number of ways in which losing party labels would lead to better lawmaking. Legislators would be freer to represent their districts rather than their parties or the parties’ special-interest patrons, he said. Candidates for the Legislature would no longer be nominated in partisan primaries, but in a nonpartisan primary open to the entire electorate. Two candidates would advance to the general-election ballot in every district in which two or more candidates file for the office. That would bring the benefits of competition to more districts. “Safe seats” could largely disappear.

To be sure, dropping party labels also would have downsides. Among them: A shorthand cue to voters about the governing philosophies of their candidates would be lost. Legislators’ ties to Congress and the White House would be less evident and perhaps less fruitful for Minnesota.

A public weighing of those pluses and minuses — perhaps for the first time in 45 years — seems worthwhile. Minnesotans’ frustration with today’s pervasive partisanship is real and growing. Now, while some of the Minnesotans who served in the pre-1973 Legislature are still available, would be a fine time to ask them about lawmaking without party labels.

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St. Cloud Times, March 16

Will Minnesotans lead, follow or (please) get out of the way?

So here’s something every Minnesotan can get behind — and already has, probably: that slowpoke in the left lane.

Last week, state Sen. John Jasinski, R-Faribault, was in the news for bringing forth a bill that would put some (very polite, very Minnesota) teeth into the state’s already extant law that dictates traffic should stay in the right lane unless passing slower traffic.

Then came the jokes (“Minnesota is a great place to drive — as soon as you figure out the right lane is for passing”). There were friendly Facebook debates about whether this issue needs a law or just an etiquette book, and there were (of course) the lines drawn in the sand: “If I’m driving the speed limit, I’ll use any lane I want. They can go around.”

It’s true, left-lane loafers are not Syrian orphans or North Korean threats or dying coral reefs. But this is a bill that deserves serious attention and, we believe, support.

Wait, wait. Hear us out:

— Drivers who claim territory in the left lane are dangerous. Accidents increase drivers as deviate from the average speed of traffic. Drivers who camp in the left lane are usually going much faster or much slower than other traffic in that lane. That’s a problem. Speeding laws will presumably catch up with the leadfoots, but what about the lounger?

— Interestingly, going 5 miles per hour slower than nearby traffic has been called a higher accident risk factor that going 5 miles per hour faster.

— Variances from average lane speeds cause more lane changes, which have also been blamed for increased accident rates.

— More lane changes, particularly sudden or unexpected ones (like those caused by a left-lane lizard) can eventually cause those mysterious “there’s no accident, so why are we stopped” traffic jams.

— And then there’s the road rage (or more commonly the sour moods and windshield cussing) that ensues when you get stuck behind a rolling roadblock — two cars doing 54 mph, side by side. Angry drivers are not safe drivers.

To those who say it’s primarily an etiquette problem and shouldn’t be a legal one, we sympathize. The practice of respecting the left lane is called “lane courtesy” for a reason.

But clearly, Minnesotans — who normally pride themselves on making life as easy as possible for others — don’t apply those rules to the road.

Almost every state, including Minnesota, has a law on the books that guides slower traffic to the right lane of a four-lane road except when passing or turning left.

Some states, including Oklahoma, Nevada and Virginia, have just in the past two years joined the list of states that allow for fines of up to $250 for camping in the left lane. Ohio, Texas, Washington, Colorado, Massachusetts, Washington, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Indiana and New Jersey also hand out tickets. Michigan decided in recent years to allow its troopers to pull over lane hogs for roadside counseling.

Since “move over if you’re going slower than the car behind you” is already the (paraphrased) law of the land in Minnesota, why not enforce it as a misdemeanor punishable by a ticket?

Some fines might go a long way toward pulling Minnesota back from the brink of that “worst drivers in America” title. That’s no joke: In one ranking last year based on accidents, fatalities, tickets and DUIs, Minnesota drivers were rated the second worst in the nation, second only to California.

(The bill is SF2997 with companion House File HF3832.)

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Mankato Free Press, March 17

Walkouts: New activism from youth will be powerful

By one account, St. Peter students who participated in Wednesday’s walkout event were “dignified.” As they stood “calf deep in the snow holding signs,” they made sure people could still pass on the sidewalk.

These are not their parents’ protesters, and our country’s future will be the better for it.

There’s hope in this generation of kids, and that may have been the biggest message they offered last Wednesday when hundreds took leave of their classes to remember for 17 minutes the 17 people killed in the Parkland, Florida, high school shooting.

Most understood that the same divides about gun legislation their parents and neighbors have at home exist among the students. So their messages were appropriately poignant about needing to feel safe in their schools. Some wept as they walked past the pictures of students, teachers and coaches killed in Florida, knowing they were just like the students, teachers and coaches at their own schools.

St. Peter students were invited to sign a pledge that vowed they would “say something if they see something,” a message that directed them to watch for students who may be bullied, isolated or expressing angry thoughts.

But the messages of students can also be powerful toward lawmakers. Parkland students protested and confronted the Florida Legislature and lawmakers passed a number of gun measures in direct response to the student pleas for safety and reasonable restrictions on assault-style weapons.

The bipartisan Florida law increased the minimum age to buy any gun to 21, required a three-day waiting period for gun sales background checks and banned bump stocks, the attachments that allow guns to repeat fire like a machine gun.

The $400 million bill also would enhance school safety, fund school police officers, mental health counselors and allow sheriffs and police to train and arm school staff. It also would give law enforcement more power to commit people who might be a threat with a gun.

But it did not ban assault-style weapons or tighten up background checks to gun shows or online sales.

In Minnesota, legislation has been proposed to increase background checks, ban bump stocks, raise the age for buying assault-style weapons and give authorities more power to take weapons from someone considered a threat by the courts.

So far, the GOP leadership at the Legislature has not acted on any of those common-sense gun safety measures. They barely allowed a hearing on two bills and then tabled them without discussion. We encourage students to contact them and bring attention to these important issues that they are uniquely qualified to influence.

Maybe 12-year-old New Country School student John Harvey said it best: “I don’t want people to get shot anymore, and I don’t want this swept under the rug anymore.”

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