Legislators’ ‘racial equity’ grades show improvement


Minnesota’s legislative and executive branches each showed significant improvement last year in passing bills that support and/or improve racial equity in the state, says the Organizing Apprenticeship Project (OAP).

Among the racial equity bills that were passed during the 2009 legislature session were promoting hiring equity in green jobs, banning questions about criminal records on all public employment applications until the applicant has received an interview, and covering more kids with health insurance, according to the 2009 Minnesota Report Card on Racial Equity.

The report card was released last month by the Minneapolis-based OAP, a nonprofit organization that advocates for racial equity.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed into law 10 of 12 racial equity bills last year, said OAP Lead Policy Analyst Jermaine Toney at a February 18 press conference at the State Capitol in St. Paul. Both the governor and the legislative body shared a B on the OAP’s fourth annual report card.

Pawlenty and the legislature shared an F in 2008.

The honor roll recognized 77 lawmakers, including 31 from both political parties as well as from urban, suburban and rural districts throughout the state who earned an A. “More individual lawmakers earned A’s through leading and supporting racial equity legislation,” Toney pointed out. Only 17 state legislators received high marks in 2008.

The report card shows accountability, says State Representative Bobby Joe Champion of Minneapolis. He and State Representative Jeff Hayden are the legislature’s only two Black elected officials; both, along with State Senator Mee Moua of St. Paul, were among the 31 state lawmakers who earned A’s.
“[The report card] is a very good tool to help constituents and legislators understand the importance of racial equity,” noted Champion.

“I [wanted to be] keenly in tune with the issues that OAP is really striving to push,” said Hayden, a first-term lawmaker. “I am extremely honored to be one of the champions of racial equity.”

However, budget decisions, including Gov. Pawlenty’s use of the unallotment process to balance the state’s budget, undermined last year’s progress toward racial equity, noted Toney. He cited as key examples Pawlenty’s original plan to eliminate the General Assistance Medical Care (GAMC) program, cutting the renters’ credit by 27 percent, and cutting $300 million in state aid to local cities and counties.

“The governor made a difficult time worse for Minnesotans of color and poor Minnesotans through unallotment,” Toney surmised. “The governor’s inequitable cuts to health care, renters, counties and cities have forced Minnesota’s residents and government bodies who least can afford them to bear the brunt of the state’s budget cuts.”

“Why is the budget being balanced on the backs of those who can least afford it?” asked Dr. Monica Hurtado of Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC). Hurtado is the health educator for Latino families at HCMC’s East Lake Clinic.
Racial and economic disparities are increased by such budget cuts, Hurtado added, stressing that “Our communities need access to affordable health care.”

Hayden pledged that he will continue promoting racial equity legislation and urged his fellow legislators to do the same. “Around here, people will often say that you can’t do something because the governor won’t sign it. I didn’t come here because the governor won’t sign [any bills]. The governor doesn’t live in my district and didn’t vote for me.

“We are going to come in here and do our work, and [we are] going to push as hard as we can,” said Hayden.

“Rep. Hayden is exactly right,” continued Champion, also a first-term legislator. “If you based the legislation you put forward solely on whether the governor is going to sign the bill or not, then you become only an instrument in the governor’s pocket as opposed to [serving] the will of the people.”

Fighting for racial equity “is not just reserved to us legislators of color,” said Moua. “We have many friends and allies all across this state who share with us this vision and this journey.”

“I think it is important for us to identify the legislation, support the legislation, and also hold up those legislators who are being courageous,” added Champion.

As both the legislative and executive branches deal with the state budget deficit, Toney stressed that racial equity should not be put on the back burner. “If we don’t start taking a stand on these racial and economic disparities in Minnesota, they will only grow in the future,” he concluded. “It will undermine our prosperity and growth.”

The complete 2009 Minnesota Legislative Report Card on Race Equity can be found at www.oaproject.org.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.