Editorial Roundup: Minnesota
Minneapolis Star-Tribune. November 13, 2023.
Editorial: Diversity won in many school board races
In Minnesota and across the U.S., voters mostly sided with progressive candidates in key races.
Campaigns for the Nov. 7 school board elections generated record amounts of spending — especially in the Twin Cities metro area — as political action committees poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into contests often waged over cultural and social issues such as book banning and restricting classroom discussions on race or LGBTQ issues.
Among the biggest spenders in three of the five largest suburban districts were Education Minnesota (the statewide teachers union) and the Minnesota Parents Alliance (MPA) — organizations that were on opposite sides of those controversial issues. In Anoka-Hennepin, an MPA affiliate raised over $44,000, and Education Minnesota’s PAC spent almost $40,000 on a digital ad campaign.
As of just before the Nov. 7 election, campaign finance records showed that candidates and PACs in the state’s five largest suburban districts had spent more than $336,000 — 50% more than at the same time in 2021.
And what were the results? Fortunately — in the best interest of students, families and educators — voters rejected the majority of the far-right candidates in favor of those who value things like equity initiatives and LGBTQ inclusion.
Of the 44 candidates backed by MPA, the organization’s website lists 11 winners. According to the Minnesota School Boards Association (MSBA), 124 seats were up for election across the state. About half of the candidates in those races were re-elected, and the other half were newcomers. The MPA claims 11 of its endorsed candidates won, but at least two have said they weren’t contacted and didn’t want the endorsement.
The MPA characterized the wins in Anoka-Hennepin and Hastings as significant because the group had targeted those two districts. The group also focused on Mounds View, but its endorsed candidates lost in that race.
“For a small organization in our second year, these wins represent tremendous success and give us a lot of confidence to continue our mission,” Cristine Trooien, the MPA’s executive director, said in a statement.
But Education Minnesota reported that its local groups endorsed 53 school board candidates, and 45 of them won. “The national movement to restrict what books students can read, what they can learn about history, and whether they can be their authentic selves in class was on the ballot this year,” union President Denise Specht said in a statement. “Minnesotans rejected it. Instead, they voted for candidates who pledged to offer schools where all students and educators feel welcome and supported to do their best.”
Nationally, similar results unfolded. School board politics have become more contentious in places like Virginia where, in 2021, Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin successfully campaigned on supporting “parents’ rights” in education.
Even so, last Tuesday more liberal candidates prevailed, with many voters rejecting candidates who promoted book banning and limiting or eliminating classroom discussion of race, gender or LGBTQ issues. Progressive candidates won more races last week in conservative Iowa, as well as swing states Virginia and Pennsylvania.
In Iowa, three candidates supported by Moms for Liberty (an organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center calls an extremist group) were defeated in a district outside Cedar Rapids that received national attention for supporting transgender students. Moms for Liberty was founded a couple of years ago to push back against COVID restrictions in schools and later expanded to oppose classes on diversity and promote book banks. It endorsed 13 candidates in Iowa school board races this year, but only one was elected.
School board races are typically nonpartisan, yet parties and other political groups often make endorsements. Board members concern themselves with governing, setting standards and policies, establishing budgets, negotiating contracts, and setting property tax rates to support schools. Arguably their most important job is selecting a superintendent and administration to manage educators and other school staff.
But in recent years, they’ve also been caught up in some of the nation’s most divisive issues. It’s heartening to see that many voters believe that the educational mission should include allowing discussion of social issues that shape the lives of today’s increasingly diverse student populations.
Mankato Free Press. November 13, 2023.
Editorial: EPA interference warranted to tackle water contamination
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s decision that Minnesota needs to do more to make water safer in the southeast region is a telling sign of how state agencies have to work more collaboratively and efficiently.
A coalition of groups concerned about water quality petitioned the EPA to weigh in on the nitrate contamination problem after being frustrated by the state’s patchwork approach to the issue, according to MPR News.
Water contamination from nitrates in farm country is not a new problem. Fertilizer and manure application to fields is known to run off into waterways and down into aquifers, affecting drinking water. In the southeast part of the state, the geology of the area with its sinkholes and fractured bedrock makes contamination a particularly prominent problem. The EPA estimates more than 9,000 residents were or are still at risk of consuming water at or above the maximum contaminant level for nitrate.
High nitrate levels in drinking water pose a health risk, especially to pregnant women and infants who can develop a sometimes fatal condition called blue baby syndrome, which affects the body’s ability to circulate oxygen. Research also has linked nitrate exposure to colorectal cancer, thyroid disease and neural tube defects.
The petitioners say state agencies have relied mainly on voluntary approaches to get farmers to reduce nitrogen pollution, which they say haven’t worked. The EPA said the state needs to take additional steps to resolve the problem, addressing its letter to commissioners of the state departments of health, agriculture and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
The federal agency’s intervention needs to be the catalyst to help Minnesotans get the safe drinking water they deserve. The EPA said Minnesota officials should provide immediate notice to residents whose wells have nitrate levels at or above the safe level.
Disappointingly, 1st District Congressman Brad Finstad, R-New Ulm, criticized the EPA for inspecting farms in his district, basically telling the agency to mind its own business. “It is completely unacceptable that EPA is targeting Minnesota family farmers at the behest of environmental extremists,” Finstad stated in a news release.
But safe water is the EPA’s business under the Safe Drinking Water Act. And if the state agencies aren’t doing their jobs — or aren’t doing them quickly enough to protect public heath — then someone needs to get them on task. Despite Finstad, who is a farmer, accusing the federal agency of being anti-farmer for trying to control water contamination, this action isn’t anti-agriculture; it’s pro-health. Farmers, and their family members, drink water, too.
No one is saying good farmers don’t do their best to control fertilizer runoff, but obviously, controls now in place are not sufficient if water is commonly contaminated in the region. Prevention of a problem is always a better plan than reaction to it.
The state has 30 days to respond to the EPA with a timeline for the plan and other actions outlined by the federal agency. The plan must address how Minnesota will identify, contact, test drinking water and offer alternative water to all impacted persons in the region.
Minnesotans deserve safe water; the EPA action was not only warranted but was its responsibility in making sure the law is followed to protect public health.
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