DFL chair touts wins, work to do in state tour

Published 6:10 pm Friday, April 7, 2023

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Minnesota DFL Chairperson Ken Martin made a stop in Austin on Thursday as part of a tour of the state to discuss current DFL wins in the Minnesota Legislature, but also answering questions on a number of other topics including the current political climate as well as goals for the next two months of the legislative session.

Midway into the current legislative session and overall Martin said he was happy with progress at the state level, made possible by a Democratically-controlled House and Senate and Democratic governor Tim Walz.

“We just want to make sure, obviously, folks recognize what’s been happening up at the legislature and all the good things DFLers have been doing to help people’s lives and strengthen communities throughout the state,” Martin said. “A lot of great things to talk about, a lot of accomplishments two months in and with just about two months left a lot more left.”

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Due to the Democratically controlled bodies, the legislature has passed high-priority bills including an abortion rights bill. And Martin listed a recreational cannabis for adults bill and paid family medical leave as two more important pieces of legislation yet to pass.

However, those two bills specifically have garnered worry among not only Republicans but law enforcement entities, small business owners and chambers of commerce.

Related to the cannabis bill, police agencies have raised concerns of enforcement as well as rushing to pass the bill without having all the details in place. Republicans have also said more information is needed.

“We need to hear from law enforcement, employers, addiction counselors, educators, and others who have concerns about legalizing marijuana,” said Republican Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson in January. “We know that even small changes in this area of law can lead to huge changes in the market and in people’s practices. We don’t take the risks that marijuana poses to youth, minorities, and the vulnerable, lightly.”

But on Thursday, Martin cautioned patience saying there was still a lot of work to do on both fronts heading into the second half of the session. In particular small businesses and chambers worry that the passage of the family leave bill could mean higher costs passed down to businesses who may not be able to support them.

“I think as it pertains to paid family medical leave they are still working out those details to make sure those small businesses don’t get squeezed,” he said. “We also have, I would say, a moral responsibility to make sure when people, especially working families, if they have a family member who gets sick they can take the time off that they need to to be with that family member.”

“I think obviously there is a way to do that that hits that sweet spot so it does not impact the small business owners as much as it would the bigger business owners,” he added.

Martin was also asked about the deadlock over the infrastructure bill that is holding up bonding money for cities and communities around the state.

In particular, for another year, the City of Austin is seeing a requested $14.5 million being held up after the bill passed in the House early in the session, but failed to get passed the Senate as Republicans continue pushing for tax relief.

“This big difference between Democrats and Republicans — when we talk about helping Minnesota the Republicans have been all sorts of lip service on this and they’ve never delivered in any real way,” Martin said. “Bonding is a good example of this. If you’re the party of fiscal responsibility, as Republicans say they are, it makes no sense to not support a bonding bill that actually borrows money at low interest rates.”

At the same time, Martin said there is a common goal when it comes to tax relief.

“The bottom line is that the Democrats, like the Republicans, agree there should be some sort of tax relief and tax reform in the state,” Martin said. “The question is what does that look like?”

Martin said there is even disagreement within the party itself as to how tax reform and relief might look.

“Just like divides between Democrats and Republicans, there’s divides between DFLers on this question,” he said. “Some DFLers would like to see no tax rebates at all. Just spend as much of that money as possible. There’s others who instead of a tax rebate want more tax relief in the way of tax credits or direct relief to certain income households as an example.” 

At the heart of a lot of issues in politics today is a rift between the established parties — a split that continues to grow wider with less and less compromise.

Martin said that there is certainly room on both sides to try and repair that at the state level.

“I think we live in a very polarized environment,” he said. “I’ve never seen things as polarized as they are in the country. That also has led to a lot of toxicity and that toxicity has not allowed either side to find common ground with the other.”

“People aren’t trying to find common ground, even on things they agree on,” he added. “That’s not good for democracy. I don’t think that’s endemic on one party’s side. I don’t think it’s just Republicans’ fault or Democrats’ fault. Both sides right now, I think, need to do a better job of finding common ground with the other side.”

Overall, Martin said the DFL in the state is strong, indicating the current makeup of the state legislature, but he also added it could be better as populations shift somewhat from the cities to the suburbs and those areas once considered strong blue begin to shift more to red.

“There are communities like Austin where the DFL should be doing better,” Martin said. “If we’re going to be a statewide party, we can’t be the party of the suburbs or the Twin Cities. We have to be the party that’s winning in southern Minnesota.”