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Capitol Chatter: Racial economic disparities legislation expected

ST. PAUL - Democrats wanted a special legislative session to include a kick-start on fixing fiscal racial disparities.

ST. PAUL – Democrats wanted a special legislative session to include a kick-start on fixing fiscal racial disparities.

That did not happen, but legislation is expected to be ready soon after legislators return to St. Paul on Tuesday.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton has created an office of economic disparities in his administration and promises to propose programs dealing with the issue when on March 15 he announces proposed changes to the state's two-year budget that was enacted last year. He promises "a significant amount of resources."

"I'm looking forward to helping craft a mission for that office, putting accountability into people that receive, or programs that receive money there," said Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook. "I just think it's a great place to start, and I believe those innovative solutions to deal with this problem are going to come from the community."

Dayton said he has been meeting with minority community leaders, as well as legislators working on the issue. Since he announced the idea of fighting the economic disparity last year, he has said the minority community must take the lead.

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"Tremendous interest in this, and that's where the best ideas I expect will come from," Dayton said.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said long-term solutions are needed. Part of the solution, he said, is reducing an education achievement gap where whites do better in school than people of color.

"So we can't ignore what's really causing the problem," the speaker said. "You know, frankly, we're failing these kids. They're not failing in the school, we're failing them."

Just throwing money at the problem is not the solution, said Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie. "Our state budget has increased 50 percent since (2003), and our poverty situation has not improved at all. ... We have to look at making sure that the education opportunities exist for everybody. And they don't."

House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, said that of his city and St. Paul, as well as "pockets across the state," face the disparity issue. Dayton often has said that it is not just a Twin Cities problem.

In schools, he said, students of color are not treated the same as whites. For instance, he added, they are disciplined more.

Renewables grow

Tim Pawlenty was governor and, at the time, supported requiring Minnesota to use more renewable sources to generate electric energy.

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The rallying cry was "25 by 2025"- 25 percent of the state's electricity generated by methods such as wind, solar, hydroelectric and biological sources.

To many that seemed far-fetched. Now, however, the state already generates 21 percent of its power via renewables, and 2025 is a long ways away.

"Minnesota's commitment to renewable energy is showing clear results," Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman said. "Since 2005, Minnesota's electric power generated from renewable sources has more than tripled. We have reduced our dependence on polluting coal that must be imported from outside the state, while increasing our own clean energy made right here in Minnesota."

Ventura vs. Rubio

Jesse Ventura has a way of staying close to the spotlight, and often in a controversial manner.

The independent-minded former Minnesota governor reacted to Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio's comment about him, when the Republican called Ventura "an embarrassment" to Minnesota.

"I find it offensive that somebody who wants to be the commander in chief of our military would call a Vietnam veteran an embarrassment," Ventura told Minnesota Public Radio. "I'm embarrassed over the fact the Republicans picked a chicken hawk like him to be who they want for president."

Dayton comments

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Dayton can come up with some quick, and funny, comments.

At a recent news conference, for instance, he said: "I'd have to recuse myself," when asked whether he could support providing dedicated state funding for senior citizens. He is the state's oldest governor at 68.

When a reporter wondered if he would like to ban people from his administration bolting state government to take jobs with a proposed copper-nickel mining company, he had no comment other than: "For the record, I don't intend to be a lobbyist in Minnesota or Washington."

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