Excerpts from recent Minnesota editorials

November 18, 2019 GMT

Minneapolis Star Tribune, Nov. 15

Impeachment hearings are both proper and painful

Congress, the public, the media must calmly, carefully consider the facts, wherever they lead.

This nation has embarked on a grave process for only the fourth time in its history — impeachment of a president.

It’s a serious matter that should be treated as such by all concerned. It’s also a wrenching procedure that produces upheaval and can fan partisan flames. And, it must be said, it’s a necessary and entirely constitutional means of holding leaders accountable for misdeeds. It is no “coup” or sham, as Republicans have alleged, and they do harm to the institutions of this country and the Constitution they revere to tear down a basic means for holding presidential power in check.

The allegations against President Donald Trump are serious. It’s impossible to believe that if a Democratic president stood accused of attempting to bully a foreign country into investigating his political rival, with a desperately needed aid package hanging in the balance, Republicans would not feel obliged to act.

There is no sense in urging that this be a nonpartisan process. It is such by its very nature. But Republicans would do well to approach this inquiry with an open mind, to weigh their desire to protect a president of their party against their obligation to act as a check and balance on presidential power and uphold the Constitution.

The first week of testimony already has shown the need for public hearings. Americans heard powerful testimony from top diplomats William Taylor and George Kent. Both men have unblemished records of service. Both were appointed by this administration. Both have stepped forward, at great risk, to attest that Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, was running a rogue operation in Ukraine, attempting to arrange the investigation Trump wanted of his political rival.

On Friday, Americans watched witness intimidation unfold in real time as Trump went after former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch on Twitter while she was testifying. Yovanovitch has served the U.S. at some of the most difficult diplomatic posts in the world, from Mogadishu to Moscow to Kyiv.

She was known within the national security community for her commitment to rooting out corruption in Ukraine. Her thanks was to have Giuliani launch a smear campaign against her, and have Trump call her “bad news” in his now infamous call to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, noting ominously that Yovanovitch was “going to go through some things.”

As much as anything, impeachment inquiries briefly lift the curtain on the inner workings of national politics, allowing average Americans to see and judge how politics is being conducted. That can produce important moments. One such moment came when, in a particularly chilling statement, Yovanovitch attested that “our Ukraine policy has been thrown into disarray, and shady interests the world over have learned how little it takes to remove an American ambassador who does not give them what they want.”

No U.S. president has ever been removed from office by impeachment. Two presidents were impeached by the House but acquitted in the Senate. One, Richard Nixon, resigned before the House voted on impeachment charges. The odds are against Trump being convicted by a GOP-dominated Senate.

And yet, this inquiry should go forward. Our nation risks lasting damage to its institutions, its security and its ability to act as a stabilizing force in a tumultuous world if it is unwilling to get to the bottom of possible serious misdeeds by its leaders. As difficult as the proceedings are to follow, we urge Americans to do so, because as citizens and voters, they provide the ultimate check and balance. To fulfill that duty, they need both parties to do their level best to vet allegations, witnesses and events. They need a media that upholds its responsibility to provide accurate, comprehensive accounts that illuminate rather than inflame or entertain.

It’s time to follow the facts — wherever they lead.


The Free Press of Mankato, Nov. 17

Water quality: Attention given means progress made

Why it matters: Improving water quality in Minnesota lakes and rivers will help maintain natural resources that support economic development and quality of life.

The bad news in a report about water quality in Minnesota was that 56% of state waters are impaired. The good news was we’re doing something about it.

Minnesotans shouldn’t be satisfied with the 56 percent impairment rate in the “land of sky blue waters.” No amount of development or progress is worth the cost of polluted water.

But the recent report marks a milestone of sorts: Minnesota government has been diligent about studying our waters and acting on water quality. After 10 years, the MPCA has completed its study of every watershed in Minnesota. And some cleanup efforts have been implemented and some waters have been taken off the list.

The other mostly good news is that Republicans and Democrats have long been supporters of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, an agency that was formed in part due to a horrendous soybean oil spill in the Minnesota River at Mankato back in the 1960s.

Now it’s time to get to work on the solutions.

Some plans for improving and restoring water quality are ready to be implemented. The Blue Earth River watershed plan was shared with the public at an open house this summer and public comments were taken through late September. Those plans will then be submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency.

To their credit, landowners and farmers have implemented land management practices on their own like planting cover crops between seasons or grasses on land they choose to idle through state and federal cost sharing programs.

Cities like Mankato have lobbied the Legislature for funding that would allow the creation of a large holding pond to slow runoff. Experts say there are also opportunities to do that in farm country without seriously impacting agriculture.

When the EPA approves the final cleanup strategy, there will be no choice. The cleanup is mandated by law.

These cleanup plans will be costly. All taxpayers, not just farmers, will need to make these investments in clean water. We urge collaboration and cooperation among farmers, businesses and government to make more of Minnesota the “land of sky blue waters.”


St. Cloud Times, Nov. 15

Minnesota kids need more time in school

This month, leaders of the St. Cloud and Sauk Rapids-Rice school districts made a new policy about what happens when dangerous weather keeps students out of class.

Their decisions, which call for students to have e-learning days after three full snow days in an academic year, are intended to circumvent the need to extend the school year past the planned spring closing date.

Both St. Cloud and Sauk Rapids-Rice administrators made the decision in accordance with state law, which allows up to five e-learning days in an academic year provided school districts make a plan for them before school opens in the fall. They have also said they will comply with a state law that will accommodate students who lack internet access.

Sartell-St. Stephen is holding out for now, however. Superintendent Jeff Schweibert told the Times that while district leaders believe e-learning could work well for older students, the Sartell district wants to be sure it would be effective for younger students before implementing such a plan.

Some parents and taxpayers have expressed skepticism of the plan on similar grounds, wondering how effective e-learning days will be. Others are concerned that kids who can’t go online at home will have an experience different than their peers with Wi-Fi.

Members of the Times Editorial Board know that businesses across the globe, including ours, are using similar tools to connect with peers daily, have meetings and complete tasks efficiently regardless of distance. That experience leads us to believe that, executed well, e-learning can be effective. As a practical matter, we’re on board.

Philosophically, however, we think the cultural resistance to making up snow days in the spring begs a larger debate about Minnesota’s in-school time.

We believe there isn’t enough of it. And we believe the statistics bear that out.

We call on Minnesota lawmakers to consider raising Minnesota’s 165 required instruction days — in the bottom five of the nation — to 180 days. And we call on parents and educators to support that improvement.

We know that suggesting such a radical thing is not without risk — akin to suggesting “Duck, Duck, Grey Duck” is incorrect, only with far higher and weightier stakes.

We know that we Minnesotans have built an entire culture around a public school year that starts after Labor Day and ends before June gets rolling. Our State Fair, our Prep Bowl and our cabin culture are all tied to that academic year. Parts of our economy prioritize teen labor throughout those long summers to keep resorts and farms running. And we know that in 2012, parent opposition to a proposal to shorten spring break threw the Sartell-St. Stephen board and leadership into chaos.

But we also know that Minnesota has a high school graduation rate —83% in 2016-2017 — that ties it for 33rd in the nation according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics.

Thirty-third place. Two percentage points behind the national average.

But what about Minnesota’s best-in-class ACT scores? Absolutely brag-worthy, yes. Of the 20 states where nearly all graduates take the test, Minnesota consistently comes out at or near the top.

But here’s the fine print: Of those 20 states, 16 have higher graduation rates than Minnesota. So while the Minnesota kids who make it through to graduation are in fact highly successful, a larger percentage of our kids never make it to that test compared to the competition.

Is tied for 33rd place — with Mississippi, California, Hawaii and Oklahoma — somewhere Minnesota wants to be?

More days on the school calendar is not the whole answer, but it should be part of the discussion. Excellent public education is another of Minnesota’s beloved cultural traditions, after all.