Lori Sturdevant, an editorial writer and columnist, has covered state government and politics for more than 30 years.

Remembering Nazi Germany, part zwei

Posted by: Lori Sturdevant Updated: March 26, 2014 - 12:26 PM

Consider it a Minnesota counterpoint to a controversial Nazi reenactors' party on Martin Luther King Day at a Minneapolis restaurant. That's the contrast that struck me Tuesday as about 100 Minnesotans -- legislators, business executives and academicians among them -- heard four scholars consider the continuing implications of the Nazi memories today's Germans bear.

Their forum, sponsored by the University of Minnesota's Center for German and European Studies, highlighted the huge German response to a recent three-part TV docudrama that aired in that country as "Our Mothers, Our Fathers." It is being screened for American audiences as "Generation War."

The film depicts the war experience of five young friends, two women, two soldiers and one Jewish man. One German critic called the series "the first and last chance to ask our grandparents about their true biographies."

A last chance to hear war participants' voices is indeed at hand. Surviving war veterans are now in their late 80s and 90s. But it may be news to Americans that some Germans have not yet had a first chance to explore the Holocaust and Nazi brutality with their elders.

Panelists explained that not until the 1990s, after Germany was reunified, did Germans truly examine Nazi history and debate the German population's culpability for atrocities. In the former East Germany, Holocaust denial was commonplace, panelists said. In some telling, the 6 million Jews murdered in Nazi death camps were characterized as war victims akin to other Germans who suffered and died from 1939 to 1945. 

Today's German goverment is "actively involved in keeping the memory alive, and in educating this and future generations about German history," said Christa Tiefenbacher-Hudson, honorary consul of the Federal Republic of Germany in Minneapolis. "It's all meant to understand what happened in the past and also to prevent that it would happen again in the future." Minnesotans, too, should seek understanding of the sort that comes from sober analysis of genocidal empire-building -- not from partying in Nazi garb.

Borlaug's new home: National Statuary Hall

Posted by: Lori Sturdevant Updated: March 25, 2014 - 10:27 AM

Norman Borlaug would have been 100 Tuesday. He also would have been proud and a bit embarrassed by the fuss made over him at National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol, where Borlaug's statue was dedicated as one of the two stony likenesses allotted to the state of Iowa.

My hunch is that he might have also noted that while he was born in Cresco, Iowa, he was educated and launched on his career in agricultural research at the University of Minnesota. I knew Borlaug well enough to know that he considered Minnesota his second home.

The bronze sculpture of Borlaug depicts him as he looked while working at his third home, in Mexico. That's where he conducted his work to increase wheat yields -- and yielded strains and methods that ended starvation in much of the developing world. He won the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.

Borlaug was described as "a great gift of Iowa" at Tuesday's ceremony in Washington. His Minnesota connection is bound to be recognized Thursday beginning at 1:30 p.m. at his alma mater, where a celebration and conference about food security in his honor is set for McNamara Alumni Center.

Building's critics need Plan B

Posted by: Lori Sturdevant Updated: March 24, 2014 - 11:47 AM

A proposed new office building and parking complex for Minnesota senators is “unnecessary, unconstitutional and unpaid for,” a group of Republican legislators charged Monday as they announced plans to try to repeal the $90 million project’s as-yet-incomplete authorization process, set in law in 2013.

They also faulted the new building’s DFL backers for lacking a Plan B — an alternative to the new building both for housing legislative floor sessions in 2016, when the Capitol will be closed for restoration, and for the loss of about 15 Senate offices from the Capitol when that project is completed.

But as reporters learned upon questioning, the project’s GOP critics don’t have a Plan B, either.
It’s getting close to crunch time for the building proposal — lest indecision cause delay in the four-year Capitol restoration and cost taxpayers a tidy sum. Its fate sits in the House rules committee.

To be taken seriously at this late date, any revision in the proposed building plan ought to come with plausible, cost-effective alternative solutions to the problems it is intended to solve. Where will the Legislature meet in 2016? If it’s in existing space, how much will it cost to make over that space for the peculiar electronic demands of a floor session? Where will the public find their senators after the Capitol is rebuilt to house fewer of them?

For 40 years, senators’ offices have been split between the State Office Building and the Capitol. That’s a confusion-causing inconvenience for citizens, some of whom travel long distances for the sake of rushed meetings with their legislators. It will be a shame if lawmakers don’t seize the opportunity presented by Capitol renovation to correct that long-standing mistake.

Staggered Senate terms, anyone?

Posted by: Lori Sturdevant Updated: March 20, 2014 - 12:46 PM

This week, the Minnesota Senate's DFL majority is likely going to be very glad to see Friday come. They've been on the receiving end of a scolding by the DFL governor, thinly veiled scorn from their House counterparts, and a barrage of barbs from the GOP minority, all over their handling of politically sensitive tax and facilities issues.

At this writing, the Senate majority is aiming for redemption via approval of a $430 million tax relief bill. It's a good measure.

But critics note that the bill would not be necessary if the Senate majority had pursued different policies in 2013. The new bill includes federal conformity measures that the House favored last year, and repeals three ill-advised expansions of the sales tax to businesses that the Senate promoted 10 months ago.

The Senate also tucked planning money for a new office building for senators in the 2013 tax bill, and DFLers have been asked to defend it ever since. That building's fate now rests in the hands of a politically nervous, DFL-dominated House Rules Committee. On Tuesday, Gov. Mark Dayton accused senators of holding up this year's tax bill for the building's sake. They denied the charge -- but the Senate tax bill has been leaping through procedural hoops since.

Dayton's signature on a tax relief bill will soothe some DFL political nerves. But it's not likely to diminish the sense that the Senate isn't as attuned to public opinion as Dayton and House members. That stands to reason: Dayton and the House are on the 2014 ballot. Senators' four-year terms aren't due for renewal until 2016.

This year's tax-and-facilities drama is bound to revive interest in an old proposal -- staggered terms for state senators. Of the 38 states whose senators serve four-year terms, 28 states stagger their terms so that half of senators are on the ballot each year.

A four-year term brings a welcome long-term perspective to state lawmaking. It gives senators more  latitude to take political risks. But that risk-taking is only beneficial if it serves the state's long-term interests, not self-interest-- and does not lead to risk-takers' remorse soon thereafter.

The state Constitution gives Minnesota senators a degree of political freedom that officials in many other states would envy. My hunch is that some Senate critics would say that the Constitution is too generous in that regard, and that it should be amended to stagger Senate terms.


Female athletes still face collegiate hurdles

Posted by: Lori Sturdevant Updated: February 5, 2014 - 12:58 PM

Chris Voelz, passionate as ever for women's athletics, was back at her old University of Minnesota stomping ground Wednesday morning to jar Minnesotans out of any complacency they may have lately acquired about gender equity in college sports. 

Voelz made plenty of feminist waves between 1988 and 2002 as the last Golden Gopher women's athletic director — a position that was eliminated in Minnesota and around the country as colleges opted to eliminate the gender separation in sports administration. Voelz left Minnesota soon thereafter; today she's executive director of the Los Angeles-based Collegiate Women Sports Awards.

The merger of men's and women's athletic departments has not yet produced a happy ending for female coaches and student athletes, Voelz said. She was the featured guest at the seventh annual Jean Freeman Breakfast, part of the University of Minnesota's observance of National Girls and Women in Sport Day.

Men hold 80 percent of collegiate athletic director and head coaching positions in the country, she said. They also hold 70 percent of associate and 66 percent of assistant athletic director positions, a share that has barely budged in the past 15 years.

Every Division I school in the country spends more per student on male than female athletes, Voelz said. That disparity ranges from $1,000 per student to a whopping $30,000.

In the past 10 years, U.S. colleges have expanded sports teams in order to create 43,000 more opportunities for male students to play at the intercollegiate level. The comparable expansion for female students is 37,000, she said, citing NCAA statistics.

"It is time that we debunk the perpetuated myth that Title IX has caused men to lose opportunities. It simply is not so," Voelz said.

Title IX, barring gender discrimination by any educational program receiving federal funds, has revolutionized sports for women since its enactment in 1972. But revolutions take time — and with people like Voelz still pushing for change, this one may not yet be over.


This Dayton running mate is an insider

Posted by: Lori Sturdevant Updated: February 4, 2014 - 1:19 PM

As chief of staff, Tina Smith has been so integral to Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration that her title might have been deputy governor.

If Dayton and Smith prevail this fall in a bid for a second term, her new title will be lieutenant governor. The DFL governor announced Tuesday that Smith, 55, will be his running mate, succeeding Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner-Solon in that role.

When Prettner-Solon announced last month that she won’t seek a second term, she allowed that she had hoped to be more of an insider on Dayton’s team. In choosing Smith, Dayton appears to have taken that message to heart. Smith is the administration’s ultimate insider, the person who has tackled the most complicated and politically difficult issues that have come to the governor’s office in the past three years.

A former General Mills marketing professional and former chief of staff to Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, she worked with the business community, legislators and Minneapolis officials to craft a Vikings stadium plan that could clear political hurdles. A former Planned Parenthood executive, she was sufficiently savvy about health care to win Mayo Clinic trust in the bid for state help for the Destination Medical Center (DMC) project. The DMC Corp. governing board elected her its chair last fall. An MBA graduate of the Tuck School at Dartmouth College, Smith has pushed Dayton’s cabinet for more efficiency in state operations.

What Smith has not done — not since her high school student council days — is run for elective office. But she has coached numerous Democratic candidates in Minnesota and around the country. And she demonstrated at Tuesday’s announcement at state AFL-CIO headquarters that she knows how to deliver a campaign pitch and rev up a crowd (albeit a friendly one).

Though balanced by gender, as winning gubernatorial tickets have been since 1982, the Dayton-Smith team breaks with some political ticket traditions. It offers no geographic balance. Both Dayton and Smith spent their adult lives in Minneapolis.

Smith also lacks something governors and presidents usually seek in a running mate — a  defined, loyal political base. Dayton’s 2010 choice of Prettner-Solon, a longtime elected official in Duluth, seemed to be an attempt to curry favor with DFL primary voters in northeastern Minnesota.

With no primary to fear this year, Dayton seems unconcerned about Smith’s lack of an electoral base. In choosing Smith, he seems to have his eye less on the 2014 election than on keeping a talented player on his team in a second term.


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