Closing Minnesota's gaps: A new bipartisan approach

  • Article by: EDITORIAL BOARD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 24, 2014 - 6:58 PM

State senators aim for a bipartisan anti-poverty strategy.

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Photo: Paul Gonzales • Los Angeles Times/MCT,

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Minnesotans can be forgiven for recalling the old saw about the weather when contemplating disparities between the state’s white and nonwhite populations in income, educational attainment, longevity and health: Everybody talks about them, but nobody (it seems) does anything about them.

In fact, a number of earnest efforts have been mounted through the years to find effective public policy remedies for “the gaps.” Some progress has resulted. But it’s been constrained by a widening “strategic gap” — a lack of bipartisan consensus about how to boost prosperity and well-being in minority communities.

That’s why an encouraging word is in order for a fresh attempt to close that strategic gap. The Minnesota Senate on Tuesday announced the formation of a bipartisan Select Committee on Disparities and Opportunities. Composed of nine DFLers and four Republicans and co-chaired by two Minneapolis DFLers, Jeff Hayden and Bobby Joe Champion, the committee’s charge is to reach consensus on policy recommendations for closing the state’s notoriously wide racial gaps.

Hayden says he and Champion aren’t interested in more study. Their goal is to bring a plan of action to the 2015 Legislature. It will start by seeking strategies for boosting employment and increasing self-sufficiency within minority communities. That’s a topic on which some bipartisan agreement seems possible, even in today’s politically polarized environment. Hayden says he and Champion are open to business ideas about how to spur job creation and Republican arguments that previous government efforts to help disadvantaged people have been ineffective.

In two respects, this Senate effort picks up where previous legislators left off. It renews the useful tradition of interim study commissions — in this case, engaging senators while House members campaign for re-election this summer and fall. And it picks up on the good work done in 2007-08 by the Legislative Commission to End Poverty by 2020, then dropped as the Great Recession took its toll. Mining that report for ideas should be on the new committee’s agenda.

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