A Minnesota state representative apologized Wednesday for remarking on the House floor that a rail line connecting north Minneapolis to a state prison in St. Cloud would be “convenient.”
“I sincerely apologize,” Republican Rep. Jim Newberger said in a prepared statement. “I recognize my comments last night offended some people. I will work in the future to not repeat this mistake.”
His comments Tuesday drew sharp rebukes from many, including Gov. Mark Dayton.
Newberger, a paramedic from Becker in his second term, drew boos on the House floor during Tuesday night’s debate on the GOP transportation budget when he noted that a proposed study on expanding the Northstar commuter rail line eventually could take the tracks right past the Minnesota Correctional Facility in St. Cloud.
“Boy, wouldn’t that be convenient, to have that rail line going from the prison to north Minneapolis?” Newberger said. After members of the chamber booed his comments, he quickly backtracked.
“I’m not casting any aspersions on north Minneapolis,” Newberger said. “I know some folks got their ire up, and rightfully so. Sometimes as we’re speaking — that’s what came into my mind.”
Outside the House chambers, the comment got reaction from those who found it offensive and racist.
“It’s harmful and hurtful,” said Anthony Newby, who lives and works in north Minneapolis and is executive director of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change.
The governor suggested Newberger be reprimanded by his leadership. “I think it’s horrible,” Dayton said to reporters before Newberger issued his apology. “The fact that nobody has made a comment on that in House leadership, I think, is appalling.”
House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, did not publicly denounce Newberger’s remarks. A spokeswoman said Wednesday that Daudt spoke with Newberger immediately after Tuesday night’s floor session to share his concerns. He said Newberger’s apology was appropriate.
Dayton said leadership should make a public statement, regardless of whether Newberger backtracked.
“I think leadership in the House should make a strong statement that it’s totally unacceptable,” the governor said. “I don’t know the technical terms of sanctions in the House, but somebody in House leadership ought to stand up and say publicly that is absolutely out of line and unacceptable and has no place in the Minnesota House or anywhere else.”
Minneapolis Council Members Barbara Johnson and Blong Yang, who represent the city’s north side, called Newberger’s remarks “quite offensive” and offered to show the outstate representative “how and why north Minneapolis is a thriving, vital part of Minnesota.”
In a written statement, Rep. Raymond Dehn, a DFLer from the city’s north side, said Newberger should apologize on the House floor.