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MN GOP Tries Something New: White-on-White Racism

Plus an update on the deathless Kmart, the ongoing Roof Depot fight, and a renewed push for child labor in today's Flyover.

Heartland Signal|

Senator Mark Johnson: Some of his best friends are Eye-talian.

Welcome back to The Flyover, your daily digest of what local media outlets and Twitter-ers are gabbing about.

MN GOP Senate Leader: We Are Not Bigoted Against “Polacks”

Early Wednesday, by a vote of 34-31, the Minnesota state senate passed the Driver’s Licenses for All bill, which will become law once signed by Gov. Tim Walz. That bill, as we’ve mentioned before, acknowledges the fact that many undocumented immigrants need to drive for work and other reasons, and that allowing them to get licenses will make the roads safer for everyone. The bill met with nearly unanimous GOP resistance, for reasons Sen. Mark Johnson (R-East Grand Forks) attempted to express on the Senate floor. As pointed out by the Heartland Signal Twitter account, however, the Senate minority leader couldn’t even express a denial that the GOP was bigoted without using an ethnic slur. "We are not calling groups any names,” Johnson said. “It doesn't matter what your race, color, your creed. Norwegian, Polack, Somalian, you name it." You hear that, squareheads, micks, and krauts? The Minnesota GOP accepts you all.

The Lake Street Kmart? It's Not Going Away Anytime Soon.

What hopeful fools we were to believe that the 2020 closure of that Kmart would lead to a speedy reconnection of Nicollet Avenue! According to the Star Tribune's Burl Gilyard, the "long-sought reopening" is some time off, with any new construction on the site starting at least four years in the future. The factors are many: the aftermath of the uprising that tore down Lake Street following the murder of George Floyd, the always-lengthy public planning process, financial skittishness, and caution from the city about redeveloping a "closely watched urban site." As Brandon Champeau, senior vice president of commercial development with United Properties, tells Gilyard, "The city just doesn't want to get it wrong again." There is some good news, though—city project supervisor Rebecca Parrell says that "if everything stays on track" (although when does it?) roadwork to reconnect Nicollet could begin in the spring of '25.

City Council Votes “No” on Rescinding the Roof Depot Demolition

The Roof Depot: The city of Minneapolis wants to tear it down for a public works facility, while neighbors fear its demo would release deadly toxins into the air they breathe. This never-ending saga is a constantly moving target, so we’re going to sum it up this week’s news real fast before we get to the newest update: On Tuesday, protestors occupied the Roof Depot in the East Phillips neighborhood. The next day, around 50 police raided the site.

This morning, Ninth Ward city council member Jason Chavez introduced a motion to end the city's demolition contract, stating that “it is clear we need to end this before my people get hurt.” Adds Ward 10’s Aisha Chugtai: “It is very clear to me that this is a decision that the community does not want. And it's one that is leading to more mistrust between the city and an already marginalized community.” Protests erupted from the crowd after the council came to a 6-6 split, which was not enough to kill the contract. “I’ll make sure you are not voted back in,” one woman vowed to council president Andrea Jenkins, who halted the meeting for a 10-minute break. But the deal’s not won and done yet; the East Phillips Neighborhood Institute still has a lawsuit pending against the city over the project's potential environmental impact. Though the area has experienced some pollution remediation efforts, 1,480 acres of it are considered a Superfund site located inside the “Arsenic Triangle of South Minneapolis.” 

GOP Works to Soften Pesky Child Labor Laws

Sen. Rich Draheim (R-Madison Lake) has some good ideas. The southern Minnesota lawmaker thinks school buses should have large stop signs; he's no fan of annoying robocalls. But Draheim also believes teens should be able to work dangerous construction jobs, so he introduced a bill called the Paid Youth Trades Employment Opportunity Act last month. If it becomes law, 16- and 17-year-olds will be able to toil inside construction sites across Minnesota. (A similar bill died during the 2020 legislative session.) "Eliminating work opportunities for youth just because of their age will make it even harder for businesses to find reliable employees," Draheim recently told Business Insider in a piece headlined "Instead of paying adults more, some states might let companies hire kids as young as 14 to fill the labor shortage."

According to Debbie Berkowitz of Georgetown University's Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor, when child labor laws get relaxed, it's quite likely the impacted industries will recruit children from poor families. "A lot of the child labor jobs are menial jobs and those skills aren't transferrable," she adds. For a stilted, one-sided, strangely phrased account of how the bill actually helps construction firms and kids, check out this report for Duluth's WDIO. The concept of child labor has rightly received negative PR in recent months; Packers Sanitation Services Inc. admitted last week to employing children in nightmarish Minnesota slaughterhouses.

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