Editorial Roundup: Minnesota

Minneapolis Star Tribune. May 14, 2022.

Editorial: Trusted leader joins anti-crime effort

Andy Luger has returned as U.S. attorney for Minnesota — with a critical new focus.

Andy Luger is back as Minnesota’s U.S. attorney, and not a moment too soon. Seldom has there been greater need for a calm, veteran prosecutor to help stem the tide of violent crime that has erupted in the Twin Cities metro area.

Luger, who led the office from 2014 to 2017, said in a visit with the Star Tribune Editorial Board that “the urgency to this problem is like nothing I’ve ever seen.” Categories of crimes such as those committed with “ghost guns” and carjackings barely registered in Minnesota during Luger’s previous tenure and that of his immediate predecessor, Erica MacDonald, who left the office in February 2021.

Today, Luger said, ghost guns, typically assembled from kits and available without a background check, are used in many crimes statewide. Carjackings, which numbered 177 in 2020, soared to 655 in Minneapolis alone. Additionally, Luger’s also will focus on shootings involving a gun modification known as a “switch” that illegally transforms handguns into automatic weapons.

With that backdrop, Luger said every prosecutor in his office, whether their specialty is violent crime, white-collar fraud, drugs, child crimes, postal thefts or national security, will take on violent crime that violates federal law. He is starting with himself. “I’ve already assigned myself a violent carjacking case,” he told the Editorial Board.

“What I’m hearing from law enforcement officers, community leaders and others is that we were not able to handle all the important violent crime work coming our way with just a violent crime section,” he said.

Few crimes have terrorized Minnesotans recently as much as the surge in violent carjackings in home garages, mall parking lots, gas stations and elsewhere. Luger’s emphasis is the correct one.

Luger said his office believes about 1 in 5 carjackings is committed or engineered by adults. These are not, he said emphatically, just joy rides. “These are people engaging in violent, organized, premeditated behavior,” he said. In some cases, victims are beaten, held at gunpoint, forced to open apps and send money or give PINs for ATMs.

Other cities have seen upticks in violent crime, he said, but Minneapolis, with its hobbled, understaffed Police Department, is more vulnerable than most.

It is undeniable that the last two years have wreaked havoc on the department. The pandemic, the unrest following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis officer and the growing number of vacancies that the city is hard-pressed to fill have all taken a severe toll on what is arguably one of the most critical police departments in the state.

The U.S. Justice Department is still investigating wrongdoing at the MPD. At the same time, the state Human Rights Department recently concluded a two-year probe into the Police Department’s failings and culture of racist policing. There is the distinct possibility that the city soon may be acting under not one but two consent decrees based on state and federal findings.

From a pre-pandemic peak of well over 800 officers, MPD now has about 544 to police a city of more than 400,000. Little surprise then, that crime, especially violent crime, has spiked and spilled over into surrounding areas.

Lugar’s decision to marshal more resources in his office is part of a broader effort. Law enforcement officials announced earlier this month that state troopers would begin patrolling streets three nights a week in certain parts of Minneapolis, while the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension will assist with local investigations.

BCA Superintendent Drew Evans said at that time that “Minneapolis is seeing a significant rise in violent crime, while at the same time its Police Department is experiencing an unprecedented shortage of officers and investigators. The BCA is bringing resources and expertise to help these communities meet this urgent need.”

Luger’s effort fits in well with this all-hands-on-deck strategy. He knows other leaders, knows community groups and is widely respected. He is not without his detractors. Some were critical of his efforts on the program known as Countering Violent Extremism, which aimed at rooting out would-be foreign terrorists. The Editorial Board supported that effort.

Then as now, Luger said he remains open to other approaches. “But what is the alternative?” he said. Unlike during the 1980s and ’90s, “this isn’t about low-level drug traffickers or nonviolent crime. These are focused, intentional violent offenders, often repeat offenders. … When people are beaten, bloodied, dragged, their lives altered, how do you say no to that case?”

There is, he said, a legitimate lane for criminal prosecution. “If you don’t think we should be prosecuting people who commit violent crimes, then say that. Defend it,” he said. Luger said others could and should address the root causes of crime — and his office supports several anti-crime programs — but he noted that his priority is prosecuting criminals.

“What we’re not going to do,” he said of working with other agencies and prosecutors, “is fight among ourselves. There’s too much work to do.”

___

Mankato Free Press. May 14, 2022.

Editorial: Free college is good for everyone

Thumbs up to nine students who recently graduated from South Central College as high school seniors through the Post-Secondary Enrollment Options program.

The students received their Associate of Arts degrees and can now enroll in any Minnesota State college as juniors. They came from high schools all over Minnesota including Mankato, Medford and Faribault.

The program allows the students to attend at no cost, and they can take as many or as few classes as they like. It saves the students an estimated $20,000 over two full-time years in the program. It is truly Minnesota’s “free college” program. Colleges across the state participate in the program.

The program provides an incentive for Mankato area students to stay in town for an affordable higher education. Many go to SCC to get their general education done and continue to Minnesota State University for their bachelor’s degree.

The Kremlin’s senator

Thumbs down to Sen. Rand Paul, who on Thursday went out of his way to singlehandedly stall urgent legislation on Ukraine.

The legislation will certainly pass, and it will almost as certainly pass with Paul in opposition. Opposing a bill is one thing. Doing so in bad faith is another, and that is the case here.

The Kentucky Republican demanded that the bill be amended, but when Senate leaders said they would put his proposal up for a vote, he withdrew it. All knew Paul’s desired change would be voted down, but it didn’t matter enough to him to force the vote. He just wanted to stall the bill.

Years ago, the late Sen. John McCain declared on the Senate floor of Paul: “The senator from Kentucky is now working for Vladimir Putin.” McCain is, of course, now dead, but his observation about Paul remains relevant.

Strike it Rich

Thumbs up to the owners and trainer of the surprise Kentucky Derby champion Rich Strike. Days after their unheralded colt won the biggest horse race in the United States, they did the unexpected and announced that Rich Strike would not race in the Preakness, the second jewel in the Triple Crown.

To be sure, their decision takes a good bit of the luster off the sport’s showcase events by insuring that there will be no Triple Crown winner this year. Casual sports fans were enthralled by Rich Strike’s stirring dash from the back of the pack down the stretch at the Derby last Saturday, when the 85-1 long shot blew past the favorites in the final feet; viewership of the race after the result has now far surpassed the live telecast. Those same casual fans will likely skip the Preakness now that Rich Strike won’t run.

But horse racing has been troubled in recent years by rashes of deaths of horses. The Triple Crown sequence — Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Belmont — is a grueling challenge for three-year-old thoroughbreds. Rich Strike’s owners and trainers are protecting the horse. We can regret that we won’t see the challenge accepted; we should respect the rationale.

Saving history

Thumbs up to the Minnesota Department of Transportation for investing in restoring a historic wayside rest along Highway 14 near New Ulm.

The Depression-era rest stop was build as a jobs program in 1938-39. The location was chosen because people often stopped there to drink water that flowed from a spring.

Unfortunately, the spring became contaminated in the 1970s, and it won’t again be a feature of the wayside rest. (Another example of how important it is to protect our ground and surface water.)

The $889,000 project includes removing buckthorn and other brush, restoring the impressive stone walls, restoring a picnic area and putting in turn lanes.

MnDOT waited to do the project until this year because Highway 14 is shut down to make way for the new four-lane highway that is being built from Nicollet to New Ulm.

It’s a unique piece of history that is worth saving and will be enjoyed by travelers for years to come. It may also allow the site to be put on the National Register of Historic Places.

___

St. Cloud Times. May 13, 2022.

Editorial: Time for Minnesota to finally leave Prohibition era (and blue laws) behind

The Minnesota House this week signed off on a proposal that would catapult one portion of Minnesota law 100 years into the future ... bringing it to right about 2019. The Minnesota Senate is being more conservative with its proposal on craft breweries and distilleries, so success this session is uncertain.

It shouldn’t be, however.

It’s time for Minnesota businesses and residents to be trusted with basic decisions about how much beer and liquor they can buy, from who, and when. Hanging on to our state’s paternalistic laws that sprang from the Volstead Act in 1919 is, frankly, inconceivable. It’s clear that Prohibition never worked, succeeding only in turning millions of law-abiding Americans into people who were willing to routinely flout the law. It also enriched and entrenched organized crime in American life, all while not advancing the temperance movement. Prohibition was such a bad idea, in fact, it only lasted 13 years — the flutter of a hummingbird’s wing in governmental time.

So why, in Minnesota, did we hang on to dry Sundays for 89 more years before finally succumbing to reality in 2017? Why, still, are Minnesota craft brewers and distillers limited in their sales once they mature in the marketplace?

Because of the convergence of moralists, anti-capitalists and inertia. The moralists were at the root of the phenomenon in the last century, later giving way to business lobbies who didn’t want the competition, and the inertia of unraveling a century’s worth of laws.

Now, House lawmakers are in line to change limits on growler sales and let small distilleries sell normal-sized bottles of their products directly to customers. As state law stands now, once a brewery grows successful enough — producing more than 20,000 barrels a year — it is no longer allowed to sell growlers, half-gallon bottles of beer for home consumption. Under the House proposal, the growler cap would rise to 150,000 barrels. If the House version passes, about two dozen distilleries would get to sell one standard 750 milliliter bottle to a customer per day at their cocktail rooms, up from the current 375 milliliter limit. And five Minnesota craft breweries would be immediately affected by such a change: Summit Brewing in St. Paul, August Schell in New Ulm, Surly and Fulton in Minneapolis, and Castle Danger in Two Harbors.

We’d argue the caps are entirely unnecessary. But raising the cap significantly is a good start at disassembling a system of blue laws that should never have existed in the first place.

Blue laws — laws originally enacted to codify a sabbath by making many forms of commerce illegal — are why Minnesotans can’t purchase a car from a dealership on Sunday, and why Sunday off-sale liquor sales weren’t legal here until 2017. Many courts have done semantic gymnastics to frame the laws as anything-other-than-ecclesiastical, but if it looks like a Sunday and walks like a Sunday, it’s a Sunday.

Liquor sales restrictions — including the failed experiment of Prohibition — grew from the same root. The status quo is commonly defended as a “greater good.” Sunday closing laws protect a “day of rest” for workers (a secular day of rest, of course, even while the statute only codifies it on the mainstream Christian sabbath). Controls on the time and quantity of liquor sales keep people from drinking too much on days “that should be for family,” the argument goes. No explanation why the larger sales allowed in liquor stores are better for Minnesotans than growlers and craft spirits, however.

The lesser-known dynamic is that robust business lobbies have for decades opposed changes to a business model they are comfortable with. Many argued that Sunday liquor sales would force mom-and-pop stores to give up their one day off a week or be outcompeted in the marketplace.

Mostly, that hasn’t happened. Prohibiting Minnesota’s small breweries from selling their product in a half-gallon growler (illegal now) instead of four crowlers (legal now, and the same quantity as a growler) is simply illogical.

Let the marketplace choose whether it wants to buy a case of Miller Lite or a few growlers of Castle Danger Cream Ale for the Memorial Day barbecue. Anything short of that is indefensible while we espouse fealty to free market competition, individual choice and separation of church and state.

Next up: Let’s make a deal on a nice Chevy some Sunday soon.

END