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My Point of View: State representative has not challenged the status quo

My Point of View by Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

 

We need fresh representation in the state house. Our current representative is short-sighted on investments, anti-science on life-threatening issues and silent on the racially-biased status quo.

Our state representative voted against a bonding bill that would have provided $1.75 million to extend the Blazing Star Trail over Albert Lea Lake (good for both Albert Lea and Hayward), $7.5 million for ongoing Fountain Lake dredging, $3.5 million for flood mitigation on water-prone East Main, plus $250,000 for the Albert Lea Economic Development Agency.

That is $13 million she rejected for our district. Do the population math — a nearly equitable portion of the overall $2.4 billion bonding bill would go to our district, and she thought it was too much.

Interest rates are very low, so now is a smart time to invest in projects that will provide long-term benefit to our economy. It’s fortunate Shannon Savick was representing us to get the dredging project initially funded, but our current representative is content to leave us stuck in the mud.

We’re also stuck with COVID-19. If there’s anything a retired first-grade teacher should have downpat, it’s the importance of following simple routines, being considerate of other people and setting a good example. Wearing a face mask checks all three of these boxes.

Our state representative is still, as of last Friday, not always wearing a mask in public places like the local grocery store, which is something that Mayor Rasmussen, Dr. Ciota and Sue Yost have asked people to practice to help stop the spread of COVID-19 in our community.

If people see our current state representative not wearing a mask, the message she is sending as a leader is that it’s not important to wear a mask, whether that is her intention or not.

Mask usage is simple and effective, it does not restrict oxygen intake (even though it may feel stuffy), and it is not “unmanly” nor any other nonsense excuse Fox News is spreading.

American public health officials figured out the effectiveness of wearing masks during the 1918 influenza pandemic, and it’s astonishing how hard it is to convince people of this simple fact after more than 100 years of medical progress since then.

Maybe our representative knows the importance of wearing masks or maybe she doesn’t. I’ve argued before that she’s anti-science and out of touch. She also rarely steps outside the messaging of her party, and Republicans have been dangerously obtuse about wearing masks, loathe to depart a hair from President Trump’s meandering and irrational rhetoric.

Finally, our state representative is timid about challenging the racial status quo. She did not provide a statement for the local Justice for George Floyd rally in early June, which she was not able to attend. It was a peaceful rally, in which over 100 people gathered. Despite the barricaded streets and SWAT team presence, the energy was welcoming and positive, and we listened to voices of community members who are often muted.

It felt like we could be a vibrant community with broad shoulders if we have the courage to do better, together.

Back in January 2018, though, our state representative did attend a Minnesota Coalition for Immigration Reduction meeting in which Ron Branstner, an Islamophobic, anti-immigrant guest speaker, spread misinformation about Somali immigrants. She declined to speak when invited, but she apparently felt it was a politically safe space — a white supremacist, Christian dominionist space — to be present.

That day it felt like we were in a community that was closed, brittle and scared of dying.

I think about the stark contrast of those two events a lot.

The status quo is comfortable for those who benefit from it. Like it or not, white supremacy is the status quo in Minnesota, a state with some of the most entrenched racial gaps in education, home ownership and criminal sentencing in the entire country. Our representative has not challenged this status quo. If anything, she has defended it.

If you want our part of Minnesota to do better and move into a future that invests in all rather than some, and follows science rather than dead-end misinformation, it’s time to step out of our familiar comfort zone and get uncomfortable.

It’s not enough to be nice. We have a better option in November, and his name is Thomas Martinez. It’s time for new representation.

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson is a member of the Freeborn County DFL Party.