Free speech, terrorism debated in Senate higher education debate

by T.W. Budig

ECM Capitol reporter

Terrorism became the focus of Senate floor debate on the higher education finance bill this week.

“When I saw that I was absolutely appalled,” Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, said of perceived acceptance of terrorism at a state university.

Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, listens to debate on the Senate floor. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, listens to debate on the Senate floor. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

Nienow was responding to Weather Underground co-founder Bill Ayers being named a “visiting scholar” at the Minnesota State University Moorhead. According to media reports, the former 1960s political radical will serve the 2013 College of Education and Human Services Visiting Scholar. Nienow offered an amendment prohibiting the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities from hosting, spending money on, facilitating travel or conferring academic honors on behalf of any person who had either been convicted of acts of terrorism or publicly acknowledged participating in such acts.

The amendment touched off intense floor debate, with Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, arguing the provision worked against the free flow of ideas and debate critical to the function of higher learning.

“Who is going to be the regulator of the speech?” Latz asked.

Sen. Richard Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, argued that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who had an arrest record for participating in civil rights protests, would be prohibited under the amendment from being honored by Minnesota colleges and universities.

Nienow was not convinced. It’s not OK, he said, for Moorhead or any other higher education institution to support or honor “unrepentant terrorists.”

Nienow’s amendment was amended; the Senate, on 38-26 vote, instead approved language having higher education officials craft policies in this area.

 

Sen. Michelle Benson rhetorically flourishes in Senate debate

Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, fired off one the best lines of the week during Senate floor debate on Friday, April 19. Benson motioned to return the health and human services (HHS) finance bill back to the Senate Finance Committee, arguing the legislation, which comes in about $150 million below budget projections, makes hurtful cuts.

Democrats are experts at raising taxes, Benson argued.

“If you’re going to rob from the rich, the very least you could do is give to the poor,” she said.

But Senate Finance Committee Chairman Richard Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, turned the debate back on Republicans, saying he was surprised that Republicans offered no amendments in committee to change the HHS bill.

“I was shocked,” he said.

Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, returned fire, saying he had voted against the bill in Finance Committee. Sometimes you have to count the votes, Nienow said of not pursuing amendments.

But if Cohen is asking for lengthy committee debate, “I am certainly willing and able to do this,” Nienow said.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said former Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty and he shared the concern that the HHS budget was unsustainable.

The easiest thing to do, instead of making hard budget decision, would be to borrow money from the schools to subsidize it.

But Democrats aren’t going to budget by gimmicks, Bakk said.

Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, in House Tax Committee on Friday, April 19, during debate on a labor amendment, said the committee was beginning to remind him of a smoke-filled room full of lobbyists.

“It’s actually not that bad,” Davids said of such a room. “I’ve been there.”

 

Kline not interested in U.S. Senate run

The Associated Press reports that 2nd Congressional District Congressman John Kline has taken his name off the table of possible Republican U.S. Senate candidates.

According to media reports, Republican Second District Congressman John Kline has taken his name off the table in terms of possible U.S. Senate candidates. Kline is pictured during a recent stop at the State Capitol (Photo by T.W. Budig)

According to media reports, Republican Second District Congressman John Kline has taken his name off the table in terms of possible U.S. Senate candidates. Kline is pictured during a recent stop at the State Capitol (Photo by T.W. Budig)

In doing so, Kline, House Education and Workforce Committee chairman, joins former Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former Republican U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman in declining to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken next year. Kline, then, presumably will seek a seventh term in the House.

Democrats were alert to Kline’s decision.

“In his 10 years in Washington, Congressman Kline has put party politics ahead of Minnesota by voting three times for a budget that protects tax cuts for millionaires, ends the guarantee of Medicare and raises Medicare costs on Minnesota seniors,” DFL Chairman Ken Martin said.

Kline last fall defeated former Democratic State Rep. Mike Obermueller in the 2nd District, winning about 54 percent of the vote.

Obermueller, an attorney by profession, plans to run again in the district.

“In part, to finish what we started in 2012.  Our country faces serious challenges, but instead of trying to find common ground and solutions, John Kline has doubled down on his partisan agenda,” Obermueller said in a statement.

 

Tim Budig can be reached at tim.budig@ecm-inc.com

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