Political environment shifts around Minneapolis

What state and national Republican victories could mean for the city

Thousands protested president-elect Donald Trump in a Nov. 10 march through the West Bank and onto Interstate 94. Photo by Dylan Thomas

Minneapolis residents reliably returned their DFL state legislators to the state capitol on Election Day, at the same time giving 174,585 votes to the Democratic presidential ticket of Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine — nearly four out of five votes cast in that race.

And then the political world shifted around Minneapolis.

A Donald Trump-led Republican wave helped to flip the state Senate to the GOP, which also maintained control of the House, setting up potential obstacles to Minneapolis’ agenda in St. Paul. The president-elect’s rhetoric on the campaign trail — especially comments that targeted women, immigrants and Muslims — also stirred up fears about what a Trump administration might mean for Minneapolis residents and prompted a series of post-election demonstrations, including Nov. 10 march through the West Bank neighborhood and onto Interstate-94 that was joined by thousands.

“I will never support him,” said Jennifer Gilles of Longfellow, who showed up at the rally bearing a sign that read “Not my president.” Gilles said she was particularly concerned about a potential erosion of women’s reproductive rights and environmental protections during a Trump presidency.

Macalester College student Dan Klonowski showed up to the rally with a rainbow flag, a longtime symbol of the LGBT community, draped over his shoulders. Klonowski said he had little to fear personally as a white, heterosexual male, but said some of his friends “were very scared of what was to come.”

Protesters on Cedar Avenue. Photo by Dylan Thomas
Protesters on Cedar Avenue. Photo by Dylan Thomas

“What I object to is the rhetoric of hate I feel the winning campaign was run on,” he said. Klonowski held a handwritten sign that read “Hate stops with me” as he waited for the protestors to set off from their gathering place, a plaza outside of the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

Asked Nov. 9 what the Republican victories at the state and federal level meant for Minneapolis, political science professor Larry Jacobs, the school’s current Walter F. Mondale Chair for Political Studies, put it this way: “Not good. Not good on a bunch of fronts.”

At the state level, Jacobs predicted “a return to something along the lines of the fiscal and regulatory policies under (former GOP Gov.) Tim Pawlenty.” With the departure of President Barack Obama from the White House, he continued, Minneapolis is losing someone who used “the bully pulpit of the presidency to encourage Minneapolis.”

“This is going to be a very different political, policy and rhetorical environment,” Jacobs predicted.

Policy roadblocks

Jacobs said the GOP takeover of the state legislature could impact a number of city priorities, from transportation to the city’s Working Families Agenda. DFL state Rep. Frank Hornstein, re-elected to a ninth term on Nov. 8, agreed.

“They are going to pass a very extreme agenda, whether it’s on LGBTQ issues or pro-choice, the environment, deep cuts to the safety net, deep cuts to public education — all of these things will happen as they have happened in the past, and the governor is just going to have to stand strong as he has done and stop this,” Hornstein predicted.

Democrats still control the governor’s mansion, and Hornstein described Gov. Mark Dayton as the “bulwark” standing against the Republican agenda.

“I just see more gridlock and not a lot getting accomplished,” he said.

Jacobs noted counties and cities experienced “pretty significant cuts” to Local Government Aid during former the Pawlenty administration.

“I think that’s a pretty good measure of the kind of budgets Minneapolis should be bracing for at this point,” he said.

Jacobs said Republicans could pass legislation to preempt parts of the Working Families Agenda, including a new paid sick and safe time ordinance and a proposal to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15, which is still being debated.

Republicans were dead-set against state funding of the Southwest Light Rail Transit project, forcing the Met Council, the Counties Transit Improvement Board and Hennepin County in September to pony up additional funds for the $1.86-billion transit project, the largest in state history. The federal government is expected to cover half of the total cost, but that decision will be made next summer during a Trump administration.

Project spokesperson Laura Baenen said she couldn’t comment on how politics might affect SWLRT’s fortunes.

“The project is moving forward,” Baenen said. “We’re considered a strong project.”

Community concerns
As election returns were coming in across the country, Alberto Monserrate began a 7 p.m.–1 a.m. shift on local Spanish-language radio station AM 1470. On the air and off, Monserrate heard people from the local Latino and immigrant communities expressing the same mix of emotions in response to Trump’s surprising win: shock, disbelief and fear.

“Many people in our conversation have to prepare for immigration going after our young people that are legally now working in our country,” he said, referring to those who benefitted from Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), President Obama’s 2012 executive action that granted relief to some undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children. “Some people have to decide whether they’re going to leave the country or not, depending on how Trump continues to act.”

He said Trump’s inflammatory campaign rhetoric — questioning whether a U.S.-born federal judge could rule fairly on a case involving Trump University because of his Mexican heritage, for instance —seemed to embolden racist behavior. Monserrate, the CEO of public relations firm NewPublica and a former Minneapolis school board member, said he and his wife for the first time had second thoughts about speaking Spanish in public on an upcoming vacation.

“There’s a lot of things that have happened to many people I know in the past year that have never happened before. A lot of people being told to go back to Mexico. Some racist, violent acts,” he said. “That’s stuff that used to happen once in a while.”

Ilhan Omar's election to the state House went against the national tide. Submitted image
Ilhan Omar’s election to the state House went against the national tide. Submitted image

Just two days before Election Day, during a campaign stop in Rochester, then-candidate Trump suggested the state had “suffered” from taking in Somali refugees. Incoming District 60B Rep. Ilhan Omar, who on Election Day became the first Somali-American elected to a state legislature in the country, said Trump’s campaign rhetoric — including a pledge to shut down immigration for Muslims — was “scary” for many in her community.

Omar said her response would be to lead with love and compassion.

“I know people want to hide and be afraid, but we need to focus on what it means for us to be bold,” she said.

Monserrate said immigrant communities were resilient and “might be better equipped to deal with a lot of this stuff than other communities, just because we’ve survived a lot of stuff.”

“It’s kind of like: Life is tough, here we go again,” he said.