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Minnesota Miracle: Democrats Use Supermajority to Pass Abortion, Voting, Labor, Tenant Reforms & More

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The Democratic majority in Minnesota’s state Legislature, along with Democratic Governor Tim Walz, have enacted sweeping progressive reforms this year, with many praising the ambitious agenda as a “Minnesota Miracle.” Democrats have successfully codified abortion rights; protections for transgender people; driver’s licenses for undocumented residents; new gun control rules; the restoration of voting rights for previously incarcerated people; a $1 billion investment in affordable housing that includes rent assistance; stronger protections for workers seeking to unionize; and paid family, medical and sick leave, among other measures.

Peter Callaghan, a staff writer at MinnPost, says Democrats are using their governing trifecta after years of “pent-up demand” from progressives. We also speak with Robin Wonsley, Democratic Socialist city councilmember in Minneapolis, about how Minnesota Governor Tim Walz faced backlash from labor organizers in May after he issued the first veto in his entire tenure blocking a bill that would have granted minimum wage and better worker protections for Uber and Lyft drivers. The veto came just hours after Uber threatened to pull out of Minnesota.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

We turn now to Minnesota, where the state Legislature’s Democratic supermajority and Democratic Governor Tim Walz just enacted sweeping progressive reforms during its legislative session, which lasted only four months. The series of bills is being praised as the “Minnesota Miracle 2.0,” as Democrats successfully codified abortion rights; protections for transgender people; driver’s licenses for undocumented residents; new gun control rules; paid family, medical and sick leave; the restoration of voting rights for previously incarcerated people; a $1 billion investment in affordable housing that includes rent assistance; and stronger protections for workers seeking to unionize; among other reforms. The original “Minnesota Miracle” was a nickname given to reforms enacted in the early ’70s by a less conservative Republican Legislature and then-Democratic Governor Wendell Anderson.

For more, we go to St. Paul, Minnesota, where we’re joined by Peter Callaghan, staff writer at the MinnPost who’s covered all of this closely.

Peter, thanks so much for joining us. Why don’t you lay out what happened?

PETER CALLAGHAN: How much time do you have? You know, a lot happened. I mean, to us, in looking at this, it’s less of a surprise than it is for you folks nationally, because the Democratic majorities were pretty clear, early on, that they were going to run most of these bills.

There was some pent-up demand — actually, a lot of pent-up demand. It’s been 10 years of divided government in Minnesota, so neither party really got all that they wanted or even much that they wanted. So, a somewhat surprising election last November delivered narrow majorities for Democrats, but it was a different kind of a majority than they had had 10 years ago, in that it was also an ideological majority, not just a partisan majority. So, it was one of the really few pro-choice majorities that there have been in Minnesota. Even when Democrats had control in past sessions, they weren’t abortion rights majorities.

So, they pretty much decided a couple of things. One, they had four years, meaning they could lose the House in two years, but they couldn’t lose the Governor’s Office or the state Senate until '26. So, whatever they passed could stay in place for these four years — it's harder to rescind things than it is to pass things — and that they were going to make a list and check it off as they went. And so, it was kind of less of a surprise to us here that all these things passed than I think it was nationally.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And could you talk specifically about the housing legislation? The nonprofit organization HOME Line has described the tenant-landlord law as the most substantial change in the state’s history?

PETER CALLAGHAN: Yeah, I’ll give them a pass on how they know what the landlord-tenant laws were like at statehood, but that sort of hyperbole is pretty common now as you go through. The landlord-tenant changes are, again, a result of pent-up demand. For all these years, anything that passed in that realm had to be a compromise between landlords and tenant organizations. And with the trifecta, a Democratic trifecta, they no longer really needed to bring in the landlord groups. And a lot of these issues were things that had passed in other states and had been proposed by Democrats in Minnesota in the last decade, but just didn’t have the votes to pass.

So, that landlord-tenant changes were significant, but you really can’t look at those without looking at the billion-dollar investment in affordable housing. A typical budget for housing in Minnesota is $150 million to $200 million in a biennium. So that gives you some sense of what a billion dollars is. And that money isn’t just going to build housing with both public housing and with nonprofits. It’s the first-ever state voucher — rental voucher system, similar to the Section 8 program on the federal level. It’s first-time homebuyers’ down payment assistance. It is a renewal of rental assistance, similar to what went on during the pandemic across the country. That money is also significant, and coupled with the tenant rights bill is interesting, because the landlord groups, after the session, were not happy with the changes to landlord-tenant law, but they were pretty happy about the billion-dollar investment, because their members will see that through rent payments and other things.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what are the potential for legal challenges to some of this legislation?

PETER CALLAGHAN: I don’t know that there’s really anything that was thought to be outside the realm of the authority of the Legislature. The bills sort of have all been vetted over the last several years. I’m not aware of anything significant challenging similar to several years ago, when they passed the opioids protections. Pharma definitely was going to sue, and did sue, and that case is still pending. But I don’t know of any litigation right now.

AMY GOODMAN: Peter Callaghan, we were just talking to New York folks about their fight right now to get healthcare for all New Yorkers, including undocumented New Yorkers. In fact, Minnesota did just that, is that right? Can you talk about healthcare for all there, and also the issue of abortion, what was passed?

PETER CALLAGHAN: Yeah, it’s that — in fact, I was listening to that segment and thinking that passed here really with not a lot of attention on it. Minnesota does a system — and I worked the Washington Legislature, so I know some contrast. A lot of things show up in omnibus bills at the end of session, so 10 big, fat, hundreds and hundreds of page bills, and things can get put into that, those bills, that maybe were heard, maybe were talked about, but there was no obvious sense that they were passing. And things like healthcare under the MinnesotaCare program for people who do not have documentation was put into one of those bills, so really didn’t get a lot of attention. What we do after session is we start going through all of these bills to find all the things that were put into those bills. They don’t make the lists that we wrote about on adjournment, but there are significant things, and that was one of them.

And the abortion rights issue, that was really — I mean, I think it’s — I’m comfortable in saying that these were abortion rights majorities. The Democrats didn’t think they were going to win the majorities in either the House or the Senate. They thought the Senate Republicans would retain control. And the House DFL, I think, thought they were going to lose control of the Legislature in November.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring into the conversation Robin Wonsley, Minneapolis’s first Black Democratic Socialist city councilmember, longtime Minneapolis organizer and activist. The Minnesota Governor Tim Walz faced backlash from labor organizers after, in May, he issued the first veto in his entire tenure, blocking a bill that would have granted minimum wage and better working protections for Uber and Lyft drivers. The veto came just hours after Uber threatened to pull out of Minnesota. Your response, Robin?

ROBIN WONSLEY: Yeah, I think, you know, as Peter highlighted, what we saw at the state level, and what was very crucial in delivering this Minnesota Miracle 2.0, is we saw, finally, a coalition, a strong coalition, be built between progressive and Democratic Socialist elected officials, along with, you know, key grassroot groups, who have been organizing for decades around some of the key demands that you mentioned, as well as labor. Labor was part of that coalition, too. And as part of that coalition, you know, we saw some amazing pieces of legislation be delivered.

But we also should, you know, see this veto as a clear indicator that corporate interests still hold significant sway and influence over our state government and over a contingency of the Democratic Party, specifically the establishment wing of the Democratic Party. And that was manifested, yes, in the veto against the ride-share protection legislation that would uplift workers who are doing, you know, necessary work with Uber and Lyft. But we also saw it with the nurses staffing legislation, too, where Mayo Clinic threatened to pull out billions of dollars of investment because nurses dared to say that we actually need to center the needs of our healthcare workers and our patients as opposed to the profits of corporate healthcare executives. So those were the two instances where, in light of this entire session, we saw still the establishment wing of the Democratic Party be pulled to fulfill the interests of the corporate establishment in the state.

And, you know, in light of that, I’m very excited, though, that my office is working with those drivers, who pushed for such an unprecedented part of legislation that will uplift this segment of workers, who are on the work right now — or, on the ground right now in Minneapolis to get that done here and to support our colleagues as they bring that fight forward once again at the state, coming into the 2024 legislative session.

AMY GOODMAN: I also want to comment that Peter kept referring to DFL, which, for a global audience, is the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, the Minnesota affiliate of the U.S. Democratic Party.

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