Let all who are free vote

In Minnesota, people convicted of felonies lose the right to vote both during the time they spend in prison and while they are on probation. Since Minnesota’s correctional system leans toward shorter prison sentences but long probation periods, people convicted of felonies may lose voting rights for much of their adult lives. For example, someone who gets a 2 year prison sentence and 20 years of probation loses voting rights for at least 22 years. They may live, look, and act like everyone else, but even years after committing a crime, many of our fellow citizens are denied the right to vote. This is a racial justice issue, because almost 44% of Minnesota’s prison inmates are Black or Native American, so the burden of voting denial falls much more heavily on communities of color and Native Americans.

There is no good reason to deny voting rights to people who are otherwise eligible, just because they are on probation or parole. Voting is a fundamental right that should not be denied except for very good cause. The policy is confusing to citizens and even to election officials. Worse, it makes people into second-class citizens, making it even harder for them to feel connected to their communities. As your Governor, I will work to make our election system easier to use, easier to administer, and more fair.

The week of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday is a good time to re-commit ourselves to the causes to which the Reverend Dr. King devoted his life, including voting rights. Although the laws on the books may look equal, the impact of those laws may be very unequal. While eliminating all racial disparities in the criminal justice system will not be easy, this is one we can fix. We can and must let those who have served their time in prison vote again.

Weekly EmailLeo Alfred
More money for millionaires?

Will Minnesota give even bigger bucks to billionaires? More money to millionaires? With Trump in the White House and a Republican rubber stamp Congress, Minnesota’s governor matters more than ever.

The Minnesota Department of Revenue just released its first analysis of what the Republican Federal tax changes could mean for Minnesota. Although some taxes will go down, these changes increase Minnesota’s tax revenue by $2.34 billion over the next four years.

Federal taxable income is the starting point for determining Minnesota taxable income, so our systems are closely linked. Every time Congress changes Federal tax law our legislature must decide whether to change Minnesota’s tax laws in a similar way. Legislators of both parties usually support this because it simplifies filing tax returns for Minnesotans. However, it also allows Congress to determine a lot of Minnesota’s tax policy and often loses revenue for the state.

Republican legislators in Minnesota will want to conform to any new changes that reduce taxes while stopping the Minnesota tax increases the Republican Congress and President put in place. The Republican desire to stop these “automatic” tax increases will give the governor leverage. I hope he will use it well.

Whatever tax code changes the Republicans pass, Governor Dayton must insist that any new Minnesota tax benefits—or the money generated by the increases—go to help ordinary Minnesotans who are struggling in this economy. Corporations and the wealthy get a windfall in the Trump tax plan. They don’t need another one here.

Weekly EmailLeo Alfred
Five years to wait

Last week, the minimum wage in Minnesota rose to $9.65 per hour ($7.87 for a small employer) when a 15 cent increase went into effect because of legislation I helped pass in 2014. I was pleased to support that long-overdue increase, from a shockingly low $6.50 to $9.50 over three years, and then linking it to inflation. But let’s get real. $9.65 per hour is far less than it costs to support a single person anyplace in the state, let alone a family. https://mn.gov/deed/data/data-tools/col/

“Fight for 15” is a rallying cry for thousands of workers who work full time but still make far too little to live on. After a valiant and effective organizing effort, the City of Minneapolis passed an ordinance phasing in a $15 minimum wage by July 1, 2022 for large businesses, and by July 1, 2024 for smaller ones. Even in Minneapolis, you might have to wait until 2024 to make $15 an hour.  

$15 per hour is not enough to live on in Minneapolis TODAY, never mind in five or seven years.  

Every year, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) puts out a Cost of Living Report.  https://mn.gov/deed/assets/cost-of-living-study_tcm1045-132776.pdf The report estimates how much a Minnesota family must earn to cover basic expenses (but no vacation, savings, dining out, or entertainment). The range is from $13.66 per hour in the southwest corner of the state to $19.63 in the Twin Cities Metro area. TODAY, even $15 per hour is not enough to meet basic needs for most people in Minnesota.  

A $15 minimum wage would be a huge improvement for many workers. But let’s not compromise before we even start. Workers need at least $15 per hour now, not in five or seven years. State government could help small businesses pay their employees a living wage—boosting local economies all over the state.

Weekly EmailLeo Alfred
New Year Wishes

There is a legend from the Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical tradition, that in each generation the world is sustained by the actions of 36 just and righteous people. In Hebrew, the number 36 is represented by the letters lamed and vav, so the 36 righteous people are known as “lamed-vav-niks.” 

Lamed-vav-niks are humble servants of humanity who help to ease the burdens of others and do good works in the world. Legend has it that without these 36 people performing acts of love and kindness the world would fall into chaos. 

One of the things I love about the legend is that no one can know who they are—even other lamed-vav-niks. In some tellings, they are extremely modest and hide their identity with humble work, disability, or poverty. They could be of any race, religion, gender, or age, and may not even know that they themselves are a lamed-vav-nik. This means that any of us—even you—could be one of them. (But if a person claims to be one it proves they are not, because the 36 are either too humble to know what they are or too humble to reveal it.)

In 2018, may we each be worthy to be a lamed-vav-nik. And may we treat each person we meet as the lamed-vav-nik they may be—sustaining the world for all the rest.

Weekly EmailLeo Alfred
How to do the impossible

This is the last day of 2017, so you might be thinking about where the year has gone and what might be next. I bet you have good stories about this year. I know I do.

This year I launched a campaign for Governor of Minnesota—without big backers or professional staff or much else besides dedicated volunteers and the desire to offer Minnesotans the fearless, boldly progressive leadership I believe we need. 

Our slogan is “Believe in Minnesota,” because we believe that Minnesota can be a shining light in this precarious time when so much that we value is under attack. 

I’m not that different from you. My parents grew up poor in Brooklyn, NY, the children of immigrants. But the American dream was real for them, and for me. They were educated and lifted into the middle class because America believed in doing that, which also made my path possible. They, and I, always understood that we didn’t do it entirely on our own and that we had privileges others never got. Minnesota can, and must, make those opportunities available to all.

Recently I read about an award-winning neurosurgeon who came here from Mexico by jumping the border at age 19. He started by picking cotton, eventually learning English and winning a scholarship to college. Years later he became a US citizen—and has been a great asset to the U.S. Helping people pull themselves up is what the U.S. used to do, and we can do it again. This is the future I believe in, and I believe Minnesota can lead the way.

Saint Francis of Assisi said, “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” Together, we can do this!

Weekly EmailLeo Alfred
Mass x Velocity

When we started this campaign I wasn’t sure what would happen.

I’ve been elected to the Minnesota House 7 times, but I never planned to run for statewide office. Then 2016 happened, and I could not bear the thought of having a Republican win the governor’s office. I thought Minnesota needed a bold progressive to run for Governor and give Minnesotans a vision of a future they could believe in. Equally important, we needed someone who would use the power of the office for ordinary Minnesotans and stand up to the billionaires and right-wingers who will take every bit of wealth and power unless we stop them.

I know some bold progressives who would make great governors, but when none would enter the race I decided to run myself.

I started behind in name recognition, organization, and money. Getting my name and message out was slow at first, but momentum has built month by month. As I visit DFLers around the state, I meet lots of people who agree with what I stand for and support my campaign. As the end of 2017 arrives, momentum has really started to build.

In the past month, the number of contributors to our campaign has quadrupled and your donations have increased by 325%. Your support has allowed us to hire a new campaign manager who will guide the campaign through the caucuses and beyond. 

This campaign is taking off!

Weekly EmailLeo Alfred
Running the Bernie Way

Thank you to all who have stepped up to support our campaign. We are coming up on our end of the year fundraising deadline and we need all your help.

Our first reporting period closes on December 31, and we must show that there is grassroots support for electing a bold progressive as our next governor.

This can’t be politics as usual because we live in unusual times. The super-rich have taken more and more of our nation’s wealth, and they will stop at nothing. No rule, no law, no procedure, and no sense of decency will stop them until they have it all. We must have a governor who will stand up to them, who will use the power of the governor’s office to give ordinary folks a hand up, and who can’t be bullied or intimidated.

I am the only DFL candidate for governor who supported Bernie Sanders, because he was talking about our rigged economy and what we need to move forward. I know I can win next November because Bernie Sanders showed us that ordinary folks will be with us if we are with them. People are sick of partisanship, but they know there are sides—and they will support someone who they know is on theirs. They want us to work for health care—not health insurance. They want education for themselves and their kids—without going deep into debt. They want clean water, clean air, and clean energy. They want economic justice and security, with work that pays enough to support a decent life. They want to know that they—not the 21st Century robber barons who want it all—matter in Minnesota.

Weekly EmailLeo Alfred
Ending the Failed Prohibition

In 1920, the 18th amendment to the U.S. Constitution went into effect, prohibiting the production, sale, and consumption of alcohol in the United States. The Prohibition Era led to unprecedented growth of organized crime, created an economically harmful black market, and made criminals out of everyday citizens.

Sound familiar? Much like the prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s, the prohibition of cannabis has not worked, and has caused many unintended, harmful consequences. From 2004 to 2015, the number of Minnesotans imprisoned for offenses where the principal crime involved marijuana rose nearly 38%. And in 2015 alone, we spent nearly $2 million imprisoning people for these cannabis-related crimes. Even more frustrating, this unnecessary imprisonment disproportionately affects people of color and increases racial disparity in our state.

But we can change this. Even though most of the DFL candidates for governor have now lined up in favor of legalization, Tina Liebling is the only candidate who has taken concrete steps to end the prohibition of cannabis. Tina introduced HF 2714 in the Minnesota House last May, but with Republicans in charge of the Minnesota legislature and a governor on the wrong side, it is unlikely the bill will pass in 2018. We need Tina’s strong leadership in the governor’s office to make legalization a reality.

Weekly EmailLeo Alfred
How the Light Gets In

2017 has been a tough year.  

In Earth’s northern hemisphere, darkness is now diminishing day by day. Without any help from us, the earth will again tilt toward the sun. It is a time to celebrate.

As the late poet and songwriter Leonard Cohen told us, “There is a crack in everything. That’s where the light gets in.”

Thank you to everyone who stepped forward this year to make life better for others. Thank you for all you do to help light shine into our cracked world.  

Happy Holidays and warm wishes for a better 2018.

Weekly EmailLeo Alfred
New Frontiers of Economic Security

The ideal of courageous, caring political leadership is in the DNA of Minnesota. Our state has produced several extraordinary leaders, including our 22nd governor, Floyd B. Olson. 

In 1933, the depths of the Great Depression, conditions in Minnesota were desperate, with many farm foreclosures, high unemployment, and families in despair. Governor Floyd Bjornstjerne Olson, child of poor Norwegian immigrants, called out “the failure of government and our social system to function in the interests of the common happiness of the people.” Olson called for state government to become an agent for social and economic change through progressive income taxes, unemployment insurance, social security for the elderly, equal pay for women, and a minimum wage. 

On the wall of the Minnesota Capitol, across the hall from the governor’s office, is a memorial plaque for Governor Olson, who died in 1936 at only 44. I often pause to read its words:

“Born in near poverty and schooled in adversity, intimate with hunger and want. Out of this crucible came pioneer leadership with the purposeful direction and the indomitable courage to seek new frontiers of economic security for the underprivileged. To that which he wrought an enduring memorial is builded in the hearts of his people.”

Too often, our government still fails to function in the interests of the “common happiness of the people.” I’m running to fix that, to carry on the tradition of Floyd B. Olson. But I can’t do it without your help.  

Weekly EmailLeo Alfred