- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Minneapolis Star Tribune, Jan. 17

Inauguration boycott is misguided

More than 50 Democratic members of Congress have decided to follow the lead of Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., and boycott the Friday inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump. Some are doing so out of respect for longtime congressman and civil rights icon Lewis. Others are protesting Trump’s policies and divisiveness, and still others believe that his campaign’s possible ties to Russian election tampering make his presidency illegitimate.

This page has criticized Trump for some of the same things. Still, members of Congress - regardless of political affiliation - should be full participants in the peaceful transfer of power that is critical for a functioning democracy.

This isn’t the first time individual members of Congress whose party has lost the White House have skipped an inauguration. In the past, Republicans also have opted to take vacations or return to their districts rather than attend. But the anti-Trump boycott is believed to be the largest, and it is growing.

As elected officials, members of Congress should represent their constituents in the same spirit in which they attend the State of the Union or other presidential speeches. There are more productive ways to express displeasure or opposing views than boycotting. Republicans and Democrats make that clear with their reactions during the State of the Union.

During his recent farewell address, President Obama tried to quiet the boos that came from the audience when he mentioned Trump. He also acknowledged the value of a peaceful transfer of power.

In announcing that she will attend the inauguration, Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., was critical of Trump’s behavior and policies. But, she added, “I have faith in our constitutional democracy and in the power of citizen action to stop Mr. Trump’s dangerous agenda in the coming months and years. On Friday, I will join President Obama and Secretary (Hillary) Clinton for the inauguration of our 45th president, a ritual that is a hallmark of our democratic government. I will also be present so Mr. Trump fully understands that … Americans are already working to stop him from further hurting our country.”

It’s regrettable that Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison, expected to be the only member of the Minnesota delegation to skip the event, didn’t take a similar approach.

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The Free Press of Mankato, Jan. 17

Misuse of stadium suites must stop

When the new U.S. Bank Stadium was being pitched to the taxpayers of Minnesota it was sold as a stadium for the people. Considering the taxpayers chipped in $500 million for the more than $1 billion structure - the second-highest stadium subsidy in American history - they could be expected to feel an ownership in the stadium.

But unlike some well-connected people, average taxpayers haven’t been able to enjoy two luxurious suites, outfitted with state-funded food and drinks.

Media reports have shown that the two suites, overseen by the state sports authority, have been used by the five-member authority and executive director Ted Mondale to entertain friends, family and political allies during games and concerts. The guests have received tens of thousands of dollars in food and drink on the taxpayers’ tab, as well as free ticket admission and possibly parking in exclusive lots.

Authority chair Michelle Kelm-Helgen said the suites are needed to market the stadium to potential users and has downplayed the fact that family, friends and political allies use the suites. Since being found out, she and the authority have changed their policy about having friends and family in the suites for free.

Since coming to light, several public officials have reimbursed taxpayers for using the suites. That’s because taking such freebies most likely violated a state gift ban that most public officials abide by. It’s too bad those officials only bothered to worry about the conflict after use of the suites was made public.

State Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Vernon Center, is one of the sponsors of the legislation that built the stadium and one of many lawmakers questioning how the suites are used. “There’s this wonderful stadium that has this issue of being abused,” she said at a recent hearing.

Indeed, it has been abused. The taxpayers of Minnesota know a scam when they see one and this is it. They understand that the stadium needs to be marketed and that certain people who book events will be brought into the stadium suites and treated well in order to promote the venue. They also understand that bringing along a bunch of family, friends and well connected people for a free ride is wrong.

The sports authority obviously can’t police itself. The Legislature should spell out what the authority can and can’t do when it comes to using the suites or other perks that aren’t available to the people who paid for much of the stadium.

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Post Bulletin, Jan. 16

Take time to consider a Capitol visit

We’re frequently told that we don’t want to see how sausage is made.

Of course, if the sausage was being produced inside a work of art, it might be a different story.

When it comes to the days spent hammering out legislation in St. Paul, we’d encourage taking a look at how the work is done. Both the House and Senate offer public views of the action when the bodies are in session. The balconies accessed from the Capitol building’s third floor offer an eagle-eye view of who’s voting, who’s debating and who decided to take a pass.

And, if lawmakers aren’t in session, there’s always the chance to witness a committee hearing or attend one of the rallies frequently held at the Capitol. With a little planning - or luck - you may even see your state senator or representative in action, or simply walking the halls.

Granted, even taking in all the activities of a single day won’t provide a complete view of what Southeast Minnesota’s lawmakers are doing while at the Capitol, but it provides a taste.

And, as political reporter Heather Carlson highlighted in the weekend Post Bulletin, it gives you a chance to see what $310 million buys when it comes to restoring a the state’s work of art. Preserving the 1905 State Capitol has been a worthwhile endeavor that keeps our history in close connection to our future.

In addition to restoring the Capitol Rotunda and impressive artwork throughout the building, the renovations provided increased seating and accessibility in hearing rooms, a new visitors center and classroom and expanded dining options, as many other features.

Whether signing up for a free guided tour of the restoration or taking advantage of the self-guided option to take in the architectural masterpiece by Cass Gilbert, simply being in the historic building tends to inspire a sense of awe. Discovering its artistic secrets simply enhances the experience.

Built for $4.5 million in Minnesota’s 37th year, “the people’s house” has more than 300,000 square feet of floor space. While much is out of reach for the average tourist, what can be seen is worth the visit.

Whether or not you get to see a bill on its path to becoming a law, we can guarantee the restored and upgraded historic structure will inspire and provide a unique glimpse at the state’s past and future.

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