Daudt: Lawmaker’s apology ends Mpls.-prison comment row

Updated 4:26 p.m. | Posted 2:27 p.m.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt says he's satisfied with an apology from a fellow Republican lawmaker for a comment on the House floor that many considered a racial insult to people in north Minneapolis.

Democrats say the apology isn't enough. They say Rep. Jim Newberger, R-Becker, should be publicly reprimanded by Republican leaders for remarks they believe show he's insensitive to minority communities.

During a Tuesday night debate on a transportation funding bill, Newberger was speaking out against an effort to study extending the Northstar Commuter Rail Line to St. Cloud. He said that a train between the prison in St. Cloud and north Minneapolis — a predominantly black Minneapolis neighborhood — would be “convenient.”

"Right on the edge of St. Cloud, about a half of a mile, maybe a quarter of a mile from the rail tracks is the St. Cloud State Prison," Newberger said. "Boy, wouldn't that be convenient to have that rail line going from the prison to north Minneapolis, or to any other section of our state?"

After some members of the House booed, Newberger apologized.

"I'm not casting any aspersions on north Minneapolis, OK?" he said. "I know some folks got their ire up, and rightfully so, but sometimes as we're speaking, that's what came into my mind. It doesn't matter. It could be any part of the city."

DFL Gov. Mark Dayton on Wednesday said Newberger's apology does not suffice and that Newberger should be censured by the House.

Newberger published a written apology on Wednesday, saying "I sincerely apologize. I recognize my comments last night offended some people. I will work in the future to not repeat this mistake." A spokesman said Newberger will not be doing interviews.

Daudt dismissed Dayton's criticism and said he's satisfied with Newsberger's apology .

"I thought it was appropriate that he apologized," Daudt said. "The governor is critical of Republicans. I guess that's today's news story, right?"

The only African-American member of the Minnesota House, Rep. Rena Moran, DFL-St. Paul, said she felt disrespected by Newberger’s comments.

20150422_moran01_53
Rep. Rena Moran, DFL-St. Paul, said she felt disrespected by comments made by Rep. Jim Newberger, R-Becker. Moran, the only African American member of the Minnesota House, said on April 22, 2015 that she wants Newberger to visit north Minneapolis to better see the daily challenges that minority communities face. (Tom Scheck | MPR News)

Newberger should visit north Minneapolis and other minority communities to get a better understanding of the challenges people face, she added.

"It's just really disappointing that as a legislator who is representing not just his district but the state, that that is his the world view that he brings to his body," Moran said.

State Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, a DFLer who represents north Minneapolis, said he believes Newberger's comments reflect the overall Republican view of investing in impoverished communities.

"At a time when we should be encouraging hope and inspiring people, we've got to throw in those sort of pot shots at people saying, 'Your life means nothing. I know where you're going to end up,'" he said.

Champion and Moran said they'll be watching to see whether Newberger is truly remorseful.

House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said he thinks Newberger should apologize on the House floor. He didn't say whether Democrats would file an ethics complaint against Newberger.

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