As former elected officials, we can attest to the vital role a probing independent media plays in making certain we have a competent and honest system of democratic governance and perhaps that is why the press is the only industry granted special protections in our Constitution.
This also carries with it an ongoing responsibility of high standards and expectations, which is financially challenging in an industry that is beset with competition from social media and other technological advances. However, compelling questions that determine our quality of life remain and the media must lead the effort for a full and complete understanding.
The Humphrey School of Public Policy informed us nearly two years ago that our Legislature was rewarding large campaign contributors with special favors, including the opportunity to “shape” legislation. Three months later, we put out a report noting that the four legislative caucuses raised more than $26.5 million or some $130,000 per incumbent for the 2020 elections and had partisan staffs that worked at the direction of caucus leaders and exceeded the size of both major parties. All this paid for by the taxpayer.
This is the face of corruption and, yes, it is in Minnesota. But, in order to have an informed public that can deal with this assault on honest governance, we must have a probing media.
No company has thrived more in this environment than the foreign mining conglomerate, Glencore, one of the world’s most corrupt enterprises with a global record of bribing public officials and extracting valuable minerals utilizing the cheapest methods and leaving behind a trail of environmental destruction. In May of 2022, Glencore pleaded guilty in a U.S. Federal District Court to charges of bribery and price fixing and was fined $1.4 billion. The Justice Department issued a statement concluding: “At bottom, Glencore paid bribes to make money -hundreds of millions of dollars. And, it did so with the approval, and even encouragement, of its top executives.”
This fits the definition of a criminal enterprise and, yet, the governor and legislative leaders are intent on granting mining permits to Glencore, the major operator of the New Range Copper Nickel mining project, which is adjacent to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) and operates in the Rainy River Watershed that extends from the BWCA to Kenora, Canada through Lake of the Woods, thereby placing all those waters in serious jeopardy since sulfide mining is highly dangerous and releases deadly toxins that last into perpetuity.
Putting the controversy of mining aside, the key question remains: “Why are we in business with such a corrupt company as Glencore?” For four years, the governor and legislative leaders have refused to respond even though our state’s drinking water, the BWCA and so much of our fishing, hunting and camping is at stake.
Interestingly, in August of 2019, MinnPost ran an excellent interview by Walker Orenstein with Gov. Tim Walz in which the governor promised to “modernize” the laws governing mining, pledged that Glencore would assume full liability, and that the entire deal would be fully transparent. Every promise remains unfulfilled. A probing follow-up is desperately needed otherwise deceit will become the norm.
Further, we now have a departing president at the University of Minnesota and a growing realization that leadership of that beloved institution has shifted its emphasis from improving opportunities for student success to a culture of self service with opaqueness replacing transparency. For years, we have endured scandals in our medical research that has attracted embarrassing national headlines typified by this one in the New York Times: “The University of Minnesota’s Medical Research Mess.”
The most current research scandal involves charges of “fabrication” relative to the University’s Alzheimer’s project. This raises very basic questions about the continuing poor management and appalling absence of internal controls.
Additionally, the plight of the student has grown more challenging with rising tuition and increased stress over being able to pay for adequate food and housing. While this is a national problem, tuition and fees at the University of Minnesota exceed the costs of all universities in our bordering states.
Average student loan debt is more than $24,000 and all too many students struggle to meet housing and food needs. Even after it was reported in March of 2022 that “An astonishing 37% of Minnesota college students reported experiencing food insecurity” this failed to become a concern of the administration with one Regent stating: “I don’t recall any meetings, special committees, or task forces to look into these disturbing numbers.”
That is the problem. Our overpaid leaders are focused on improving their lot and not that of the student.
Just think how much time and resources were expended to grant President Joan Gabel a 56% pay raise to more than $1 million and the effort involved in giving the chancellor position at UM-Duluth to an unqualified regent who was a leader in President Gabel’s pay raise. To make matters worse, President Gabel did not authorize a legal opinion to deal with all the conflicts involved including the new chancellor’s past ties as a vice president and registered lobbyist for Allete, a Duluth power company with extensive financial relationships with the university. Certainly those relationships and his ownership of $1.5 million in Allete stock warranted a legal review.
And then we have President Gabel’s bid to serve on the board of Securian Financial and, in spite of the obvious conflicts of interests involved, she again refused to seek an independent legal opinion.
Clearly, we need excellence with quality management, independent oversight from the regents, and a commitment to students. Money is not the solution. Frankly, it is the problem. When Mark Yudoff served as our university’s president, we had competence with a genuine focus on students and his salary was $500,000 in today’s dollars. That should be the ceiling for the new president. Right now, we are paying twice as much for mediocrity.
That is also not only a generous income but it is $100,000 more than is paid to the President of the United States.
The only way we can preserve our quality of life is with constant oversight from an independent media that truly insists on the public being served with competent management, full transparency and accountability. This also means leadership that understands that public service is not a vehicle for wealth nor a place where public policy can be tailored to the wishes of the highest bidder. We can, and must, do better.
Arne H. Carlson is the former governor of Minnesota, Tom Berkelman, is a former legislator, DFL, Duluth and Janet Entzel, is a former legislator, DFL, Minneapolis.