Despite the fact that it had noting to do with higher education or the University, the moment Gov. Arne Carlson signed the welfare reform bill was the most memorable moment of the recent legislative session for me.
The official signing was in Carlson’s office, on the first floor of the Capitol. The Minnesota Daily’s office is tucked away in the basement, two floors down. Upon leaving my desk for the event, I could already hear the protesters.
They were out in full force that day, crowded around the entrance to the office.
I had been in the governor’s office only once before, when Carlson announced that the state surplus reached $2.3 billion. That was a gala moment, with smiles abounding, and people discussing all the possible ways to split up the surplus.
The welfare signing was quite different. As I approached the governor’s office, I could see the swarm of protesters. They angrily decried the bill, claiming how much they would be hurt by the reform.
Protesters waved signs charging that Carlson was killing our youth, and that the bill would bring “DEATH TO MINNESOTA.” Most of the signs were very violent in their language.
Luckily, I had my press pass with me; I don’t think the three security officers would have let me into the office without it. At the surplus meeting, no security were present at the door.
Carlson, a Republican, was surrounded by lawmakers from both parties, who were all proud of the bipartisan welfare reform bill that they said they believed will help recipients in the state.
The reform didn’t impress the protesters. While Carlson was trying to speak positively about the bill, the crowd outside the office could clearly be heard chanting, “No justice, no peace!”
Eventually, Carlson made reference to the loud noise, telling the group of reporters that all the people outside “would be very successful in life if they worked just as hard as they are now.”
Neither the Star Tribune or St. Paul Pioneer Press reporters wrote Carlson’s comment about the protesters, nor did they mention the vicious signs and angry chants. To me, those were critical details that were overlooked.
After the meeting ended, I should have interviewed a few protesters. However, I felt very uncomfortable around them, and I walked hurriedly past them back to my office.
In retrospect, I wish I had talked with members of the crowd and discussed their anger about the new law. It would have helped me understand their concerns, and would have improved my story.