Greg Boe: stripping away the moderate mask

A couple of weeks before the 2018 election, I made this remark about GOP House District 47B candidate (and eventual election winner) Greg Boe, who won his Republican primary and based his general election pitch on being a “moderate” choice:

Greg has always seemed like a pretty moderate guy — some may not know that he caucused with Democrats back in the late-2000s/early-2010s. So it’s fair to say that seeing Greg line up behind Donald Trump — a guy who is the antithesis of Greg’s “Reasonable. Thoughtful. Respectful” slogan — has been a bit of a shock.

Brick City Blog, Donzel Leggett for State House 47B

Boe ended up winning the election — by a slender 117 votes, or about one-half of one percent.

Well, we’re now one legislative session in the books. How did Rep. Boe do in his first few months around the State Capitol?

Sadly, I have to report that the results aren’t good.

Let’s start off by looking at some basic productivity metrics. Boe only chief-authored four bills during the session (and two of those were different versions of the same bill). Only one rank-and-file legislator (Rep. Nolan West) — excluding districts where a vacancy occurred mid-session — authored fewer bills. None of those four bills were passed into law or rolled into a larger omnibus bill.

But the most surprising — and disappointing — part of Boe’s performance this session was his hard right turn into extremism and bigotry on certain issues and incoherence and dishonesty on others.

Let’s start with abortion. Boe started off the session grandstanding with his fellow House and Senate Republicans in a photo-op designed to protest proposed laws in New York and Virginia. Unfortunately, Boe chose to lie about the content of those bills, claiming that they permitted infanticide. (They do not.)

Boe followed that up with legislative action, becoming a co-author on a version of the so-called “heartbeat bill”, which would ban all abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected (usually in the six- to eight-week range), with the only exception being to prevent the death of the mother or where there was “serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function” — a more restrictive definition of the health exception than exists in current state law.

The impact of this is remarkable — Boe is in favor of prohibiting abortions in all but the most threatening circumstances at a point in the pregnancy where some women may not even yet know they are pregnant. And if you’re a victim of rape or incest, Greg Boe would tell you to go pound sand.

Not only would you have to deal with the physical consequences of your attack, but you would be required to carry the baby to term — and under the policies Greg Boe advocates for, you wouldn’t have a right to health care, a right to take time off of work to handle your prenatal appointments, and no guarantee that you could keep your job or have paid leave after you gave birth to a child conceived because of a criminal act.

Reasonable, thoughtful, and respectful is not how I would describe that set of policies. But there’s more.

In March, Boe stepped into a pile of trouble when he tried to explain his vote against the Equal Rights Amendment. The focus of his explanation was around the point that using the word “gender” instead of “sex” would open up a world of complications citing his own personal internet search where he claims to have found 63 different gender definitions. But, in reality, “gender” is used 91 times in 68 separate state statutes without things turning into a free-for-all. When challenged by his constituents on that matter, he began illegally blocking them — by the dozens — from his Facebook page, eventually relenting after several hours and without an apology.

Boe has doubled down on that logic subsequently, using the scare tactic about transgender participation in athletics as a cloak for his vote. Note the snarky language and use of quotes around the bill’s name.

Greg Boe posting about the “so-called ‘Minnesota ERA'”
on a local conservative Facebook group

It should be pointed out — for the record — that the Minnesota State High School League has an established policy on transgender athletes that prevents the sort of fever dream that Boe and other conservatives seem to fear.

These sorts of positions are indistinguishable from the sort of nonsense that legislative radicals like Glenn Gruenhagen or Steve Drazkowski push (Gruenhagen, in fact, was Boe’s second-most common co-author on legislation this session, sharing authorship on over 20 bills.).

Despite representing a 50-50 district, Boe hasn’t even shown the courage to buck his own party from time to time the way that his Senate counterpart Scott Jensen has. The results our district has received from Greg Boe would be no different than if one programmed a robot to vote the default Republican position.

Boe has engaged in the usual sorts of political shenanigans, too, which I guess should be expected. Like many Republicans, he obfuscates on transportation funding, pretends to support increased education funding, and demagogues on taxes.

Beyond his performance at the Legislature, though, Boe missed some opportunities to provide leadership within the community. The Eastern Carver County School District has been rocked this year by a series of racial incidents. In April, the district held a community forum on equity in the district at a school literally kitty-corner from his house. While over 150 community members were inside the school working through tough problems, Boe and his wife were spotted walking on the sidewalk outside not knowing or not caring about what was happening on the inside.

Boe is already starting to try and build the coffers for his re-election campaign. It may be even harder this time around, though, because the mask has been stripped away. “Moderate” Greg Boe is no more.

Breaking points: Jim Bach and ROAR

To say it was a challenging year in our Eastern Carver County School District would be a major understatement. A spate of racial incidents – most at Chaska High School — has alienated many minority students and their parents and left them feeling unsafe. For the past six months — since December — those parents and their allies have been appearing at school board meetings to demand action.

After months of promises that weren’t followed up with action at both the school and district level, these community members organized themselves into a group called ROAR (Residents Organized Against Racism). In April, ROAR introduced an eight-point petition calling for specific steps to reform how our school district and its schools handle equity issues.

One of those eight points, a call to “change the leadership of Chaska High School” has become a flashpoint. A counter-petition on change,org was started and a contentious debate has begun on social media. This issue merits additional conversation in full context. That’s my purpose here: to discuss why some parents and community members have reached a breaking point with the current leadership of Chaska High School.

The school’s response has been problematic, here are some examples:

In September, three Chaska High School students attended the football game versus Chanhassen wearing blackface (one of these students also wore an Afro wig). Despite the presence of school- and district-level employees at the game, no action was taken in the moment to prevent the display of this harmful racial stereotype. Even after a second blackface incident in February — both being called “teachable moments” by Principal Jim Bach in media reports — there has yet to be a schoolwide discussion of the history and meaning of blackface.

In February, black students at Chaska High School approached school leadership about doing a series of posters celebrating Black History Month, because it is otherwise not memorialized at the school. Principal Bach rejected some of the poster themes, suggesting that they required additional context and dialogue. For a district that prides itself on “personalized learning”, this was a failure to give the necessary support to a self-initiated activity designed to help educate others — one that would have been especially valuable given that by that point in the school year, Chaska High had already suffered the two blackface incidents and a highly-publicized racial incident at Chaska Middle School East. A few weeks later, an overflow crowd filled the Chaska Event Center — which had been rented out by the parents of the black students who created the posters — to view the exhibit in its entirety. While many teachers and staff members were there, no members of the school- or district-level leadership teams attended this event.

In April, two white Chaska High School students were responsible for the creation and distribution of a fake Google Map that featured the faces of about 25 black students on a location labeled “Negro Hill”. The pictured students were subsequently called down to the office via the loudspeaker, where they were required to listen to a forced apology from the students responsible for the image — thereby further disrupting the students’ learning and not affording them the agency to decide whether they wanted to participate in such a “restorative justice” session. A few days later, one of the pictured students who did a media interview about the incident was subject to retaliation, where an obviously photoshopped social media post was reported as a threat by a parent of one of the students who distributed the “Negro Hill” image. Despite recognizing the threat report as not being valid, members of the Chaska High leadership team reported it to the police anyway, resulting in the student losing an entire day of learning and being needlessly subjected to the stress of being questioned by police investigators.

These are just three examples of how the school’s responses to these incidents – not the incidents themselves – have been less than optimal. Members of ROAR have identified several more such school-level responses that they feel have been similarly handled inappropriately.

Unintended harm is still harm

Much of the discussion surrounding these events by community members has focused on the unintentional nature of them. It is frequently referred to on social media that the boys dressed in blackface at the football game “just went too far” and “there were no racial intentions whatsoever” and “calling it a racial incident implies that it was done with intent”.

We need to dispel those mistaken notions.

When you dress in blackface (and, in one case, wear an Afro wig as well), you are engaging in racist behavior. Whether your intent was malicious or not doesn’t lessen the pain that the perpetuation of that harmful stereotype inflicts.

Similarly, decisions made by the Chaska High School leadership team may not have been made with malicious intent, but still caused harm. The failure to remove the three students dressed in blackface at the football game is to me the clearest example of this, but not the only one. Choosing to deny certain Black History Month poster topics may seem defensible to some people when viewed in isolation, but when placed in a larger context (such as the other racial incidents earlier in the year and leadership’s past support for other potentially divisive student-led initiatives like the pro-gun control protests after the Parkland shootings) one can understand why many would feel that this decision was not a wise and consistent application of a principal’s broad discretion to limit speech within a school setting.

Accountability must be modeled

A lot of the focus following these incidents from school leaders has been directed at making sure students have clear expectations for their behavior and an understanding of what the consequences will be going forward. That’s all well and good, but it only addresses part of the problem at this point.

As detailed above, the decisions made by Chaska High School leadership have opened up a trust gap between it and a significant portion of the students and parents in our community. Moving forward requires the administration to model the behavior it claims to expect of its students.

These issues are difficult, and we all should have the grace and space to make well-intentioned mistakes. But this requires more than the bland “we can always do better” sort of responses that the Chaska High School leadership team have offered so far.

At a minimum, this means a forthright accounting of where the Chaska High School leadership team has missed the mark in its handling of these incidents, an acknowledgement of the pain those actions have caused, an action plan for addressing those gaps next school year and beyond and clear evidence that the plan is being deployed. For a district and a school that has promised proactive communication and transparency on equity issues, this would be one useful step on a long road to where we need to be as a community.

Regardless of who is the principal at Chaska High School, real reform is required

As we finish the school year, the district administration and school board is facing hard decisions about how to move the district through the controversies that have marked the last few months. 

At a personal level, I struggle with the call to replace the Chaska High School leadership. Like many white people in the community, I too have had several good interactions with Jim Bach. I served on the district’s E-8 Facilities Task Force from 2012-2014, when he was still principal at Chaska Middle School East. I found Bach to be open, inclusive, and a strong strategic thinker over my time on the task force. At the time, I was excited that my kids were slated to go to CMSE (and still felt that way when Bach took the job at Chaska High).

But I can’t stop fielding questions from friends, relatives, and work colleagues who see our schools splashed on the news all too frequently for racial incidents.

And I also can’t unhear what other parents and students have told me about their experiences this year – experiences that don’t correspond with what I thought I knew.

In April, I sat at a meeting organized by the school district to discuss equity issues where minutes after district leadership promised transparency on equity issues, two black girls sitting at my table passed around their phones showing us the “Negro Hill” image which had been circulating for days but had not yet been communicated by the district. I was appalled and angry and embarrassed. But what really broke my heart was the reaction of the girls, who — while upset — seemed sadly resigned to this sort of thing as a regular part of life in our schools. They didn’t trust that the leaders at the school would stand up for them because they had been let down before. No one should have to feel that way at Chaska High School or anywhere else.

In recent months, I’ve heard variations of that story from many other parents and students. Some parents have pulled their children out of our district because they fear for them. Others are worn down from fighting this battle for years. And some worry about retaliation if they tell their stories publicly. If you haven’t talked to someone who has had one of these experiences, you should. Watching the April school board meeting is a good start. Once you’ve heard these stories, you can no longer deny the seriousness of this issue.

If no one in the school or in the district office is going to have the back of those two girls who sat at my table, all their black and brown classmates and their families, then it’s up to us — all of us — in the community to do so. For these reasons, I’ve joined with these parents and community members in ROAR to help lift the voices of those who have been ignored for too long and to call for real reform in how our district operates.

The other points on the ROAR petition (measurable accountability, restructured equity leadership & advisory groups, anti-racism policy & protocols, trauma-focused & victim-centered protocols, updated curriculum, more diverse faculty & staff, and monthly updates from the district) have received broad support – even from many of those who have signed the change.org petition. I’m glad they are supportive of measures to improve the equity in our schools, and wish they had been there since December (or even since April), too. The district’s response to the ROAR petition shows that they now understand that these steps are necessary.

No, the school district and Chaska High School leadership are not solely responsible for these incidents happening. (Although, one can’t help but wonder what would have happened if the early incidents had been handled more effectively.) But it’s not acceptable for minority students to suffer additional damage every time because the staff at our schools don’t know how to respond to these incidents properly. These students should not be further victimized by leaders who are behind on the learning curve.

We must demand better for the sake of the entire community. The trust gap must be closed. It is up to the district to take any and all necessary steps — including personnel changes, if needed — to ensure that the leadership team at Chaska High School is properly equipped to handle such incidents and that they will no longer engage in behaviors that make the problems worse instead of making students feel safe and welcomed.

And it’s up to us — all of us — to hold the district accountable for doing so.

[ROAR logo from the group’s public Facebook page. Edits for clarity on 6/7, 6/9, and 6/12]

A Chaska Continuity Crisis? Not so much.

At the December 17 Chaska City Council meeting, the city said its formal farewells to departing Councilors Chris Schulz, Greg Boe, and Paula Geisler, for it was the last meeting for all three.  Jay Rohe, who resigned from the Council in October, was also there to mark the occasion. There was much discussion at the meeting about how the sudden turnover of all four Council seats is unprecedented in the 50-year history of Chaska’s current council structure.

Already there is some muttering and questioning in the community about the lack of continuity and experience on the Council. But is that the right question to be asking? And is the current situation really so unprecedented?

Let’s take the second question first. The notion that Chaska has always had an experienced Council is one that is largely manufactured. In fact, we only need to wind the clock back to 2010 to find another highly inexperienced Council. After Mark Windschitl won the Mayoral Special Election in January of that year, he joined four other Councilors – Gino Businaro, Boe, Schulz, and Rick Ford – who were all in their first term.  Not to mention the fact that City Administrator Matt Podhradsky had been on the job for only a little over a year at the time. Looking back on that time, I think we can all agree that the city survived that “inexperience” on the Council.

Why is that? Well, it goes back to the first question. Continuity in anything can’t – and shouldn’t – only be judged by ensuring that specific individuals are present. No one is irreplaceable and no one is immortal. True continuity is created not by returning the same people to the same seats over and over again, but rather by the hard work of building a common set of values, a shared sense of mission, processes that have been refined with learnings over time, and a commitment to building community.

(And let’s also not forget that the folks who should get to decide how much continuity and experience are valued are the citizens of Chaska – not the Council itself. Keep that in mind should the Council decide to appoint a new Ward 2 Councilor instead of having a special election for the seat.)

Yes, we’ve lost a lot of experience from the Council in recent months. But, we’re also gaining a lot. Mike Huang and Jon Grau both served for nine years on the Planning and Parks & Recreations Commissions (including multiple years as the Chair for both), respectively. Both have been excellent public servants in those roles. McKayla Hatfield is a lifelong Chaska resident and small-business owner who demonstrated her devotion to the city and her willingness to work hard in her victorious campaign this fall.

They bring new perspectives and new areas of focus – just as the group a decade ago did. After all, Chaska has never stood still. It’s never looked backwards. Each wave of leadership has built on the foundation that has been left and moved our city forward into the future. I’m confident that Mike, Jon, and McKayla will do that, too. After all, they’re the product of the hard work put in over the years by generations of Chaska leaders to build that true continuity – one that transcends any individual.

So, don’t despair, question, or mutter. Instead, talk to your City Council members and let them know what you think! Help them move our city forward in a constructive way.

It’s Time for a Special Election, Chaska

Chaska Ward 2 City Council Member Greg Boe eked out a narrow 117-vote win in the race for State House District 47B on Election Day, meaning he will be forced to vacate his position for the final two years of his City Council term. This comes after Ward 4 Council Member Jay Rohe’s resignation in October. Both terms aren’t up for re-election until 2020.

With the pending vacancy in Ward 2 combined with the existing vacancy in Ward 4, the city is in unique circumstances.  It is not healthy for half of the city to be represented on the City Council by unelected Council Members for the next two years. It is critical that the replacement of these seats reflect the views of citizens in Wards 2 & 4.

The current composition of the Council only complicates the scenario. With three of four current members departing, it only makes it even more imperative to turn these decisions over to the citizens via special election.

These positions are elected for a reason. We have the time, resources, and capabilities to hold a special election. Per my non-lawyerly reading of election law, we could have new council members sat in time for the second council meeting in February, which realistically means at the most four council meetings with only three members. With the Planning Commission having relatively light agendas in October/November, it seems like there’s not a significant backlog of activity coming to the Council for final approval in January.  (I realize this can change quickly.) The costs of a special election are fractions of a percent of the city’s $16M general fund budget.

The city is already far along in the appointment process for Ward 4 – a process that began before the election results. I salute the Chaska residents who have stepped forward to be considered for appointment, and I thank them for their desire to serve. This effort is not about being devaluing them, but rather about putting the people of Ward 4 at the center of the conversation. Circumstances have changed, and wise leaders adjust when the situation changes.

In my time on the Chaska Park Board, one of the mantras we have heard and lived by – and one that has been echoed by the City Council — was making sure that “we did things right” even if that sometimes meant taking a little more time or even spending a little more money.  We don’t just pick the quickest, easiest or cheapest way when we can give our citizens something lasting and of value from choosing a different path. It’s our responsibility – and the City Council’s – to do the right thing for our city and there’s nothing they can do that has more value than giving the citizens their voice and their choice as to who will represent them.

A special election to fill the Ward 2 and Ward 4 vacancies is the right thing to do for the city of Chaska.

Don’t just take my word for it. 100+ Chaska residents have spoken up and signed their name to a petition just over the last two weeks to support a special election. They’ve raised their voices, I encourage you to listen to them, to join them, and tell the City Council:

Authorize a special election to fill the vacancies in Ward 2 and Ward 4.

If you agree, sign the petition at ChaskaSpecialElection.com! Join the Chaska Citizens for a Special Election Facebook group! And come to the City Council meeting on Monday, November 19 (7 p.m. at City Hall), where we will deliver the petition — and the message — in person to the Council!

Endorsement: Jon Grau for Chaska City Council, Ward 1

I’ve served with Jon Grau for the last eight years on the city’s Parks & Recreation Board. Jon has been the chair since 2016. Jon’s actions as a member and as the chairperson of that board have been in alignment with the four values he lists on his campaign page: Honesty, Transparency, Respect, and Service.

In our time on the Park Board, we’ve tackled a lot of significant projects, Firemen’s Park and the Dog Park preeminent among them. On these projects, Jon has sought to be a consensus-builder and he has always valued and prioritized public input.

We’ve dealt with the turmoil last year of the investigation of the Parks & Recreation department leadership. Jon was a steadying force as Chair during that time, working well with the interim leadership and the Board to make sure progress continued on our key priorities.

When I look at how Jon has campaigned for City Council this fall, a few things in particular impress me.

First, his emphasis on improving city communications. I was motivated to get involved with the Park Board because of poor communications from the city during the development of the original Veterans (now Sunset) Park. A decade later, some of the commonsense suggestions made by neighbors during that process still haven’t been implemented. We can and must do better. I believe Jon when he says that this will be a priority for him when he reaches the Council.

Second, Jon’s campaign has modeled how he would behave as a member of the Council. He’s done the work — knocking on over 1,000 doors by himself. If you listen to the League of Women Voters candidate forum, you’ll see he’s thought carefully about the issues. Jon has run an inclusive, forward-looking campaign respectful of Chaska’s values but looking to grow and make it great for future generations as well. Without dwelling on the issue, I would suggest that Jon’s opponent (and her supporters) haven’t always been at the same level.

Finally, Jon would provide a perspective to the Council that’s missing at the moment. Families with school-age children aren’t represented on the Council right now, and three of the four councilors (4/5 if you include the recently resigned Jay Rohe) have been there for nine years or more. Unfortunately, this has resulted in a Council that works well with itself, but is not as open to outside views and opinions (especially if they are dissenting) as they once were.  It’s time for some fresh views and new ideas.

Jon Grau will bring a much-needed openness to the Council, respecting and listening to all in our community. If you live in Ward 1, I encourage you to vote for Jon on Election Day.