Is Rep. Jim Newberger’s apology enough?

Minnesota Republican lawmaker Jim Newberger of Becker has been taking heat for a comment he made during a debate on Tuesday, April 21. As reported by MPR News: 

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.”

Here’s a video of Newberger’s comments:

Newberger, whose hometown of Becker is 96.6 percent white, apologized in the same speech after receiving boos for his comments:

I’m not casting any aspersions on north Minneapolis, OK? 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.

He followed up with a written apology on Wednesday, April 22:

I sincerely apologize. I recognize my comments last night offended some people. I will work in the future to not repeat this mistake.

What strikes me about both of his apologies is that Newberger doesn’t seem to quite grasp the root of why his comments were hurtful. State Sen. Bobby Joe Champion captures it perfectly:

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.”

The United States has a major school-to-prison pipeline problem, and it is nothing to take lightly. According to a report by the Sentencing Project, a group fighting for criminal justice and prison reform, 1 in 3 black men will be incarcerated in his lifetime. Compare that to 1 in 17 white men.

The reasons behind this staggering statistic are many, and include the fact that black people in the United States are still frequently relegated to poorer neighborhoods, like the one that Newberger so flippantly insulted.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, says Newberger’s apology is enough, even though Newberger appears to show remorse only for expressing an opinion that offended people — not for holding a viewpoint of casual dismissal of America’s poorest citizens. Newberger promises not to make the same mistake again, but only out of concern for his own popularity.

Minnesota Democrats disagree with Daudt’s insistence that Newberger’s apology suffices, and are calling for formal reprimanding and even censuring of Newberger. And while I’d like to Republican leadership inflict punishment for Newberger’s remarks, I don’t believe that any of these political games will solve the core problem.

Instead, let’s work hard to elect politicians that don’t share Newberger’s asinine beliefs. I don’t doubt that Newberger still believes what he said (and believes that “It doesn’t matter”), and that probably won’t change. We might not be able to teach an old dog new tricks, but we don’t have to vote that old dog back into public office.

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