Aaron Neumann – MN House 60A

Tell us about a time — before you were a candidate for public office — where you felt strongly about a local/state political issue. Give an example of the action you took in response.

Well, I’ve lived in lower NE Minneapolis for twenty years and have had a long-standing commitment to working with my neighbors to make a difference on local issues for these past two decades. The latest examples are fighting off an inappropriate development along 13th Ave. NE this summer and more significantly organizing people in my community to help shut down the Northern Metal shredding operation along the Mississippi River, the leading cause of the highest amount of lead air pollution in the State. ​

I’m really involved in local issues and do a lot of activism through my neighborhood organization. Everything from helping create public art, getting good storm water management practices, making affordable housing developments happen, organizing community-building events and a big annual fundraiser called Empty Bowls NE, and fighting polluters along our Mississippi River like Northern Metal and GAF. I’m just a total nerd for the local issues! ​

If elected, what committee assignment would you like to receive and why?​

Legacy Finance – Because Arts Legacy funding is a big chunk of how Arts get funded in Minnesota through the Minnesota State Arts Board (MSAB) & Regional Arts Councils (RAC) systems (they are also funded through the General Fund). I will be an advocate for increased funding to these sources and will ensure that Legacy funds go to the Arts and Arts Access, Arts Education, and Arts and Cultural Heritage, and will work to protect the standard that 47% of the Arts & Culture Legacy Fund is appropriated to the MSAB and RAC systems, with the long-term goal of increasing it to 50%.

Housing Financing and Policy – Because I view housing as a fundamental human right. As a realtor living in a community that is increasing gentrifying, I know the importance of housing stability and sustainable homeownership. There’s so much good that can be done through this committee, from family homelessness prevention, rental assistance, the Housing Challenge program, local housing trust funds, to the Homeownership Assistance Fund, etc.

Environment and Natural Resources Finance – Because if we want to protect and enhance our Riverfront and Watershed District, that costs money and this is where it’s appropriated. It’s that fundamental!

Do you agree that we’re facing a climate emergency? If yes, what’s the appropriate emergency-level policy response?​

I think the local emergency we’re facing is an affordability crisis (housing+), but the truth is all of that becomes moot when you think of climate because, YES, we are facing a climate emergency! It’s like the boiling frog analogy. Climate change seems like it’s happening slowly, but in the grand scheme of this it’s happening quickly and increasing in speed. That’s why I support the Minnesota Green New Deal (HF 2836) which proposes to make Minnesota electricity entirely free of carbon emissions by 2030 and creates job-training programs for clean energy fields, as well as an advisory commission to help make that transition to renewable energy sources. If the federal government continues to fail to act, then the state of MN must.

Name some specific housing policies you would push as a legislator to make Minneapolis a more affordable place to find housing.

So many. OK, so there are some small changes we can make happen this session, then
there’s the longer term goals. Let’s start with what can feasibly pass this year (meaning it passes the Republican-controlled Senate and hits the Governor’s desk).

Short-term (this session):​

Renters’ Rights – I support current legislation that expands renters’ rights and tenant protections such as Pay or Quit Eviction Protection (HF 1972) that require landlords to provide a notice in advance of filing an eviction for nonpayment of rent, as well as Tenant Protections (HF 1511) which grants protections to mitigate homelessness and housing instability and includes provisions such as Reducing Impact of Evictions, Ban the Box on Housing Applications and Section 8 Non-discrimination. I will work to support all renter’s rights legislation!​

Long-term (next session, if the Senate changes hands to the DFL):​

A big increase in funding: $300 million in bonding for Housing Infrastructure Bonds (HIB) and General Obligation (GO) Bonds to support the production of affordable homes in communities statewide, which boost local economies with jobs and economic development. ​

$50 million annually in tax credits to create a dollar for dollar tax credit for contributions to a fund that provides resources for locally directed affordable housing projects.

$39 million for the MN Housing Finance Agency to produce more homes for workers, to match local community resources, to assist families in attaining homeownership, and to prevent homelessness.​

$38 million for the Dept of Human Services to provide emergency shelter, supportive services and programs for homeless families, and for housing that supports Minnesotans with severe mental illness.​

Repealing the State Prohibition on Rent Control – MN Statue 477.9996 prohibits local governments from enacting their own forms of rental control. While the law does give an exception to rent controls enacted by a general election (as in a charter amendment), we should allow local governments to determine if rent controls are necessary. They might just be!

Can you identify anything the legislature currently gets wrong on transportation — and how you’d fix this?​

Transportation (transportation systems, highway construction and maintenance, and the Minnesota State Patrol) is the 3rd largest expenditure in the State’s budget (accounting for approximately 9-10% of projected spending), and we should reduce this % amount as to free up $ in other areas (like housing!), but make it up in user-based taxation. This is the one time I think we should consider more regressive taxation. Commercial vehicle taxation – those who use our transportation most – could pay a little bit more in registrations, etc and it would make a big difference (especially as we move to driverless vehicles!), as well as a small increase in the gas tax (more for diesel), which could also make up the difference. Basically, transportation funding is super important, but too much tax dollars goes towards that highway construction and maintenance with not enough contributions from those who use it the most – commercial vehicles.

Identify the top challenges facing schools in your area and how you’d address them.

My priority for early education is in sync with the House DFLers and Gov. Tim Walz’s plan for funding 4,000 volunteer preschool slots in public school districts. Minnesota must go the way of its neighbors in Iowa and Wisconsin and fund universal (and voluntary) pre-K! ​ ​

My priority for special education is to fully fund special education costs through the State of MN instead of relying on school districts to pay for them. About 20% of a public school’s budget is spent on special ed costs! ​

My priority for K-12 education is reversing Minnesota’s perpetual underfunding of education by significantly increasing the per-pupil funding formula and tying it to inflation.​

My priority for higher education, long-term, is making a tuition-free Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System (MnSCU). This is not a far-fetched idea! In fact, the 2015 Legislature created the MnSCU Two-Year Occupational Grant Pilot Program which was a $5 million pilot project that applied to about 1,200 programs, from accounting to welding, at 30 community and technical colleges, allowing for some 1,400 of Minnesota’s newest high school graduates to get free college tuition. It’s a great start, but lawmakers may or may not re-authorize the pilot program. I will work with legislative and educational leaders to provide free community college for all.

I also support current legislation that address teacher shortages, more diversity of teachers, and loan forgiveness programs for those seeing to become teachers. ​

Name an issue area about which your own knowledge and experience are lacking. How are you learning more? Who do you turn to for advice?

Actually, I feel like the issue area where I need more knowledge and experience is Education. I think I’m pretty well-versed in Arts, Housing, and Environmental policy (specifically Mississippi River and watershed issues above the Falls), although there’s always more to learn. Councilmember Kevin Reich is someone I do talk to a lot about education. I’ve had a great friendship with him over 15+ years and he knows A LOT about public education and has a great commitment to it, but the true guru in our Eastside community is Mpls School Board member Jenny Arneson. She would be the person and expert I would turn to first (sorry, Kevin), whenever important education issues are presented at the Capitol.

Do you see specific opportunities for the state legislature to support the work of or remove obstacles for — the Minneapolis City Council and Mayor?

Increased Local Government Aid always makes a big difference for the City of Minneapolis (our tax base contributes the most to state government and gets the least back proportionally). I think repealing the State prohibition on rent control (MN Statue 477.9996), which prohibits local governments from enacting their own forms of rental control, could make a difference for our City government and our residents. I also think, while it won’t happen this session but could happen while Gov. Walz is office, legalizing, taxing, and regulating marijuana like we do alcohol in the state will have a disproportionate and positive impact on Minneapolis’ tax revenue. Colorado just surpassed $4 billion in tax revenue in 5 years, most of that coming from her largest city, Denver!

Lightning Round – Short answers if possible.

What neighborhood do you live in?

Holland neighborhood, lower NE Minneapolis (there has not been an elected official from lower NE in decades!)​

Do you have a favorite Metro Transit bus route? Where does it take you?​

Easy the 11A (or 11D sometimes) heading from 2nd St. NE to downtown to get to First Avenue Nightclub. ​

What leadership experience do you have?

Board Member/Vice-President, Holland Neighborhood Improvement Association –
2005-2006/2017-current: The Holland Neighborhood Improvement Association (HNIA) works to enhance the quality of life in the Holland Neighborhood by facilitating community engagement, embracing a diversity of voices, and fostering economic, artistic, energy-wise and innovative community development. www.hnia.org

Empty Bowls NE Organizer – 2013 – current: raised over $50,000 for three terrific local hunger causes – East Side Neighborhood Services Senior Food Shelf, the Helping Hand Food Pantry, and the Sheridan Story.

Hotdish Revolution! Organizer – 2005-2006, 2008-2009, 2017-current: NE Minneapolis’ signature community-building event, the Hotdish Revolution!, is a fundraiser for the Holland Neighborhood Improvement Association (HNIA) and, as a community-building gala for NE Minneapolis, the event is a gleeful contest for hotdish makers and Jell-O sculpture aficionados with local “celebrity” judges deciding who will reign supreme in a number of hotdish categories. Co-created and organized 1st Annual event (2005) and many thereafter.

Gallery Owner – 2017-current: The Corner Store Gallery NE serves as hub for art exhibits and community events exhibiting emerging and local artists and musicians in NE Minneapolis. The Corner Store Gallery NE was previously Studio A in NE Minneapolis that exhibited many artists, musicians, and events, including the iconic Art-A-Whirl exhibit, “57 Princes: Artists’ Homage to The Purple One” just weeks after Prince’s untimely passing. Notable exhibits at the current gallery include “Over the Rainbow: Last Days of Nye’s”, “Material Impulse: NCECA (National Council on Education for the Ceramic Art)”, “Bag Ladies” (The Poetry, Collage and Installation of Andrea Jenkins), and many collaborative Art-A-Whirl exhibits featuring many local artists and musicians.

EQL – Environmental Quality of Life – 2014-current: A group of dedicated and determined citizens from Northeast and North Minneapolis have been meeting since August 2014 to improve air quality in the neighborhoods on either side of the Lowry Avenue Bridge. Notable accomplishments include shutting down the metal shredding operation at Northern Metal, a leading cause of lead air pollution in our community and organizing to make shingle manufacturer GAF announced install more pollution controls.

State Delegate Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) – 2010, 2018: https://www.mprnews.org/story/2010/04/24/kelliher-endorsement & https://www.minnpost.com/politics-policy/2018/06/dfl-endorses-erin-murphy-governor/

Holland Neighborhood Small Area Plan Steering Committee – 2014-2015: The Holland Neighborhood Improvement Organization (HNIA) spent many months planning for and drafting a small area plan for the Holland neighborhood. The plan creates a vision for the future of our neighborhood and incorporated into the City of Minneapolis’ Comprehensive Plan guiding future funding decisions for northeast.

Board Member, Bottineau Neighborhood Association – 2008-2009: Bottineau Neighborhood is located in NE Minneapolis and is known for Mississippi River public park access, fine restaurants, arts and community gardens. Primarily worked on the Mississippi River Clean Up event and 5K Earth Day Run.

Eastside Bicycle Task Force – 2003-2005: Planning for the St. Anthony Trails in NE Minneapolis, Central Avenue NE Trail; $1,000,000 Federal Enhancements Funding for the 18th Ave NE Trail (2010); NE Diagonal Trail; identified miles of bikeway gaps in NE Minneapolis, increased bicycle signage and wayfinding guidelines/standards; increased bicycle parking in NE Minneapolis.

Co-Founder/Chair, NORML MN – 1999-2002: Built a grassroots state chapter of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) with over 1000 dues-paying members; organized first-ever door-to-door canvassing on the issue; co-organized sold-out benefit concert at 1st Ave’s Main Room (first Atmosphere performance on the main stage!); organized the first-ever state-sponsored medical marijuana forum in the country (April 6, 2001) that included grant-writing for panelists (legal medical marijuana patients, doctors and experts), lobbying government leaders to be on the panel (Commissioner of Public Health, Jan Malcom, and the Commissioner of Public Safety, Charlie Weaver) and to attend (Gov. Jesse Ventura), and writing and submitting many press releases; drafted the Compassionate Use Act (HF 2164 in the 82nd Legislature) and lobbied elected officials to carry it and the Senate companion (SF 1976) and the comp, the first-ever legislation introduced in Minnesota to fully legalize the medical use of marijuana.

Have you run for elected office before? Which one/s?

Green Party Endorsed Candidate for Minneapolis City Council, Ward 3 – 2005: Achieved roughly 30% of the vote in a crowded primary, went on to achieve roughly 30% in the general election; endorsed by the MN Daily and the Spokesman Recorder; ran on a platform of Electoral Reform and Grassroots Democracy (Ranked-Choice Voting; lowering the legal age to run for City Council from 21 to 18.), a Green Minneapolis & Ecological Wisdom (bikes and transportation; fighting the GAF shingling plant), Social Justice (police accountability), Nonviolence and Harm Reduction (decriminalizing marijuana), an ordinance against unfair predatory lending practices, a living wage ordinance, strengthen the Arts and enriching cultural life in Ward 3, Feminism and Gender Equality (an ordinance allowing for legally recognizing Commitment Covenants between GLBT peoples, therefore allowing marriage licenses in to be valid in Minneapolis), and a true municipal WiFi system.

Do you support the Minneapolis 2040 plan?

In principle, yes. But I’d like to add, that no where in the 2040 plan does it say that housing developments are the goal. It’ just one tactic to get to the true goal of affordability and an affordable life for all. So, at every level of governance we must push livability policy to “ease the squeeze” that so many of us are facing in our community. That’s why I support what’s happening right now at the State Capitol and can get passed THIS SESSION: Paid family leave and sick time. Universal pre-K, a public option buy-in to MinnesotaCare, Tenant protections, funding to make our schools better, and tax relief so people can stay in their homes. We need to fight for this if we’re going to have any chance of mitigating the negative impacts of gentrification.

[Click here to read answers from all district 60A candidates. The special primary election is on January 21st, 2020.]