Rep. Frank Hornstein represents District 61A in the Minnesota House of Representatives. He has announced that he’ll be running for the newly redistricted 61A again this year, which will expand further into downtown and Bryn Mawr while removing Linden Hills, Fulton, and West Maka Ska from the district. We sat down to talk about what he’s up to at the Capitol this legislative session, public safety solutions that he's working on, and transportation policies that he's working on as the chair of the committee.
Charlie: First off, you are moving to live in the new district lines, correct?
Rep. Hornstein: Yes, north of Lake Street, not far from where I live now.
What are your priorities for this upcoming session?
As chair of the Transportation Committee, I’m making sure that Minnesota is able to access all of the money from the very historic investments in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that the Biden administration passed with the help of Congress. Within transportation, my priorities are really to address climate change. Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, and there's a lot we can do in transportation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and curb climate change.
We also want to look at transportation through an equity lens, and that means investments in transit, pedestrian, and biking infrastructure. We had a hearing recently where we talked about the increase in pedestrian deaths and injuries, and how those are disproportionately BIPOC people. We have to really tackle this issue, and it's very important not only in our district, but also statewide – we have to focus on safety.
When it comes to roads and bridges, the priority is fixing them first rather than expanding freeways. We need policies that reduce vehicle miles traveled if we're going to address climate change. We also need the electrification of our transportation infrastructure, which includes things like electric buses. We hosted a whole hearing on electric buses. We asked the Met Council last year in the transportation bill to do a zero-emission transition plan, which they are going to be reporting on.
Finally, there’s a transit mode that’s received bipartisan support. It's called arterial bus rapid transit. We have the E Line coming down Hennepin. These are buses that run reliably every 10 minutes. They have been very successful. You pay before you board, and there's a low platform that you board on. These buses are modern, they’re often times hybrid or electric buses so there are less emissions, and they’re also quieter. You’ll have a reliable ride in the E Line, which runs down Hennepin Avenue and replaces the 6 bus, connecting the University of Minnesota and Southdale. We also have the B Line which connects Uptown and Downtown Minneapolis. So, really exciting new improvements and bus service for our area.
In case the readers don’t know, I don’t drive. I exclusively rely on transit, biking, and walking. This decision was really a personal one, because I’ve never enjoyed driving, but I think it's also allowed me to really experience the transit system and the challenges people have with bike and walk safety. I was introduced once as “the Transportation Chair that doesn’t drive,” and I kind of like that moniker.
What’s a bill that people may not know exists that would positively impact Southwest Minneapolis?
I've pioneered and championed these bus rapid transit lines, and transportation bills in general. But here's one that has its origins in The Wedge. A couple years ago, I met with the Environmental Committee of the Wedge Neighborhood Association [aka the Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association] and what they brought to me was a challenge that some renters that want to do composting are experiencing. They want to make sure that their food waste isn't thrown out, or that paper plates and the whole long list of compostable items that the city collects from homeowners at the curbside go to the right place. If you're a renter or you live in a condo, you don’t have that unless your property owner or manager offers that, and it's not very often that they do. [LHENA] collected a list of something like a thousand people who are interested in doing this. They even documented that some people would actually schlep their compostables to The Wedge Co-op because they felt so strongly about it. Composting does matter. It reduces waste. It reduces methane, which is one of the most potent greenhouse gas emissions.
If you're looking for something to do in your day-to-day life to effect climate change, organic composting is one of them. But if you’re a renter, you're out of luck. We developed legislation that would create a pilot grant program so the city’s neighborhood organizations like the Wedge could get grants to develop an organics composting program. This was reported on in the Southwest Journal. It was literally the last hearing I did on a bill of mine before COVID. I am really trying to work with a lot of our newer members, so Representative Agbaje is carrying that bill this year and it will be introduced shortly. That's a bill few people may know about that I think really does create positive improvements in people’s lives here, especially if you aren’t a homeowner.
This is the part of serving that I love the most – people in a community come up with an idea and share it with an elected official, and we work together to advance it.
You’ve been really involved with transportation work since arriving in the legislature – where do you see transportation policy in Minnesota going in the next five years?
The automobile is and will continue to be a central part of our system here, but we have to create alternatives so that people who want a choice not to drive can have that choice. For those that are driving, we need to make sure that the cars are much more energy-efficient, that we are electrifying the transportation system, and that we are creating land use policies so that people don't have to drive long distances to get to work, or school, or shopping, or recreation.
My number one priority in transportation is to address the fact that transportation is the number one source of greenhouse gas emissions. Transit is a huge part of that, electric vehicles are a huge part of that, and making sure the people can walk and bike safely is a huge part of that. Making sure that we really target our investments in road and bridge infrastructure, that we actually fix the ones that are literally crumbling in many instances. People use the phrase “crumbling infrastructure” – County road engineers have shown us pictures of rutted roads in Winona, and a bridge that is literally crumbling. The number one issue for roads and bridges has to be to fix them. We have a huge bridge in Duluth, the Blatnik Bridge, which needs a major investment.
Let's not forget about passenger rail, which we worked on very hard last session. I'm very, very proud of the transportation bill that was enacted last year. We are one of two states that has divided government, so this bill had to be negotiated with the Republicans. We were able to get funding for two new bus rapid transit lines for the first time. We got funding in the Active Transportation account for biking and pedestrians – five million dollars, but we want to build on that this year. We got the second train funded, finally, after many years, that goes from Saint Paul to Chicago. We got a huge policy and finance position for Metro Mobility. So many people are relying on that service, which has not been up to snuff. There are lots of other things we were able to achieve in our transportation bill, but passenger rail is going to be increasingly important, so we have that second train to Chicago and now we're going to be working on a train from the Twin Cities to Duluth.
Those are my priorities. It’s broadly known as sustainable transportation. I attended the climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland in November. This is a topic of conversation globally. It’s where we need to head in Minnesota. Time is running out to curb the climate crisis and if transportation’s the largest source of greenhouse gasses, any transportation policy has to address that.
What do you think the prospects are for the Southwest Light Rail line moving forward?
Well, this audit that we’re doing is going to be hugely important. The normal process for the legislature to direct the legislative auditor to do an audit of project is that different topics are elicited from legislators, then there's a process to winnow down the topics, then towards the end of the legislature in May, the auditor will take several topics and and and do audits of them. Senator Dibble and I wanted to do something different. In July, when the first cost overrun of 200 million dollars was announced, we were alarmed and concerned. At that time, we asked the legislative auditor to investigate, because there has now been a pattern of cost overruns and delays. That’s called a special review, and you can request that at any time. They didn't have the resources to do it in July, August, and September, but they felt like it was an important enough issue that they did an initial 30-page report.
There were lots of issues in that report that we were alarmed by, and at that moment felt like we really needed to get a lot more information. The legislative auditor is the gold standard in terms of objective, nonpartisan reports, so they're not going to do an investigation from the perspective of the Met Council, or from the perspective of a contractor. We worked on a bill to actually require or request the legislative auditor to do a much more detailed report, both the special review for some of the short-term issues and a much broader investigation. We got it done in time to introduce it very early in the session. That bill sailed through the committee process on a bipartisan basis, and we passed it on the House floor on a vote of 129 to 1. It'll pass the Senate soon, and then will be signed into law by the Governor.
At that point, the legislature still has to go through that traditional process of choosing this topic for an audit, but I have no doubt that that will happen. That will be done in May, but in the meantime the legislative auditor is already working on the additional special report. They should have reports on that and some recommendations in a matter of months.
I'm going to be really looking very carefully at what they have to say. There are 17 specific areas of investigation in the bill. We're asking for a cost-benefit analysis, looking at the hiring practices and personnel, safety measures, what change orders have the contractors requested, and how those have been handled. We are leaving no stone unturned. Some people will say this is perspective, so it doesn't happen again on another large project, but I think there are a lot of changes that need to happen on the Southwest project moving forward. Often times, the legislative auditor will have recommendations for the legislature. I think on this one I'm going to look very, very closely with those recommendations are, and we may see legislation coming out of this.
If you could snap your fingers and make one change to our public safety system, what would it be?
We need to really invest in, you know, community-based solutions. There's a bill that’s been presented by Representative Cedric Frazier that I’m co-authoring with a number of House Democrats. It really is a comprehensive approach which recognizes that we do need more personnel in law enforcement.
But it identifies key areas of law enforcement, like investigations. Carjackings are a huge issue. I have talked to so many people throughout our area of Minneapolis that are concerned about this and have been victimized. They are feeling unspeakable trauma. These are such heinous crimes. One of the things that we've identified is that there is a particular shortage of investigations. As I've learned more about the issue, we need more investigatory resources. We also used to have police that had walking beats. Police really knew the community. We have to go back to that model. This bill by Rep. Frazier has those resources.
At the same time, we can't just talk about accountability, we have to do concrete things to ensure that the MPD are actually following policies like no-knock warrants. There is a no-knock warrant bill that I’m co-authoring.
Every layer of government has responsibility. The city, with MPD and oversight. Hennepin County, which has important responsibilities related to prosecutions and juvenile programs. Juvenile diversion clearly has to be reformed and updated, given that so many of these crimes have been from juveniles. Then, the state really has resources and policy direction that is critical, not to mention the federal government. Every layer of government has responsibility. We had a situation with homeless encampments in the summer of 2020, and it turned into a lot of finger-pointing between the city, and the county, and a little bit with the state, and finally everyone got together and came up with some solutions. But we cannot have finger-pointing on public safety. Everybody has a responsibility.
With public safety, there’s not one answer. You need more resources, and you need accountability, particularly after the murders of George Floyd and most recently Amir Locke. The Department of Justice investigation is going to be critical to moving forward. I also think that we have to take a look at qualified immunity, and arbitration policies that have to be changed. Unless we're able to hold that process accountable, we're not going to make progress. I think civilian review is absolutely critical when it comes to MPD accountability.
What do you want your new constituents in your new district to know about you?
My background is in community organizing. I have a very strong commitment to progressive values and social justice. I look at my public service as an extension of that. I am here for the community and to advance the progressive agenda that many people in the community are working on.
I guess if there was one thing that they should know about me politically, it’s that when I got into politics, it was never something that I had thought about as something to go into. My career was in community organizing. When Paul Wellstone got elected in 1990, I saw that he was an organizer, and it was the first time I thought, wow, maybe this is something I could do. He opened the doors to so many people who never had doors open to them in government. There's a whole generation of people who were inspired by Paul, and there’s a generation from the 90s and early 2000s that decided to pursue public service because of Paul Wellstone. I'm a democrat in the tradition of Paul Wellstone. He used to always say that he was a member of the democratic wing of the Democratic Party, and I would probably say that I feel like I'm from the same place.