Why do you think I switched schools? | Steve Timmer photograph
by Steve Timmer
Mar 4, 2014, 11:00 AM

Branden Petersen learns his lesson

Sen. Branden Petersen from Andover, the only Republican in the Minnesota Senate to vote for the gay marriage bill that passed last session, has decided to oppose the anti-bullying bill before the current session of the Legislature.

Frankly, Senator, it seems an odd line to draw in the sand, morally, anyway. I mean, really; it’s kids we’re talking about. Kids like the one in the photo above. Or the ones in this photo from a rally for the anti-bullying bill at the Legislature on March 3rd:

crowd at safe schools rally

Or in this one:

crowd at safe schools rally 2

And some younger than this, too.

But Sen. Petersen says, C’mon, be serious here:

“At a certain point, we’ve got to recognize as a society that the state cannot mandate whether or not an 8-year-old calls another 8-year-old fat,” Petersen said. “It’s almost, I don’t want to say arrogant, but it kind of is to think the state has that kind of power.”

Creating and maintaining an environment where kids are and feel safe? You’re right, Sen. Petersen, that’s so totalitarian. And kids will be kids! That is, of course, the theme of The Lord of the Flies.

We know from things like news reports, and suicides, and federal civil rights consent orders, that school districts do not uniformly provide that safe environment — at least for some kids — unless, um, prodded. Which is why the state needs to mandate that environment for all the state’s kids.

You have to have a heart of stone to fail to be moved by the testimony before the legislature of people like Alec Fischer (also from the link above):

Fischer, who grew up in Edina, said students who believed he was gay bullied him during middle school. Excluded from social activities, he grew suicidal but concealed it from his parents for several years, he said.

Or the comment by LeftMN reader Alan to the LeftMN story about Katherine Kersten’s latest polemic:

I was bullied mercilessly in junior high and part of my high school years when I was figuring out that I was gay. It stunted a good part of my life and there are effects from it that I will likely never outlive.

Seeing another piece like this from Kersten reignites the hopelessness I felt in those school years. Kersten is given gallons of ink to spew her lies and hatred over and over again. Very little rebuttal ever appears in the pages of the paper and certainly not from a regular contributor. And just as in my school days, I have no voice at all. I couldn’t get my opinion printed in the Strib even if I bought a full-page ad to do it. They wouldn’t print it.

The effects of bullying are long lasting.

So what’s behind Sen. Petersen’s change of heart? It is in part the fellow on the left here:

David Hann and Jeff Wilfahrt

That’s Sen. David Hann, the leader of the Republicans in the Minnesota Senate, from a photo taken at the rally; he’s the tip of the spear in opposition to the anti-bullying bill. I mentioned  to him that my senator (Melisa Franzen) was in favor of the bill (a sponsor, in fact); he said, Of course, she’s a Democrat. All Democrats are in favor of it, and [therefore, ed.] all Republicans are against it. That sounds like caucus politics, and not policy, to me.

Sen. Petersen also got a stern talking to by activists in his district. They took the rare step of voting “no confidence” in Petersen. But I guess they have confidence in him now; the vote was rescinded:

“Sen. Petersen had a lot of other positive things going for him,” said Don Huizenga, a deputy chair of the Senate District 35 Republicans. “We wanted him to go into session with a clear conscience.”

Or without one. Whatever.

Update: In a letter printed in the Strib on March 6th, Wes Davey reports more comprehensively (more comprehensively even than Jeff Wilfahrt) on remarks made by Sen. David Hann at the anti-bullying rally on Monday.

David Hann at anti-bullying rally

Here’s Wes’ letter:

State Senate Minority Leader David Hann stopped by the “Safe Schools Rally” at the Capitol on Monday and shared with several of us three reasons why he opposes the antibullying bill: It would cost too much, it would interfere with elected school board officials, and it wouldn’t stop bullying in schools.

Cost is a concern when implementing any law. Still, if the Department of Natural Resources spends $68 million to nurture and protect fish and wildlife, why can’t we budget a much lesser amount to do the same for bullied youth?

Hann’s concern about imposing state guidelines on local school boards disregards the obvious — the state already imposes many guidelines on school districts. Besides, if all school boards worked as diligently to prevent bullying as he asserted, this bill would not even be in front of the Legislature. Lastly, his claim that the bill won’t prevent bullying is without merit. Under the bill, once bullying has occurred and is reported, school officials would take corrective action, thus giving bullied kids the hope and courage to live another day.

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