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Criticism Mounts Over Ventura Cabinet Makeup
By Karen Louise Boothe
April 2, 1999
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Black leaders of dozens of organizations and churches are calling upon people to participate in a planned March for Freedom, Justice and Equality tomorrow. The march was planned out of concern over Governor Jesse Ventura's recent cabinet appointments. Critics say the state's top administration officials fail to represent the diversity of Minnesota's population. Black leaders are especially concerned over the lack of any African-American appointments.

CRITICS WORRY GOVERNOR VENTURA'S APPOINTMENTS will prevent him from getting a broad perspective on policy issues.

Ventura's 29 cabinet and administrative appointments are mostly white and from the Metro area. Only one appointment is a person of color: Veterans Affairs Commissioner Bernie Melter, a Native-American.

Tyrone Terrill is Director of the St. Paul Human Rights Department and one of the organizer's of Saturday's march.

Terrill: Nobody can defend zero. You can't defend zero. If we're going to have an administration that's inclusive, that's going to be diverse in its thinking, then you need to have diversity from our community. If the governor had appointed 27 males, and say three of them had even been black, do you think the feminist community would have not said anything? Their rally would be taking place Saturday, or probably would have taken place weeks ago.
Ventura has said he doesn't take race into account when making appointments. He says capable people will represent all Minnesotans well regardless of race and he is dismissive of his critics.
Ventura: And I'm very offended over it. I think it's a personal attack more than it is someone who's read the facts. I let my budget speak for me and I'm very proud of my budget right now.
Ventura says he has put more money than his predecessors into areas that some disenfranchised constituencies are typically concerned about, such as affordable housing and education.

State Human Rights Commissioner Janeen Rosas, who is white, is comfortable with the governor's selection process; saying it was open and inclusive. Rosas is discouraged, however, by the ongoing debate.
Rosas: I've had the opportunity to meet with the other cabinet members several times since I've been appointed and I'm very impressed with their quality, their commitment to the best interests of all the constituencies that we serve.
But State DFL Representative Gregory Gray of Minneapolis, says it's one thing to have leaders who are open and sensitive to issues of diversity and another to have leaders who truly reflect the people they serve.
Gray: With that broad perspective of views, we can pass better legislation and, more importantly, each one of these people adds a certain piece to the puzzle. We all have different cultural and religious and just experience differences that lend themselves, when they're all put together, to creating legislation that's going to benefit all of us.
Criticism over the governor's appointments doesn't end with concerns over racial and ethnic diversity. Some rural lawmakers and other leaders have stepped forward to say they're concerned about the needs of greater-Minnesota being addressed.

Dave Smiglewski is mayor of Granite Falls in southwestern Minnesota. He says he doesn't question the qualifications of the commissioners and other administrative heads, but he's dismayed over why they've all come from the metro region.
Smiglewski: Certainly somebody that brings a metro-area experience would certainly have a different slant on transportation issues or environmental issues or economic issues than somebody that lives in a rural area that has a much different experience.
Smiglewski says, for now, he's taking a wait-and-see attitude to track just how far up rural concerns make it among the Administration's priorities.

As for Saturday's march, organizers acknowledge it's too late to influence the appointment process, but they say the event will raise awareness of the issue and begin to educate Minnesotans, if not elected officials.

Karen Louise Boothe covers politics for Minnesota Public Radio. You can reach her at