EDITORIAL: History: Protect historical society from meddling politicians

·2 min read

Jun. 20—It should be unsettling to Minnesotans when one political party wants more control over telling the state's history.

Minnesota Senate Republicans have been quietly pushing for the state to take over management of some historic sites from the Minnesota Historical Society, they say, at the behest of the proverbial concerned citizens who want more transparency.

The 300-employee nonprofit Minnesota Historical Society now operates some 150 building sites around the state and has been under contract with the state, ensconced in the Constitution, since before statehood. Governors and legislators from both parties over decades have supported its mission. It was founded by the territorial Legislature in 1849.

But Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, has proposed state government take over management of 16 state-owned historical sites like Fort Snelling and Split Rock Lighthouse. The plan calls for the State Historical Preservation Office of the Department of Administration to have control over the sites, something officials there say will not be feasible with a staff of 13 people. So the plan is unworkable from a logistical standpoint.

The state could still contract with the historical society to manage the sites, but that's not a good option either. It just adds another layer of unnecessary management.

Kiffmeyer and Republicans have tangled with the historical society in the past, calling its adding of the Dakota word "at Bdote" to Fort Snelling signs "revisionist history." They threatened to pull the society's state funding two years ago. Bdote is the Dakota name for the land at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers where Fort Snelling is located.

Republicans also have been asking the historical society when the statue of Columbus will be reinstalled on Capitol Grounds after it was taken down during the George Floyd protest. We would favor never returning the statue, but it's not the historical society's role anyway. That duty falls to the Capitol Area Architectural and Planning Board.

And herein lies the problem. The main reason for disrupting what has been for decades a well-run organization that serves taxpayers seems to be that Republicans don't like the story the historical society is telling.

Transferring funding for the historical sites to be a state-run entity only builds more state bureaucracy, something Republicans generally loathe.

We urge the Legislature and Gov. Tim Walz to continue to support the Minnesota Historical Society's management of all of the historic sites, consistent with its role specified in statute and embraced in the state Constitution.

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