Central Lakes College students learned Wednesday about multi-year efforts to revamp the most important building in Minnesota.
State Reps. Dean Urdahl, R-Acton Township, and Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, headlined two Rosenmeier forums hosted by CLC on the state Capitol restoration project.
Both Urdahl and Dean are members of the Capitol Preservation Commission, a 22-member panel overseeing a massive, $300-plus million refurbishing of the 110-year-old Capitol in St. Paul. The overhaul is scheduled to be completed in 2017.
Their noon talk was attended almost entirely by CLC students there for class. The students seemed uninterested in the metaphorical political arena. Dean asked them if anyone was watching the GOP presidential debates, without much response from the crowd. However, they did seem engaged about the literal political arena of the Minnesota Capitol, asking questions on the marble being used in the restoration and what the opening ceremonies would look like.
Urdahl said the long-overdue restoration came about after decades of legislators kicking the can down the road as the building aged and deteriorated.
"The advocates for the Capitol are the people of Minnesota through their elected leaders," he said. "For a while, those voices were a little too quiet."
Urdahl described friction between the Minnesota House of Representatives - which he belongs to - and the Senate, which Urdahl said was gradually taking over the Capitol for office space.
"Over time, it became more and more problematic," he said. "When we tried to find ways to restore the Capitol, the differences between space in the House and Senate became very contentious. In fact, in some ways, they still are."
Dean also talked about the Senate allegedly encroaching on the space, calling senators an "invasive species" in the Capitol.
State Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood - Talked about the Senate allegedly encroaching on the space, calling senators an "invasive species" in the Capitol.
Despite their differences, legislators came together to vote to appropriate hundreds of millions to restore the Capitol as much as possible to its original aesthetic design, while modernizing practical fixtures like the electrical system. The state's attention to authenticity included getting marble from the very same quarry in Georgia that was used in the original 1905 structure.
There are some aspects of the Capitol that still provoke debate, however - like paintings depicting Minnesota's earliest moments, which some feel are inaccurate or offensive to American Indians.
In his presentation Wednesday, Urdahl highlighted four paintings as ones under debate. Two of them depict armed engagements between whites and American Indians: "Attack on New Ulm" and ""Battle of Ta-Ha-Kouty (Killdeer Mountain)."
Urdahl said these and the multiple Civil War paintings in the Capitol are part of Minnesota's history, and thus deserve a spot on the walls.
"These are battles, and good or bad - people died, people didn't - they are real," he said. "They are part of the history. The Capitol, remember, is essentially a memorial to Civil War veterans, built either directly by, or by the descendents of, those who served in America's greatest moment."
Urdahl cited "Father Hennepin at the Falls of St. Anthony" as a painting he'd lean toward having removed, because an Indian woman on the right side of the the image is depicted as topless with exposed breasts.
"That's not the way Indian women dressed," he said. "If we're going to maintain historical accuracy, let's put a top on the women or do away with the picture."
"If we're going to maintain historical accuracy, let's put a top on the women or do away with the picture." - State Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Acton Township
The fourth controversial painting, "Treaty of Traverse des Sioux," depicts the signing away of a large space of Indian land to whites, much of the future state of Minnesota.
"Now, Dakota people have many objections to the 'Treaty of Traverse des Sioux' simply because it does depict a very sad moment for them," Urdahl said. "Remember, the Dakota people once had pretty much all of Minnesota, and as a result of wars with the Ojibwe and treaties with the U.S. government, they wound up with a strip of land 10 miles wide and 150 miles long on the south side of the Minnesota River through this treaty. So yes, it's a sad moment for Dakota people. But it's an important moment in Minnesota history."
On the paintings, Dean said he didn't "find anything too controversial."
A second forum was scheduled for 7 p.m Wednesday.