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Republican uses derogatory word for Polish people in speech claiming GOP is not bigoted

A Minnesota state senator’s defence of the Republican Party was complicated when he used a derogatory term for Polish people.

State Sen Mark Johnson was arguing in a speech on the Senate floor on Wednesday night that Republicans had good faith objections to a bill that would allow undocumented Minnesotans to obtain driver’s licences when he made the remark.

“There are holes in this bill,” Mr Johnson said. “We’re not calling groups any names. What we’re saying is we need to protect Minnesotans. Doesn’t matter what your race, your color, your creed, Norwegian, P****k, Somalian, you name it. But folks, we have concerns about this — and when we bring those concerns up on the floor, tonight we were called white national racists.”

The context in which Mr Johnson, the minority leader, made the remark was not lost on a number of observers.

“After using a derogatory term for Polish people, what’s the next word association: Somali, one of the largest groups of color in our state,” State Rep Andy Smith, a member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL), tweeted. “Telling.”

In addition to concern over Mr Johnson’s descriptor for Polish people, other observers noted that members of Minnesota’s large Somali community are typically referred to as Somali and not “Somalian.”

The DFL retook control of the State Senate in November while retaining the governor’s mansion and State House, giving the party total control of the state government for the first time in almost a decade and giving it the opportunity to pass a plethora of progressive legislation.

One those pieces of legislation is the proposal to allow undocumented Minnesotans to obtain drivers’ licences, which the Senate ultimately voted to pass by a 34-31 vote. Republicans attempted to add language to the bill stating that licences would be for “driving only,” claiming they had concerns about the integrity of the election process in the state.

“Today we sent a message to Minnesota’s undocumented community: we hear you, we see you, and you are a part of our beloved community,” Sen Zaynab Mohamed, the Minneapolis DFLer who wrote the bill, said in comments reported by KARE.

The House will need to vote on changes made to the bill in the Senate before it heads to Gov Tim Walz’s desk. The second-term DFL governor has said that he will sign it.

If Mr Walz signs the bill in the coming weeks, Minnesota will join 18 other states that offer drivers’ licences to undocumented residents. The majority of those states are either in the West or the Northeast; Minnesota will be just the second state in the Midwest to offer driver’s licenses to all after Illinois.

The DFL is also pushing proposals to legalise marijuana, expand voting rights, and codify abortion rights in the state.