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Scrimping on the Sesquicentennial: A sign of the times

Dane Smith
Courtesy of Growth & Justice
  Dane Smith

Yet another casualty in our decade-long experiment with downsizing and disinvesting in the public sector — which is a historic deviation for Minnesota — turns out to be the celebration of our own history.

Media reports in recent months have drawn attention to the bare-bones budget for the Minnesota Sesquicentennial, the 150the anniversary of statehood. Kevin Duchschere’s recent assessment of the sad situation in the Star Tribune notes that only $750,000 has been appropriated, compared with $8.5 million that Wisconsin spent on its sesquicentennial in 1998 and an inflation-adjusted $8.5 million that Minnesota spent on its centennial in 1958.

Way back last May, Strib columnist Nick Coleman, arguably the most knowledgeable and astute history buff in the state’s news media, adjusted for population growth and found that Minnesota is spending 15 cents per person in 2008, compared with $3 in 1958. The centennial, he noted, got a lot of national attention, and even an appearance at the State Fair by Marilyn Monroe (maybe she practiced her famous “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” song on us).

At Growth & Justice, we try to stay focused on the bread-and-butter issues and the main things, the investments in education, transportation and infrastructure, health care, and the environment that we know will lead to shared prosperity. And a birthday party certainly does not qualify as a make-or-break investment.

But this shortchanging is both emblematic of our recent penury and a lost opportunity. Minnesota could have used this occasion to really strut its stuff, draw attention to its great and distinctive history, given that all eyes will be focused on us in next summer during the Republican National Convention in the Twin Cities, the first national major party convention for Minnesota since 1982.

But a lot of focus on Minnesota history is probably not a helpful thing for anti-government conservatives. The fact is that Minnesota has a uniquely progressive history. It was one of the first states to adopt an income tax, one of the first to invest generously and equitably in public education and other public goods, from care for the disabled to community colleges to state parks. Its leaders, in ALL political parties, were groundbreakers in advancing the cause of suffrage, the economic condition of ordinary farmers and laborers, and civil and human rights.

A strong and early consciousness around history has been with us from the beginning. The Minnesota Historical Society is one of the oldest institutions in the state, and its founding coincided with statehood itself. Keeping history in front of us, and the great wisdom that ignoring it consigns us to repeating its painful lessons, has always been a Minnesota thing.

It’s not too late to get this party going, or to improve and enhance it. History lovers should check out the Minnesota Sesquicentennial Commission website to explore ways to contribute or to participate.

And Growth & Justice is doing its part. We are organizing and hosting a celebration of “Minnesota’s Progressive Republican Tradition,” to be held at the St. Paul College Club on Summit Ave. (next to the Governor’s Residence) on Wednesday, Sept. 3.

Dane Smith is the president of Growth & Justice, which describes itself as “an economic think tank that supports a prosperous, fair and sustainable Minnesota for everyone.”


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