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Minnesota’s millennials are ready to talk about governing

MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen
Millenials may be young but we are already so tired of divided government that fails to rally, collectively, to solve problems.
Lisa Piskor
Lisa Piskor

Here’s one election result we could have predicted: Minnesotans voted in droves – even if it meant standing in line for hours to do it. We outpace the nation on this and many fronts. From our engaged electorate to our unrivaled charitable giving, business community, health and health care, we are lucky to consider Minnesota home.

But there’s one frightening trend that’s unbecoming of Minnesotans: severe partisan gridlock.

On behalf of Minnesota millennials, we’d like to say: This is off-base from our values. We are change- and community-oriented, results-driven, collaborative and inclusive, and entrepreneurial. We’re young but already so tired of divided government that fails to rally, collectively, to solve problems.

Many reject labels

We’re all too easily characterized as Democrats. That’s hardly the case. Many millennials reject labels and consider ourselves “partyless.” We’re socially and politically active; our state’s inability to consistently innovate, collaborate and champion solutions concerns and frustrates us.

Nick Banovetz
Nick Banovetz

We’re weary of elected officials on both sides who distract us with divisive platforms, and we vote against them at the ballot box. We’re willing to work hard for a thriving Minnesota, but exclusion is not the way forward and political games must be left on the side.

There’s far more we can do to raise-up all Minnesotans, but we’re unconvinced that more government is always the best answer. We know Minnesota needs a new approach to solving problems. Here enters the Citizens League. 

Building capacity, imagination

The Citizens League, a civic-engagement laboratory 60 years in the making, has stayed true to its mission: to create a better Minnesota by building human capacity and imagination.

Its results are legendary: instigating the creation of the Metropolitan Council, the “Minnesota Miracle” tax reforms of the 1960s and ’70s, charter schools in the 1980s, and doing the groundwork for MinnesotaCare health insurance for the working poor in the 1990s.

We became involved in the Citizens League as young professionals looking to engage with civic-minded individuals – without plugging in to one ideology or dogma.

The Citizens League’s new approach to solving problems – “civic policy making” – defines every individual as a policymaker and everywhere – home, work, neighborhoods, and community institutions – as places policy happens.

Involving the people affected by a problem in creating a better definition of it leads to better solutions. That’s been missing from today’s debates, but it’s needed more than ever. 

Problems need expiration dates

Millennials consider poverty a beast we need to tackle so Minnesota is well-positioned to thrive in the years to come. Since 1964, America has devoted billions of dollars to a “War on Poverty.” Yet today, 15 percent of Minnesota’s children – almost 200,000, the populations of Bloomington and Rochester combined – live below the poverty line. Minnesota should fundamentally redefine and restructure our approach from a system that reacts to poverty into one that promotes and incentivizes prosperity. 

That’s the goal of the Citizens League’s Pathways to Prosperity project. 

In 2013, the Citizens League plans to demonstrate the benefits of the Family Independence Initiative, together with social-service-agency partners like Community Action Partnership of Ramsey & Washington Counties and the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center. The two-year program will financially reward low-income families for building networks of support within their own communities and making responsible decisions that move them out of dependency and toward self-sufficiency. 

To make this happen in Minnesota we need to eliminate “Catch-22” laws that punish families who try to better themselves and which prevent them from building assets and making independent financial decisions. 

These prosperity-promoting incentives require state-level changes: 

  • Restore funding for Family Assets for Independence in Minnesota, a matched-savings program so low-wage earners can build wealth.
  • Offer raffles that encourage regular savings deposits where people win lottery prizes without losing money.
  • Shift to performance-based assistance programs.
  • Develop and expand Human Capital Performance Bonds to reward agencies and nonprofits demonstrating results.

Pathways to Prosperity can radically alter how Minnesota approaches poverty. But to advance our communities we need to reform state laws, social-service organizations and financial institutions. We hope everyone with an interest in making Minnesota even better will help us break down partisan lines to build common ground for the common good. 

Our elected officials will only listen if we lead by example. 

Lisa Piskor is co-chair of the Citizens League Emerging Leaders Committee and senior grassroots and legislative affairs specialist at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota. 

Nicholas Banovetz is co-chair of the Citizens League Emerging Leaders Committee and public affairs manager at MinnCAN: The Minnesota Campaign for Achievement Now.


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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Eric Sannerud on 12/06/2012 - 09:08 am.

    How to empower other young people?

    As a fellow young person who has had enough of gridlock and inaction on deep issues I wonder, how do we support people like us to make the systemic shifts necessary?
    We live in a two-party system. I believe in the ability of our political system to accomplish incredible good but I feel restrained by having to “pledge allegiance” to a certain party. And there is no way I’m the only one.
    So, how do we empower ourselves so our views can start to make actual change?
    How do we organize a group of people who do not want to be labeled?
    What is the common banner behind which we can push for our vision of a working government?
    How do we get young people into places of influence?

    Talk is great, it communicates ideas and attracts others who like those ideas, but action is better, so now what?

    I enjoyed your post, thanks for writing!

  2. Submitted by Robert Helland on 12/06/2012 - 11:09 pm.

    We need champions for Minnesota.

    Very insightful, Lisa and Nicholas, and great questions, Eric. I think the title was a bit misdirecting though because we should not equivocate “governing” with “leading”. Governing comes from institutional authority and leading comes from personal (or organizational) initiative. That is, the title talked about getting elected, the article talked about being active citizens.

    I want to talk about both: I want to be elected in the futures: use State Representative in 2014 and Governor 2022 for example, nothing should stop me from declaring that ambition well ahead of filing with the Secretary of State or embarking on a formal campaign, I should live and breathe it. Political office should be a deliberate, planned choice, not a whim, and “Why run for office… when you can walk?” (Perhaps the spontaneity and the final “gold rush” during elections is partially responsible for driving the high price of politics.)

    I also want to be more and help others be more active citizens now – by leading. To answer Eric’s ‘How do we empower’? We have to pick one. We can no longer remain nameless and faceless (a.k.a. the original “labels”) and we must become prominent personalities in the debates. We need debate champions. And champions need an audience and an applause; that’s the nature of the political game, friends.

    EXCERPT: — “Involving the people affected by a problem in creating a better definition of it leads to better solutions. That’s been missing from today’s debates, but it’s needed more than ever.” —-

    I would be willing to put my name and face in a hat to be the person at the table, wielding influence on behalf of Millennials* in the public arena of the state tax debate (amongst other debates for other other debaters); I could be a tax gladiator, business warrior a revenue rockstar. (Disclaimer: I am not at this time promoting myself as that, only speculating if the environment seemed appropriate I would consider that option.) So, hypothetically: how could we all help each other?

    I caught a recent Citizens’ League “Common Cents” Tax Reform event and gave my two via a 10-key remote voting system. Impressive, and I enjoyed the talk, but the experience reinforces my view that we are not solely leading by accumulating a larger and larger number, with broader and broader perspectives, but we need individuals to take charge and aim for those leadership positions and make clear decisions. A name, a face and a plan. I’ve got each of those things.

    It was nice to see your pictures along with the article…

    which was an excellent article. Keep up the good work. Feel free to contact me for private feedback or conversation at minnesotafutures @

    ~Bob Helland

    *I don’t even really know what a Millennial is? I am under 30, but I’ve got a decade’s worth of professional work experience, I am single, have no children, I don’t own a home and I have a college degree. If I am a millennial and someone in high school or just entering the work force or college right now is a millennial we are in a very different place. In sum, “Millennial” is a label I could do without. On the other hand, if I go out and say I am a “Gen Xer”, that’s tantamount to wearing a t-shirt that says, “I like bad 90’s pop music!” Yikes.

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