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.
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.