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‘State That Works’ cover offered a Minnesota image that doesn’t fit as comfortably today

The Good Life in Minnesota Time coverForty years ago today, Time magazine gave Minnesota what may rank as the most welcome shot of free publicity this or any other state has ever received.

The cover of the magazine’s Aug. 13, 1973, edition featured a photograph of a beaming Gov. Wendell Anderson holding up a not particularly impressive northern pike. The accompanying headline, “The Good Life in Minnesota,” summed up the tone of the story inside.

Its central theme: At a time when inflation, Watergate and the long slog in Vietnam were draining America’s already shallow reservoir of optimism, Minnesota stood out as a “state that works,” a state worth emulating. The article struck a chord. Time’s Minnesota issue sold better than all but three of its cover stories that year.

Many Minnesotans took Time‘s affirmation as proof that their state was in fact a special place. The image of Anderson and his fish assumed iconic status.

It was a big deal. But 40 years later, it’s fair to ask: Why?

Most Minnesotans under the age of 30 probably have trouble comprehending just how dominant Time magazine used to be. Time was arguably the most popular and influential news weekly of the 20th century. During the 1970s, its subscriber list topped 4 million and its weekly newsstand sales regularly exceeded 100,000. (Its circulation numbers have since slipped to about 3.2 million subscribers and 60,000 newsstand sales each week — not bad, but certainly not awe-inspiring in a mass-media environment dominated by the Internet.) If Time chose to put you on its cover, you knew you sat on a lofty perch of cultural significance.

Jack Baker for Alderman

Time’s decision to feature Wendell Anderson as the personification of Minnesota’s “good life” was no accident. Minnesota voters had elevated Anderson — a modestly effective state senator — to the governorship in 1970. During his first two-and-a-half years in office, he had overseen a progressive resurgence in the state.

In 1971, he worked with the Republican-controlled Legislature to enact a series of laws known collectively as the “Minnesota Miracle.” The legislative package significantly increased state taxes and funneled most of the resulting revenue to local governments and school districts so they could, in theory, reduce property taxes. It also established the Fiscal Disparities Act, which allowed communities in the Twin Cities metropolitan area to share their commercial and industrial tax base.

The following year, with newly elected DFL majorities in the House and Senate, Anderson pushed through an ambitious legislative agenda that included increased spending for education and services for Minnesotans with disabilities, protections for organized labor, and open-meeting requirements for state and local governments.

Saint Paul Downtowner

Greg Wierzynski, the Time correspondent who reported and wrote the magazine’s Minnesota essay, says Anderson’s considerable accomplishments — not to mention his good looks and blue-collar, St. Paul East Side background — made him a logical choice for the Time cover. “Time, by tradition, covers events through people,” he says. “So from the very outset we decided to put him on the cover.”

Wierzynski had come up with the idea for a Minnesota cover story after reporting on the 1972 DFL precinct caucuses. The “civility” demonstrated by the state’s caucus-goers impressed him. “It just struck me that this state was very worth a story,” he says. “This was a place that was working.”

His bosses back in New York didn’t need much convincing that the story was worth pursuing. It didn’t hurt that Time’s editor-in-chief, Hedley Donovan, was a Minnesota native.

The iconic cover shot, with the flannel-clad governor and his 18-inch northern (the identity of the angler who actually reeled in the fish remains a matter of dispute) accompanied a 12-page spread featuring plenty of pretty pictures. Wierzynski started his story with descriptions of bucolic scenes:“Barefoot children play one old cat and race their wagons down gently sloping sidewalks.”

June 4, 2003 City Pages parody cover
June 4, 2003 City Pages parody cover

He then moved on to what he considered the state’s defining characteristics: its well-balanced economy, its well-mannered populace, its engaged corporate community, its thriving arts scene, its wealth of natural resources — and mosquitoes “half the size of dive bombers.” But the bulk of his story focused on politics, public policy and Anderson’s role in forging what Wierzynski described as a new progressive consensus. As he saw it, Minnesotans under Wendell Anderson had proved to be unusually civic-minded citizens who supported shared sacrifice “in return for good services and social benefits.”

The progressive consensus that Wierzynski and Time magazine discerned back in 1973 has retreated in the years since then. Even in this current liberal moment of 2013, our DFL governor and DFL-controlled Legislature seem unwilling to consider the kind of broad based, share-the-sacrifice tax increases that helped pay for new public initiatives during the early 1970s. (These days both our political parties seem to believe that when it comes to raising taxes, middle-class Minnesotans — or at least those who don’t smoke — should be immune.)

Still, it’s comforting to recall that there was a time, not so long ago, when the most influential news magazine in the country thought our state could serve as an example for the rest of the nation.

Time’s Minnesota cover story was a nice pat on the back at the time it came out. Its theme, “A State That Works,” might not fit Minnesota as comfortably as it once did, but it’s still a title worth aspiring to.

Dave Kenney is co-author, along with Thomas Saylor, of the history book “Minnesota in the ’70s,” which will be published by Minnesota Historical Society Press in October. He also blogs at


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Comments (38)

  1. Submitted by John Edwards on 08/13/2013 - 11:08 am.

    Time to retire this silly story

    Buried in Dave Kenny’s account was the real reason for this silly story that gullible liberal Minnesotans continue to lap up.

    The editor-in-chief of Time was indeed Hedley Donovan, a native of Brainerd and a graduate of the University of Minnesota. When the story ran, there were those ( Donovan) who thought the photogenic Gov. Wendell Anderson had Kennedy-like presidential potential. The article was to promote Anderson (THAT IS WHY HE WAS ON THE COVER). As Kenny wrote: But the bulk of his story focused on politics, public policy and Anderson’s role in forging a new progressive consensus.

    Anderson never progressed politically because of his self-appointment to the Senate and the Upper Great Lakes Regional Commission that exposed scandal in his administration. The politically liberal and ambitious Donovan did make it to the White House—without Anderson—when he became an advisor to Jimmy Carter.

  2. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 08/13/2013 - 12:01 pm.

    What happened?

    As Maggie Thatcher famously said, the trouble with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/13/2013 - 03:20 pm.


      What, if anything, does that have to do with this story?

    • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 08/13/2013 - 04:09 pm.

      Economic Models

      Of course you can say exactly the same thing about capitalism. What are those rich folk going to do when they squeeze every last dollar out of everyone else?

    • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 08/13/2013 - 06:34 pm.

      Just because Margaret Thatcher said it

      doesn’t mean it’s true.

      It’s one of those facile statements that right-wingers like to toss around as proof texts for the gullible.

  3. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 08/13/2013 - 03:48 pm.

    The trouble with socialism….

    The trouble with “socialism” is that people use the term without really knowing what it is…

    ….Socialism is an economic system characterised by social ownership of the means of production and co-operative management of the economy….

    So who owns 3M, Target, United Health, Mayo? .

    Who manages the economy?

    Hmm, I guess that would be the private entities that are making money by the train load.

    Tell me about “socialism” again, Mr. Tester.

    • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 08/13/2013 - 04:14 pm.


      So very true, Neal. Because I’m a jerk I like to point out to people that we already have quite a bit of socialism in this country. Our roads, police force, fire protection, and armed services are all socialized, just to name a few. And they seem to be working quite well even without a profit motive built into them.

      The position I take is that sometimes you need a capitalist solution to a problem, sometimes socialistic, and, more often, a combination of the two. If you’re not keeping all your options on the table then you’re artificially limiting your options. And for what? So you can beat your chest and say you adhered to an ideology? That’s just silly!

      • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 08/13/2013 - 04:50 pm.

        Even in the most fevered imagination of a die-hard Randian, what developed or developing country can you name that doesn’t have “socialized” roads, fire, police, army, etc..? So is that truly “socialism” or a “practicality”.

        How would society work if every road was a private fiefdom?

        • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 08/13/2013 - 05:55 pm.

          Private Roads

          Geez, that would be a nightmare! People already think the toll roads in Chicago, New Jersey, and Florida are the biggest pain in the tailpipe and biggest scam ever to be foisted on the American people. Just think how bad it would be if all roads were tolls.

          • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 08/13/2013 - 09:04 pm.

            Toll roads are a form of taxation-a way of recovering costs of maintaining a road that is largely used by people who are non-residents of that jurisdiction.

            The vast majority of roads are not toll and I know of no-one who thinks that making all roads toll-roads as a good proposal.

            How would have America developed differently without free access roads? It certainly would have led us down a different path.

    • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 08/13/2013 - 04:17 pm.

      The alleged the “Minnesota Miracle”

      Involved raising taxes on everyone and funneling the money to DFL-run cities. They said it was to enable city governments to lower property taxes, but as usual, that was a scam to give cover to reluctant politicians.

      It also created the “share-the-wealth” scheme that enabled politicians in one city to “share” the collected taxes from their citizens with other city governments.

      That all led to the current scam that allows the big-city politicians to get booty from the taxpayers from across the state to enable them to build $50,000 drinking fountains and half-million dollar bus shelters and pay no penalty at the ballot box for such fiscal irresponsibility.

      By any other name, it’s still socialism.

      The Founding Fathers would have preferred that city governments live within their means and pay for local amenities using locally-collected taxes, and be held accountable for such taxing and spending at election time. Most taxpayers would agree.

      • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 08/13/2013 - 04:58 pm.

        You’re wrong, that’s called “democracy”, not “socialism”.

        There is still a ballot box open every couple years. Get enough people to think like you and it changes.

        The ballot is not allocated by the number of dollars you hold…yet.

        But keep pushing it that way, it’s your right to try.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/13/2013 - 05:05 pm.

        Pay no Penalty at the Ballot Box

        That is the fault of the voters, not the tax laws.

        If by “share the wealth” you mean “revenue sharing,” much of that is a recognition that services in the DFL-run cities are used not exclusively by the people who live there, and who pay the property taxes. When people from Cul-de-Sac Heights come in for a Twins game, they are driving on DFL-run city-maintained streets, and taking tacit advantage of DFL-run city police and other emergency protection. It will stop being fair when non-residents are no longer allowed to use the DFL-run city parks for picnics and birthday parties. By any other name, it’s still municipal government (albeit DFL-run).

        I’m not sure how you tie in the drinking fountains and bus shelters, not to mention the Founding Fathers, to this discussion. The Founders did not use public transit, and had slaves to carry water for them, so these would not have been an issue for them.

      • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 08/13/2013 - 06:06 pm.


        Actually local government aid (LGA) was enacted to siphon money from the larger cities, who have a robust tax base, to the smaller towns. The small towns have a hard time tackling larger projects, such as sewer system upgrades, and LGA was seen as a way to help them make ends meet as their tax base was too small to get the job done.

        In other words, the larger “DFL-run cities” as Dennis put it, are subsidizing the small cities, which tend to be GOP-run. Notice that when Pawlenty and the Republican legislature cut LGA several years ago they only did it to the larger cities. The red districts were left alone.

        So by all means, eliminate LGA, let the cities keep their own tax revenue, and you’ll see the liberal DFL controlled areas prosper and expand while the predominantly GOP areas shrink and suffer. It’s only fair, right?

        As for $50,000 fountains, a certain amount of the budget of every project must be spent on artwork and for this one it was fountains. Now if you don’t like public art, then may I suggest one of the former eastern block countries for your domicile? I hear the drab Soviet era architecture is absolutely stunning to look at on a dreary day.

      • Submitted by Tom Christensen on 08/13/2013 - 06:47 pm.

        Dennis, how soon you forget

        It wasn’t that long a go George W. Bush ran the country right into the ditch using, the oh so conservative, Republican method of management. We are still cleaning up his mess. Then there was the $6,000,000,000 debt Gov. Tim Pawlenty who was busy trying to make a political career for himself at the expense of others. We are still cleaning up his mess. Pawlenty used the Conservative method of management also. Then is was the Koch and Zeller’s act who thought they would change things up. One of them decided on sexual escapades and she was successful. The other one decided social engineering was the way to go and he failed. None of this was done for the constituents of the state they were elected to serve. With all this said you don’t have any grounds to push the Republican ideologically driven philosophy. Other than sexual escapades the republicans have failed at all levels.

      • Submitted by Dale Torgerson on 08/13/2013 - 11:58 pm.

        Bitter Baloney

        Outside of the Cities, what was a DFL-run city? Rochester, Winona, Moorhead, Mankato, St. Cloud? I think the Founding Father Job Creators should thank the misled voters who unwittingly improved the roads enabling the Socialists to drive to town faster and more often to inadvertently help the non-DFL cities prosper, much less create a vibrant Twin Cities.

      • Submitted by Logan Foreman on 08/14/2013 - 11:41 am.

        Tester please read and analyze

        The LGA article today. Republicans never have voted to end LGA payments to cities in out state MN; they would all be voted out of office because many of those cities would disappear. So make sure to include Republican legislators and Gov. Pawlenty in your rants against “socialism”.

  4. Submitted by Jeff Michaels on 08/13/2013 - 05:08 pm.

    Wendy and Hedley

    Kudos to John Edwards for pointing what many of us with gray hair and a good memory have known for decades. The “Good Life” article was simply an effort by a liberal Minnesota guy to promote the political career of another liberal Minnesota guy.

    The liberal mainstream Minnesota media did an excellent job by always “forgetting” to mention that key factor. Once people learn the background of the story, that “Good Life” article does not seem so good.

    • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 08/14/2013 - 10:13 am.

      Article’s Intent

      Obviously I don’t speak for you, but the additional information on the article’s origins in my mind doesn’t detract from the real benefits gained from this piece. Time helped put Minnesota on the map and give people a positive impression of the state, and that ain’t a bad thing.

  5. Submitted by Jay Willemssen on 08/13/2013 - 11:33 pm.

    MN economic growth and the governorship

    From 1964-2012, Minnesota has had 24 years of Republican governors, 21 of Democrats, and 4 of Ventura.

    On average, the real annual per capita GDP growth rate of Minnesota outpaced the US rate by 0.15 percentage points under Republicans and 0.57 percentage points under Democrats – ie, nearly 4x better than Republicans.

    During Pawlenty’s 8 years, US annual real per capita GDP outpaced Minnesota on average by 0.07 percentage points.

    • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 08/14/2013 - 10:17 am.

      National Growth

      That closely resembles a study I read several years ago about economic growth on the national level. They checked GDP under Republican and Democratic presidents since the 1930s and found that under GOP leadership the economy grew on average by 4%. Under Democratic leadership though it grew by 8%–11% if you look at just the Clinton years. And these figures excluded Hoover and included FDR.

      It’s a lesson we’ve seen over and over again: if you want to grow business and grow the economy, get Democrats in office.

    • Submitted by Steve Rose on 08/14/2013 - 12:35 pm.

      You Forgot to Mention Control of the MN Legislature

      The Republicans controlled both legislative bodies from 2010 to 2012; prior to that they had not controlled both bodies since 1972.

      Your GDP growth rates seem to indicate that the DFL controlled legislatures failed to produce under Republican leadership.

      • Submitted by Jay Willemssen on 08/14/2013 - 01:07 pm.

        The legislative objection

        When pointing out objective data about the correlation between party control of the executive branch and economic outcomes, a very predictable response is not to present contrasting data, but rather to vaguely raise the issue of legislative control by party. One is free to run that correlation, but best of luck getting proper sample size with a bicameral body that generally hasn’t had full control by one of the parties.

        The point of this exercise is to demonstrate that, contrary to certain mythologies, certain leadership doesn’t really correspond with positive economic outcomes. The same applies to the national level.

        • Submitted by Steve Rose on 08/14/2013 - 01:55 pm.

          Labor Force Participation Rate

          So, the Republicans had not controlled both Minnesota legislative bodies for 38 years, but they “generally” controlled one? Hardly.

          Thanks for expanding this discussion to the national level. According to this Huffington Post article, the labor force participation rate (LFPR) is the lowest it has been since 1979. That is correct, after five years of the Obama administration, the LFPR is down to levels not seen since the Carter Administration. Since this Huffington article was published, the LFPR has dropped further, to a woefully anemic 63.4% (July 2013).

          Indeed, “certain leadership doesn’t really correspond with positive economic outcomes.”

          • Submitted by Jay Willemssen on 08/14/2013 - 02:34 pm.

            Another tangent?

            The prior data query clearly proved unfruitful, so now another digression is apparently in order.

            So 63.4% is “woefully anemic”? According to…?

            Since data was first available in 1948, that level wasn’t once exceeded until November 1978. Was the US economy “woefully anemic” from 1948-1978? Because real dollar per capita income more than doubled in that period.

            The US labor force participation rate peaked in April 2000 at 67.3%. During President W Bush’s two terms, it declined from 67.2% to 65.7%. By October 2009, the point of peak unemployment from the last recession, it had reached 65.0%. The current level of 63.4% in July is barely changed from the April 2012 level of 63.6%. It’s been flat for over a year.

            The rate itself is the population of the labor force (ie, people employed and unemployed) as a percentage of the civilian noninstitutional population. The latter variable, of course, can be influenced by the share of the under 16 and over 65 population as it changes over time. It’s good to know what certain statistics indicate to understand what meaning they may or may not have.

            • Submitted by Steve Rose on 08/14/2013 - 03:17 pm.

              U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics

              Since 1948-1978 has modest relevance compared with the last ten years, due to changes in the labor force engaged in manufacturing and agriculture, I offer the ten-year chart provided at the top of this linked report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics:


              Unlike your claim, it shows a continuation in the last year of a steady decline. BTW, why no sources for your claims?

              While it shows a woefully anemic work economy to me, I am certain that you will have no trouble spinning it up into a fine piece of cheery news.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/14/2013 - 01:07 pm.

        Republican leadership

        Who might that have been? Do you really call Placeholder Tim a “leader?” He lost interest in Governor the minute David Brooks listed him as one of several potential candidates for higher office.

        Pawlenty never was much of a leader, even before the brief bit of fame went to his head. He was out of his depth as Governor.

      • Submitted by Jay Willemssen on 08/14/2013 - 02:10 pm.

        Data for the legislative variable

        From 1964-2012, there were 16 years in which a single party controlled the executive and both houses of the legislature in Minnesota. 12 were Democratic and 4 were Republican. In the Democratic years, Minnesota’s real annual per capita GDP growth rate exceeded the US rate by an average of 0.76 percentage points. During the Republican years, it was 0.48. So all D was 60% better than all R.

        Now examine party control of the executive as the variable, given total Democratic control of the legislature. There were 16 years with a Republican governor and both houses of the legislature Democratic. During those 16 years, Minnesota’s real annual per capita GDP growth rate exceeded that of the US rate by an average of 0.26 percentage points. So the data indicate that a Democratic governor is 3x better than a Republican governor, economically, given a Democratic legislature.

        In a recent example, during Governor Pawlenty’s two terms, the first 4 years he had a mixed legislature (Republican House, Democratic Senate) and his final 4 years both houses were Democratic. In his first term, Minnesota’s real annual per capita GDP growth rate lagged that of the US as a whole by 0.63 percentage points. During his second term, with Democrats in control of the whole legislature, that was reversed and the Minnesota economy outpaced the national one by 0.49 percentage points annually.

        • Submitted by Steve Rose on 08/14/2013 - 02:51 pm.

          GDP Growth is …

          GDP Growth is always a favorite device of liberals because it provides the illusion of growth in inflationary times. Jimmy Carter was a GDP growth hero! No real growth need occur, just an increase in the price of goods will spur GDP growth.

          Employment is a good indicator of economic health, as I explained above in my comment regarding labor force participation.

          • Submitted by Jay Willemssen on 08/14/2013 - 03:07 pm.

            Those numbers were in real dollars

            If you paid attention to what was wrote, those numbers are adjusted for inflation and population. That’s what “real dollar” and “per capita” mean. I used the term “real” five separate times.

            And labor force participation rate ≠ employment. Again, it helps to understand what different terms mean.


            • Submitted by Steve Rose on 08/14/2013 - 04:29 pm.

              Finally a source, actually wikipedia

              If you had provided your sources, I would have had something to consider other than your unsourced claims. If only I understood, then I would surely agree with “what was wrote”.

              BTW, presently unemployment + underemployment is approximately 14%. This poll conducted by Gallup last year found that one in three young Americans were underemployed:


              Underemployment is truly a significant part of the problem, as RB correctly states in his comment below.

          • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/14/2013 - 03:10 pm.

            Real growth

            Look at the figures again. The reference is to “real” GDP growth, which is calculated with reference to a base year. You are mistaking real for nominal growth, which does not adjust for inflation.

            Employment numbers are not a great indicator of economic health, because it fails to account for underemployment.

  6. Submitted by Steve Rose on 08/14/2013 - 09:23 am.

    Magazine Cover

    That magazine cover photo strikes me as odd for a number of reasons

    1) It is customary to make a staged photo look more like a candid. The Governor is wearing a long-sleeve turtle-neck shirt under a long-sleeve flannel shirt. That might not look like a costume were the man in the background not wearing a short-sleeve shirt. I think the color on the Governor’s face may be makeup.

    2) Speaking of the man in the Governor’s armpit, a better photo composition would have less focus in the background (less depth-of-field), so it would not appear that the Governor has a man in his armpit.

    3) Why the stringer? Is the Governor uncomfortable holding a slimy fish? A fish on a stringer is one that is not going to be returned to the lake, but that one does not appear to be a keeper. A Walleye that size could elicit such a smile on a fisherman’s face, not so for a Northern Pike. It may have washed up on shore. A fisherman holds a fish horizontally for a photo; you Wendell Anderson, are not fisherman.

    It is customary to apply a thin veneer; a contrived photo should not appear so completely contrived.

    • Submitted by Peter Gove on 08/20/2013 - 01:44 pm.

      Wrong on all accounts

      This was not a staged photo. It was taken during a lunch break on Basswood Lake in June, 1973 during a day long fishing trip in the BWCA. It was cool that morning, probably leading to Anderson’s clothes choice. There was no makeup and no makeup artist. The ‘man in the armpit’ was one of the guides that day. The photo was originally taken as more of a casual photo, so perhaps the reason Mr. Rose is second guessing the composition. It ended up the Time cover shot later in the summer. The smaller walleye were eaten for lunch. This was a northern caught while the group was at lunch. Anderson held the photo as requested by the photographer. Nothing more. I know all of this. I was there that day.

      • Submitted by Steve Rose on 08/21/2013 - 09:45 am.


        The outboard motor in the photo doesn’t give it a BWCA look, though outboards (up to 25 HP) are allowed on certain parts of Basswood.

        For reference, check out the Outdoors section of today’s Strib. That is how a fisherman, age 14 in this case, holds a Northern Pike.

  7. Submitted by William Hansen on 08/14/2013 - 10:01 am.

    If this era really interests you…

    …which it should if you are interested in good government, I highly recommend Tom Berg’s book, “Minnesota’s Miracle: Learning From the Government That Worked” from University of Minnesota Press. It’s a detailed first hand account of a state government the substantially improved the lives of it’s citizens through thoughtful, intelligent, bipartisan legislating.

  8. Submitted by jason myron on 08/14/2013 - 01:49 pm.

    It’s always amusing..

    when the right trots out their tired ” what the founders intended” card, when trying to absolve themselves from critical thought. They truth is that they have no Carnac-like ability to determine if people who have been dead for 200 years would have the same views on a society that had grown from 2 million to 315 million citizens, much less fathom the massive infrastructure, technological advances and globalization of the economic structure to make it all function.

  9. Submitted by Nancy Gertner on 08/15/2013 - 08:14 am.

    Can We Talk About Education?

    A few weeks after this magazine was on the newsstands, I packed up and left the family farm and went off to a state college. When I left with my degree a few years later, I had no debt. How many students can say that now? Most need loans to get through college, and $60K seems like a low number for those that attend public schools, from what one family commented on MPR this week. Forty years ago, most students were funded by their own work, or their parents’ support. Then, part-time work and a summer job could be sufficient for a student to pay their way.

    And about Local Government Aid. Elections in small towns and counties are more non-partisan than cities and suburbs. Party affiliation is not required to run for office, and candidates for school board, mayor, county and township offices often do not claim them. So if you’re painting Minnesota red or blue based on local officials, rural Minnesota’s colors are based on the state legislators. My home town benefits from LGA allocated for their utility project with revenue generated from the more densely populated urban area I live in.

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