Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


Community Voices features opinion pieces from a wide variety of authors and perspectives. (Submission Guidelines)

Let’s have political candidates pledge to participate in win-win negotiations

John Harrington

Briana Bierschbach raises an interesting question in the June 6 edition of MinnPost. She asks: Can anything be done to make the Minnesota Legislature more transparent? I would argue that, at least theoretically, the answer is “Yes,” if enough Minnesotans, of all political persuasions, want it. Here’s how I think it could be done. I offer this because I’m tired of the sausage I’ve seen made of our environmental protections the past few legislative sessions.

My proposal is based on the belief that politics, as played today, has become strictly a “gotcha” win-lose game. It doesn’t have to be that way. I wonder, he wrote rhetorically, how many current and future Minnesota legislators and other politicians are familiar with the book “Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In.” Do we have any reason to believe those who would represent us are familiar with the contents of “Getting Past NO, Negotiating With Difficult People”? If our politicians have neither training nor experience in creative, win-win negotiations, we have no reason to expect better results than we’ve seen for the past few years. Politics may not be rocket science or brain surgery, but neither is it an arena for rank amateurs or litigators. Politicians must be familiar with how to successfully negotiate. Political leaders must have training in win-win negotiations.

You may be thinking by now, “That’s all well and good, but how do we get there?” At least I hope that’s what you’re thinking. I want to beg, borrow or steal a strategy from the conservative side of the aisle. We get there by drafting and getting those political candidates who value our support to sign a pledge. The pledge is to participate in win-win negotiations for the benefit of all Minnesotans, not just their own constituents and political party. (Sort of like a “no new taxes” contract.) If candidates sign our pledge, we support them. If candidates don’t sign our pledge, no support, no votes, and, if need be, we recruit or drum up a viable challenger at convention/primary time. There has to be a political price to be paid for putting the good of the few ahead of the good of the many.

We aren’t going to get the kind of governance we deserve if we continue to elect those who put politics first, support party over principles, and treat governance as a “winner take all” game. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of the games I see played every session in St. Paul (and in Washington, D.C.). I’m fed up with “politics as usual” because I’ve watched politics perform on a downward trend for most of my adult life. I’ve also had the honor of helping to elect those whom I believed offered a compelling vision of the kind of future I wanted for myself and my descendants. Recently, at both the state and national levels, I’ve watched other countries and states exercise better and more successful leadership than we have in Minnesota and much of the United States.

When I was younger, more idealistic and more radical, I had a poster on the wall of my office. It read, “You have not converted a man because you have silenced him.” I fear too many of our current and would-be representatives and leaders, and, in all likelihood, too many of us, no longer hold that perspective. We need it back if we are to thrive and not barely survive. Shall we start drafting that pledge?

John Harrington is a transplanted New Englander growing in Minnesota’s exurban fringe.


If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, see our Submission Guidelines.)

Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 06/12/2017 - 09:18 am.


    Our representatives should read that preamble every day before they start their work, and think about how they are trying to achieve the “We the people…form a more perfect union part”.

    We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

    It doesn’t say we the Democrats, or we the alt-right or Republicans, .liberals, conservatives, ………… or in order to support the Oil industry, or the teachers unions, or ALEC or. chamber of commerce, or gain special advantage, …………………or the Koch brothers………… or my personal ambitions……..or……

  2. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 06/12/2017 - 09:41 am.

    Everybody’s a Winner

    “The pledge is to participate in win-win negotiations for the benefit of all Minnesotans, not just their own constituents and political party.” It’s a fine idea, but is there any politician who would not sign it, and then continue doing things the same way? To put it another way, is there any politician out there who does not think his positions are not for the benefit of all Minnesotans?

  3. Submitted by Carolyn Jackson on 06/12/2017 - 10:42 am.

    Moving many people

    I have read “Getting to Yes.” However, politics involves the moving of large groups of people. When you are negotiating on behalf of a single person or company, it is (relatively) easy to establish your range of goals. In our fragmented society, political issues often need to be framed in good vs. catastrophic evil in order to get people’s attention. Once you have aroused followers to the impending doom, it is very hard to then convince them that compromising with the agents of that doom is a positive outcome.

    It would be nice to govern in a world of shared basic values (is it good for Minnesota?), but do citizens have time for and interest in low-drama competent governance?

  4. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 06/12/2017 - 02:28 pm.


    I wish people got along more but the point is enact successful policy not to create warm and fuzzy experiences that make the negotiators feel better about themselves.

    Negotiations fail because people want them to fail. They fail because the people engaged in them prefer the status quo to the changes resulting from a completed negotiation. Quite simply there is no way of getting to yes when the answer is no.

  5. Submitted by Howard Miller on 06/12/2017 - 03:45 pm.

    I’d settle for

    Mr. Trump releasing his tax records, as he specifically promised, and has been the custom for several decades for those seeking the presidency.

    Those records are still of great interest, as we still don’t know why Mr. Trump acts like the Russians have him by his financial short-hairs, and that matters right now for the national interest.

    If Trump honors that campaign pledge, I’ll be that much more optimistic about Mr. Harrington’s very useful and proper suggestion that integrative bargaining be the dominant approach in public decision making.

  6. Submitted by Pat Terry on 06/12/2017 - 04:43 pm.


    This is kind of like asking everyone to use “common sense,” which can mean just about anything depending on who you ask.

  7. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 06/12/2017 - 05:20 pm.

    My latest hobby horse

    is the following:

    I’ve talked with some very intelligent Republicans about what they want and how to get there.

    I suggest that political discussions start with agreeing on common goals, on education, taxes, spending, etc. I know this is hard, but it is often possible. I’ve been encouraged by the relative ease with which this discussion can often be accomplished without rancor.

    Then of course comes the hard part – how to accomplish these goals? But of course this approach at least gets us somewhere. Presently we are in a Repbulican goal, no good, DFL goal, wonderful, or vice versa mode.

    We have a great state. Look at the mess in many of our neighbors across the country. Could we please work to make Minnesota a place where we are happy to be born, live, and die?

  8. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 06/13/2017 - 09:32 am.

    I suggest that political discussions start with agreeing on common goals, on education, taxes, spending, etc. I know this is hard, but it is often possible.

    The problem, as I see it, is that there isn’t much disagreement about goals. Every time I hear Republicans talk about their goals for health care, for example, my prevailing impression is that they seem to be telling exactly what I want to hear. Republicans want more health care, they want better health care, and they want health care to be cheaper. And they want a health care plan to cover pre-existing conditions. Those are all Republican goals, and they are goals I agree with. Furthermore, these are goals everyone has agreed with for maybe the last couple of decades. So what’s the problem?

    The problems is both simple and virtually insoluble. America with it’s checks and balance oriented constitutional system has a consensus based government. Nothing happens in America just with a majority, indeed the last presidential election proved that we can elect our presidents quite comfortably without one. What moves the process forward is achieving a consensus, and in our current political environment it is simply impossible to reach a consensus on complex issues. We have gotten ourselves into a position where no complicated problem can ever be solved simply because we can’t deal with complications, whatever the substantive merits of the issue might be. Put in terms of negotiation theory, negotiations can’t be successful because too many people at the table have veto power over any possibility of the negotiations succeeding.

Leave a Reply