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Democrats are the real champions of rural Minnesota

REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Democrats are always on the defensive when it comes to rural or outstate Minnesota. And I fail to see why that should be.

There is this misperception that Democrats only represent urban Minnesota. And granted, since the bulk of the population are city dwellers, it is only natural to devise programs that fit that large chunk of Minnesota residents. A lot of Democrats represent that urban population and need to pay attention to it.

But Democrats who have represented more rural areas have nothing to feel bad about. In fact, I would venture to say that Democrats have done more for rural Minnesota than the Minnesota Republicans have ever accomplished. Look at the record on the issues close to greater Minnesota.

  1. Broadband. Each legislative session, Democrats propose larger funding for this rural business essential. Gov. Mark Dayton, and Democrats in the Minnesota House and Senate have all been on board with much higher investment than the Republicans. And when the majority party throws those smaller bones at rural Minnesota, they think gratitude is in order. It’s not.
  2.  LGA. For several years, legislative Republicans have used Local Government Aid as a “wasteful” spending punching bag — even though smaller Minnesota towns and cities request it every session. And when the Minnesota GOP relents with a portion of the requests, they cut back funds for the urban areas as some kind of punishment for their larger responsibilities. All that does is create resentment between the two geographic areas and cuts into the cooperation needed between them. Once again, it is the Democrats who listened and champion LGA funding, while the Republicans cut it to a minimum.
  3. Transportation. This is a real sore point to contend with. Republicans make a mockery of responsible transportation management. Rural roads need fixing, but rather than increase revenue streams to meet the need, they gimmick their way through a patchwork of band-aids that have no long-term resolution. And to justify all this, they demonize light rail and urban transit as taking away all the available funding – knowing full well that metro transportation has created its own funding stream with the metro sales tax, which frees up more of the gas tax for rural infrastructure. The Minnesota GOP prefers bad-faith fiscal management, so it can tout more tax cuts.
  4. Health care. Here is the real irony of it all. Rural Minnesota is the real beneficiary of the ACA health care provisions. Rural Minnesota has fewer insurance carriers, fewer hospitals and clinics, and less local access. And rural residents with pre-existing conditions are in genuine danger of a health care crisis. Once again, Republicans prefer to bad mouth the program and sabotage its funding mechanisms and mandates. And the real failure is that they make virtually no attempt to fix it or propose something different. Democrats have already proposed a viable solution with a buy-in to MinnesotaCare, which will keep rural hospitals afloat and viable. But the GOP plan is to gut the provider tax for this highly successful program. This tax has properly funded the program and increased coverage for so many rural residents.
  5. Child care. This is a problem that has kept getting worse in recent years. Rural residents struggle to find competent and local child care that allows them to continue to work without drowning in expenses. Some rural Minnesotans drive 50 plus miles just to drop off their kids at a place they can trust and still get to work. Instead of addressing this issue, Republicans prefer to fight unions and find fraudulent providers that they can make examples of, while doing nothing for the actual problem. Once again, Democrats have been discussing this issue for some time, but while in the minority, any solution gets bottled up by the majority in committee.
Dave Mindeman

So while Republicans continue to push division regarding rural and urban Minnesota, they have done nothing. I mean really, nothing. They complain about a lack of funds while continuously pushing tax cuts for their higher-income supporters. Transportation is in desperate need of revenue, which is probably going to require some kind of tax increase or new tax. Republicans, instead of supporting the new funding that will almost certainly give rural Minnesota some relief, will, instead, blast Democrats for “wasteful” spending. It is a longstanding joke in the Legislature. The faux concern that Republicans tout for their rural constituents is just happy talk with no semblance of real, honest action. 

Democrats tend to hold their heads down when rural issues come up – but why? They are the only ones showing actual concern for the issues rural Minnesota cares about. Fight back, Democrats. You hold the high ground here. Show rural Minnesotans that you are on their side and have been all along.

Dave Mindeman lives in Apple Valley. He blogs at mnpACT!


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Comments (19)

  1. Submitted by Bryan Strawser on 08/09/2018 - 09:35 am.

    The shrinking numbers of elected DFLers from rural Minnesota over the past two elections illustrates that the DFL is anything but the party or champions of rural Minnesota.

    • Submitted by Ray Schoch on 08/10/2018 - 10:09 am.

      Not necessarily

      I’d suggest that the shrinking number of DFL legislators reflects very effective, and equally dishonest, propaganda on the part of state and national Republicans. It’s also a reflection of bumbling and ineffective rhetoric and campaigning on the part of the state DFL. Mr. Mindeman is quite correct – if one cares to look at the actual record – that Minnesota Republican legislators have made masterful use of “conservative” rhetoric without actually doing anything to benefit greater Minnesota in any significant way. The issue that has resonated most strongly with me in my 9 years here is broadband access, which Republicans have repeatedly promised, and repeatedly failed to deliver.

  2. Submitted by Pat Terry on 08/09/2018 - 09:56 am.

    Rural MN

    All of this is true. But when the DFL endorses someone like Erin Murphy and she picks a another metro legislator as her running mate, it all gets erased.

    • Submitted by Debra Hoffman on 08/11/2018 - 09:00 am.

      Erin Murphy

      So am I to assume that if they had picked a rural legislator for governor, they would ignore the needs of the cities and suburbs? Do you think Governor Dayton did that? I don’t.

      • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 08/12/2018 - 11:44 am.


        In politics, symbols matter. Picking an LG is mostly a matter of not screwing up. You don’t gain many points doing it right, but you can loose points by screwing up.

        Murphy fed into the (unfortunately and falsely) existing perception by some that there is a rural/urban divide. We need a candidate who is both right on the issues and a savvy campaigner. Murphy failed that test, first by picking a Metro LG candidate. Secondly, Quade is a first termer in a swing district. Holding that seat is now tougher. That’s a bad deal when we’ll need every seat we can get to reduce Daudt to minority leader.

      • Submitted by Pat Terry on 08/13/2018 - 01:32 pm.

        Missed the point

        Its not about ignoring anyone’s needs. Its about getting elected. There is a huge political urban/rural divide in Minnesota (and really, most states) which Republicans exploit by pushing urban resentment. Democrats have to fight this by showing they aren’t just the metro party. Its mostly symbolic, but the political ramifications are huge. And Murphy – who is an inept a candidate as I’ve ever seen – screwed this up.

  3. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 08/09/2018 - 09:58 am.

    Rabbi Harold Kushner

    Once said that the greatest feeling in the world is doing a good deed anonymously, and then being found out. But that’s no way to campaign. The reason the DFL has this reputation is due to poor campaigning.

    In 2016, Dayton could have barnstormed the state, going to rural hamlets and highlighting what he could do with a DFL legislature. “We’ll get this highway re-paved.” “You’ll see the dilapidated waste water treatment plant replaced.” “Businesses like this will grow Main Street jobs with faster internet speeds.”

    Instead, there seemed to be virtually no coordinated DFL campaign led by a popular governor. Two or three simple messages is all it takes. Keep it simple, stupid. Fix the roads: Vote DFL.

    Kushner may have been right, but I’ve also been told don’t hide your light under a bushel basket.

  4. Submitted by chuck holtman on 08/09/2018 - 10:54 am.

    Of course the DFL better attends to both rural and urban interes

    Party affiliation reflects two fundamentally different orientations towards civic life. The left (which tends Democratic/democratic) sees civic life as a community exercise to establish a social and economic framework that is fair to all and creates the foundation for all to live a decent life. The Right (which tends Republican/authoritarian) sees civic life as a battle to get what you and your clan want, and to deny it to other clans. For whatever reasons related to cognitive makeup, those on the Right also don’t appear capable of recognizing that those on the left view civic life from this fundamentally different orientation, and so ascribe to those on the left the civic motivations of selfishness and fear-of-the-other from which they operate.

    One of the reasons why, to my mind, identity politics is a bad approach is that although it is simply a tactic to press for equal opportunity for non-dominant elements in our society, those who tend Right – ascribing to the left the selfishness that they believe drives civic life – perceive it as an effort by those who are not them to take and deny. So the policies of the left are aiming at the best interests of all, but are presented in the social discourse, and heard by the Right, as an effort to deny, in this case, one “clan” (rural residents) and give instead to the other “clan” (urban dwellers).

    To breach this cognitive barrier, the DFL thus must articulate its platform with particular force as one that is not “us vs. them” but aims to advance the interests of all.

  5. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 08/09/2018 - 11:06 am.


    Pure spin…nice try/

  6. Submitted by Joe Musich on 08/09/2018 - 02:35 pm.

    Truth be told …

    most outside of the big cities respect and appreciate what the DFL has done. That will be apparent in November. As long as the DFL keeps their central message in front of the citizenry they cannot lose. All the other party does is take away. Although people may may be uncomforatable criticizing in front of of camera not so in private. It Can’t Happen Here although it has happened here is almost over.

    • Submitted by joe smith on 08/10/2018 - 04:35 pm.

      Not so Mr. Musich

      I’ve seen more movement to the GOP up here on the Range in the past few years than the past 50 years. We’ve all seen too many Range DFL candidates proclaim their allegiance to mining but then vote for crippling regulations (pushed by down state DFL’ers) once they get elected. The folks up here understand that the GOP is for mining and logging, they will vote accordingly.

      • Submitted by Joe Musich on 08/10/2018 - 10:34 pm.

        That is not …

        necessarily what my remaining relatives up that way nor what MN Brown is reporting. I will give you that you might have seen it for a minute or two but the movement that way is stopping and reversing as much as you would like to think otherwise. The people are starting to grasp that being for mining is not necessarily being for the people. Glencore is not my sister in laws grand kids. Nor are these companies my relatives in site of Ironworld or others living in site of Hibbing Tac. Mining companies are mining companies my parents taught me never to pander to them. They will always leave you hanging. And did you see the reaction caused by the name calling at Side Lake of young visitor ? These people know their roots and the GOP has always left them hurting. There still might be a few invective hurlers up there. But not everybody is a public screamer. In fact people that are embarrassed often drop their faces. And also do not public disclaimers of their mistake particularly if their shame is deep.

  7. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 08/09/2018 - 03:51 pm.

    Mr. Mindeman puts some very important realities quite clearly: DFLers care about the daily lives of those who live in rural AND urban areas. They care about people who are not identical to themselves, and they see us all in a vibrant community. Together. That’s why lots of us are Democrats: We share the philosophy that we’re all in this together.

    That there are two political philosophies out there in America seems to shock some Republicans, who think their views dominate the country. They don’t. Democrats just have to ge the majority out to vote again: the majority of the United States population is open, tolerant, generous, unafraid of others or of the future. The majority embraces change, and knows that you should try to come up with solutions for problems that really exist, not try to come up with more tax breaks for the ultra-rich and hope the Republican base–which envies the rich and thinks somehow they themselves will BE rich some day, so cut their taxes–will be fooled yet again by that move. Ask a Minnesota farmer if they were fooled into voting for tariffs with Trump!

    Remember: The Republican Party in Minnesota and nationally doesn’t have a clue about which problems are real, and about how to solve them. Zero imagination, except to tear small children away from their parents and permanently scar those little kids’s lives. Do they have a soul?

    • Submitted by Joan Halgren on 08/14/2018 - 05:38 pm.

      DFL not perfect either

      As someone currently living in rural Minnesota, I watched how people responded at the DFL office during the last presidential election when they were told, “We don’t have lawn signs for Hillary Clinton–you must go to her website and pay for them.” Well, people rapidly exited from the office–looking downtrodden and bewildered too. They had a right to be just that–democrats at the federal level were focusing too much on topics within their bubble and forgot about the workers struggling in greater America. It’s no wonder our country is teetering toward authoritarian rule–they aren’t getting a good story of survival and prosperity from either side of the isle. And they are frightened, indeed, very frightened!

      Equally important, the “Make America Great Again” slogan is a total lie. We are still the most prosperous country in the world but that won’t last for long on our current path if we don’t stand-up to outlandish, stupid, and simplistic policies. Despite the low unemployment rate, we never truly recovered from the Great Recession, it is smokes and mirrors with dedicated workers rarely seeing a wage increase; plus, global growth is timid. So today’s economic, feeble glories won’t last long. Most have been duped. But it’s up to the people to reverse this course for the better or pay the price of being bystanders–a price we cannot afford.

  8. Submitted by David Mindeman on 08/09/2018 - 11:48 pm.

    Divisive politics

    There really is no need for Republicans to turn all of this into a geographic battle. Metro and rural MN need each other – and our diverse economy has weathered some serious economic times. However, the Us vs them politics is a MN GOP staple.

  9. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 08/10/2018 - 10:25 am.

    Flawed logic

    Bravo to Mr. Mindeman, Ms. Sullivan, and several other commenters. The notion – common on the right, apparently – that this is some sort of zero-sum game in which a gain for rural areas is a loss for urban areas, and vice-versa, is an old and time-tested propaganda technique that’s usually dishonest on multiple levels.

    Ignoring the usual “spin” of the self-interested, there’s no reason for anyone to believe that an urban legislator who represents urban residents is totally incapable of realizing and empathizing with (and supporting solutions for) rural issues, any more than there’s reason to believe a rural legislator is incapable of understanding urban issues and supporting solutions for them. The state GOP has been promising vastly better broadband access for rural areas since I arrived in Minnesota nine years ago, and, given the opportunity to actually do something about it, they have utterly and completely failed.

    One of my favorite lines is nicely applicable here: “…a politician’s values are only discernible through their application in policy. Moral action takes knowledge and effort; intention is not enough.” It’s from “The New Republic” issue of October 30, 2000, and can be applied to Republican and Democrat alike. What I’ve seen from Republicans since my arrival is that they’re mostly against things, while the DFL is more often in favor of something. One of those mind sets is reactionary, and a terrible way to govern in an evolving and changing society. The other is adaptive and much more likely to address problems as they arrive.

    We’ve had ample opportunity in recent years to discern Republican values and DFL values, based on their policy proposals and actions. There’s plenty of factual evidence to support Mr. Mindeman’s conclusions.

  10. Submitted by Joe Musich on 08/11/2018 - 10:18 pm.

    And an addition to the mining canard…

    This from the BBC today…give it a listen and again hear the demand for copper is coming from China or it’s nation building. The US consumer user use is meh. Polymet which both parties seem to back will contribute to China by a Chilean corporation. All we provide is the water and torn up Earth. There are some Dems who want to squash it. No Gopers…the link ..

  11. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/13/2018 - 11:03 am.

    Thank you Mr. Mindeman

    Excellent piece, but really, why are YOU writing it instead of Democratic Party officials and candidates? These are all obvious and factual observations yet, as you point out, for some reason Democrats refuse to run on them. Like you, I was puzzled by the AWOL nature of these observations in the 2016 election cycle, it’s was like Democrats decided to just stay in their barracks while Dayton ran around the state. Why did they do that?

    At any rate, let’s hope Democrats pull it together this time and run on their record, which is way way way stronger than the Republican record. Not only that, but Democratic policies promise to be way way way more beneficial for rural MN than anything the Republicans are promoting. How is attacking non-existent illegal immigrants using free health care going to get broad band, better transportation infrastructure, and economic boosts, out to rural MN?

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