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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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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