Dane Smith has opened the door in his superb series, “Reappraising Minnesota,” to a long overdue public discussion of where our state is today compared to some 50 years ago when Gov. Wendell Anderson graced the cover of Time magazine. In that article, Minnesota was described as the “state that works,” the result of a host of progressive policies that democratized and opened government to the people and distributed our state’s assets more equitably.
Simply, Minnesota government was making the American Dream more accessible to everyone. And that success was applauded across all normal lines of division. Minnesota was united.
As legislators from different political parties during that time, we would add three elements to Dane Smith’s “Reappraising Minnesota.”
The first is that the Republican Party of the 1960s and ’70s bears no resemblance to the GOP of today. For instance, Republican governors such as Elmer Andersen and Harold LeVander joined a host of business leaders including Douglas Dayton and Wheelock Whitney in pushing for regional government, environmental protection and human rights, and Attorney General Douglas Head opened the door to consumer protection. This was the moderate Republicanism that dominated the party.
Today’s party lacks a guiding philosophy and its loyalty is to one man, Donald Trump, and all his hatreds. Clearly, the goal is to obliterate democracy and create a totalitarian state.
The second concern revolves around the reality that today’s state government is corrupt. And that is the finding of a study published by the Hubert Humphrey School of Public Policy at the University of Minnesota (May 2021). It may be an “inconvenient truth,” but we must not continue to ignore it. It started with the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United which opened the floodgates for foreign and domestic corporate monies to pour into our political system. States like Connecticut, Colorado and New Jersey took swift action to reform laws to protect the public’s interests. However, our elected officials from both parties welcomed this flow of special interest monies.
Our report in August 2021, entitled “The Future Is Today,” outlined the enormity of the fundraising by all four legislative caucuses. For the 2020 legislative elections, they amassed over $26.5 million or some $130,000 per incumbent. In return, as the University of Minnesota study noted, special interests were accorded very special treatment including the opportunity to “shape “ legislation.
This is known as “influence peddling” and it thrives at our State Capitol with the full support of leaders from both parties.
For instance, when the Minnesota Supreme Court this past August severely chastised the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for illegally withholding from the public vital information involving pollution by a foreign mining conglomerate, Gov. Tim Walz, Attorney General Keith Ellison and legislative leaders of both parties did nothing. The public was not entitled to know who gave this illegal order. There were no public hearings, no investigation and no accountability. Instead, those employees who betrayed the public, received pay raises and pension improvements and one was appointed assistant commissioner of the Department Of Natural Resources.
Our third, and perhaps most serious concern, is the indifference of our media and so much of the public. The sidelines are packed with former office holders, retired judges, college presidents, business leaders, journalists, and so on.
This is precisely the environment that allowed dictators of the past to succeed. We have compelling and immediate threats to our democracy from an overly zealous commitment by one party to consolidate all power in one totally unprincipled man and bipartisan internal corruption that centers on selling public policy to the highest bidder.
In “Reappraising Minnesota,” it is absolutely essential that we remember that our past success was due to a commitment of care for all and a willingness by all our leaders (political, business, labor, media, academic, religious, judicial, nonprofit, etc.) to fully participate and work for the betterment of our community. They understood that success is achieved when the focus is on “We” and not “I.”
And that is why Time magazine hailed Minnesota as the “state that works.” Gov. Wendell Anderson and leaders across the board were dedicated to integrity in its governance and in its service to the well being of all.
It is imperative that we return to the proposition so ably articulated by Abraham Lincoln that government must be “of the people, by the people, for the people.”
And for those elected officials who take exception to this commentary, we are most willing to engage in a very public Lincoln-Douglas type debate or in a public forum.
Tom Berkelman, Duluth, is a retired DFL legislator. Arne H. Carlson, Lake City, is a retired governor who was elected as a Republican. Janet Entzel, Minneapolis, is a retired DFL legislator.