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From a state that works to shutdown: What changed in Minnesota politics?

Left to right: Harold Stassen, Tim Pawlenty and Tony Sutton
Minnesota Historical Society/Reuters/Jay Weiner
Left to right: Harold Stassen, Tim Pawlenty and Tony Sutton

Most states face basically similar fiscal challenges, and several face similar splits between parties across branches. But only one has shut down its government.

Minnesota is also the only state going through a second shutdown within the decade. The previous shutdown, in 2005, lasted just nine days. This one is up to Day 7, and we’ll see. The breakthrough, when it comes, will probably come quite suddenly, just when things seem hopelessly stuck. But, at the moment, hopelessly stuck is exactly how things seem.

Why is this happening to us?

Several national newsies have noted that Minnesota in 1973 was labeled “A State That Works” in a legendary 1973 Time cover story. Now, they imply (or flatly state) that ours is a state mostly known for its political dysfunction.

Here’s the Politico piece, headlined “Minnesota nice turns nasty,” that originally set me off on what has become this post (although others like it are appearing). After setting up a fairy story in which Minnesota of yore was “the kind of place that sent poets to the Senate [that would be Eugene McCarthy] and produced politicians with nicknames like ‘The Happy Warrior’ [that would be Hubert Humphrey]” Politico explains how we are now viewed:

Sen. Al Franken
REUTERS/Rich Clement
Sen. Al Franken

“The state is now known for its political gridlock, the kind of place that sends a professional wrestler [Jesse Ventura] to the governor’s mansion and produces politicians [Al Franken] who write books such as “’Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot.’”

I’d be surprised if this was true, or if Politico’s James Hohmann has any evidence that this is what Minnesota is “now known for.” But let’s be reasonable and assume that what Hohmann (who, I should mention, grew up in Apple Valley) meant to do was identify the changes in Minnesota politics and government that explain the movement from the halcyon ’70s to the current shutdown.

Sorry, but if one is trying to think clearly about the differences between then and now in ways that will explain the current shutdown, Franken and Ventura aren’t even in the top 20 factors. Furthermore, it has little to do with “nasty” and “nice.” In fact, Minnesota is still way above average in the civility and cleanliness of its politics. It may not feel like it right now, but try spending some time in another state.

Some journalists are so caught up in the urgency of the balanced frame, even if the balance is a phony one, that they can’t bring themselves to notice the biggest thing that has changed:

It’s Minnesota Republicanism, or, more bluntly, the collapse of the moderate Republicanism that dominated the state party from the 1930s (think Harold Stassen) to the Arne Carlson years (he left office in January of 1999) and its replacement by the current Tim Pawlenty-Tom Emmer-Tony Sutton, no-new-taxes, compromise-is-evil version that prevails today.

That last paragraph surely can and will be taken as DFL whoredom by some. But I mean it as historical analysis.

Historically, Minnesota has long had liberal DFLers who were willing (Republicans might say anxious) to raise taxes, especially progressive taxes, to pay for the good things that they believe government can do — for education, for economic development, for quality of life for the middle class and to help the poor and the sick be a little less poor and sick. That formula, I should note, has helped a create a state with high taxes, a big government, high test scores, a high to ridiculously high spot in countless quality-of-life rankings and tremendously prosperous state relative to the rest of the country.

If we are looking for something that has fundamentally changed in Minnesota that brought about the shutdown, it would not be the ideological orientation of the DFL.

Gov. Mark Dayton
MinnPost/James Nord
Gov. Mark Dayton

Mark Dayton is not substantially more liberal than Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, Paul Wellstone or Wendell Anderson, most of whom have been his friends and/or mentors. Dayton’s own oft-cited and revered role model is Rudy Perpich, the most pro-jobs, pro-business DFL leader of recent decades.

Running on a slogan of “tax the rich” may have made Dayton look loony-left to some eyes — especially eyes that look from the right — in these taxaphobic times. But really, although most modern Dems might not like to hear it put so bluntly, a willingness to tax the rich to pay for programs to help the poor is pretty near the essence of U.S. liberalism since FDR.

Minnesota Republicans were, to a significant degree, important partners in the progress of the state over recent decades, winning many high offices, generally arguing for lower taxes and less government — at least compared with what some DFLers proposed. And they have often won the argument, at least at the ballot box.

Another erroneous element that creeps into the national portrayal of Minnesota is that our electorate undergone a big recent swing to the Republican side. The national politics crowd — which thinks of us as a solid blue state, because of the Humphrey-Mondale period and because we have been solid blue presidential elections since 1976 — might be surprised to know that since the late 1970s, Republicans have won most of the gubernatorial elections and most of the U.S. Senate races.

The fact that the DFL now controls the guv’s office and both Senate seats (and all statewide constitutional offices) is a rarity in recent history and renders silly the idea of a big recent redward swing.

But the one big Repub breakthrough of recent years was the unexpected (and unprecedented in recent history) 2010 capture of majorities in both houses of the Legislature.

The idea that Minnesota has gridlock because we have had several close elections (it’s a recurrent theme in these national whatever-happened-to-Minnesota pieces that we had an epic recount in the 2008 Senate election and a briefer recount but a very close race for governor in 2010) also doesn’t bear much analytical weight.

A closely divided electorate is not the definition of polarization — if the two parties can compromise their differences and work together as opposition parties have done throughout democratic history. The recipe for gridlock — or shutdown — has two key ingredients.

1. The division of political power between the parties is sufficiently close that neither party can ram through their program.

2. The two parties are far apart on core issues about which they feel so strongly that they have trouble making trades or splitting the differences.

It may be true that a closely divided electorate contributes to gridlock if it gives each side the feeling that they must hyperpartisanize everything in hopes of gaining a “win” or an edge heading into the next election. The Repub decision to push for voter ID seems to be in this category, since Repubs believe (but never acknowledge) that it will help them win future elections by suppressing the DFL vote.

But before we leave the question of how much the “closely-divided” angle contributes to the gridlock, let me make one simple point. If Tom Emmer had received just 9,100 more votes, out of more than 2 million cast, he would have become governor by an even smaller winning margin than Dayton’s. Our electorate would appear even more closely divided. But we would not have a government shutdown. We would be going through a different agony, the nature and details of which are visible right across the border in Wisconsin. It would be full-scale partisan and ideological warfare. It would be the enactment of the full Repub wish list. But it would not be gridlock.

So, what has changed and what has produced the shutdown/gridlock?

Arne Carlson
Arne Carlson

I’ve already given away what I believe about that. The Republican governors, from Stassen through Carlson, were mostly moderates and mostly dealmakers. They differed from the DFL Legislatures of their times, but they generally resolved their differences by compromise.

At some point, in the Goldwater to Reagan to Bush to post-Bush period, the fundamental approach shifted to a more rigid anti-tax approach and an increasing hostility to compromise. I gather many conservatives came to the conclusion that compromising with Democrats would never bring about the fundamental reversal that they seek in the growth of government and of taxes.

Minnesota’s Repub Chair Tony Sutton circulated a letter (to the news media no less) arguing that for anti-tax conservatives to split their differences with pro-tax liberals is “a compromise of good and evil.”

At the national level, congressional Republican are taking a similar posture in negotiations over a mutli-trillion-dollar deficit reduction and debt-ceiling package.

Some Republicans will argue back against the idea that they are the side that is refusing to compromise. They say they are willing to be flexible on a lot of things — just not new taxes. But, according to the normal concept of compromise,  Dayton has already offered to come more than halfway from his original position on taxes to the point that he seems ready to settle for a token amount of new taxes. Repubs say none.

The reason we have a shutdown is because the new brand of Minnesota Republican believes in something so strongly that they would rather have a shutdown than a compromise.

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Comments (54)

  1. Submitted by Erik Hare on 07/07/2011 - 10:07 am.

    First of all, I’d say just ignore politico – there’s no evidence that they know what the Hell they are talking about, generally.

    Having said that, the inability to get things done at the Legislature is only part of the problem. Minnesota’s bureaucracy has increasingly been unable to make decisions, possibly because the effect you describe here has created a “siege mentality” where everyone wants to keep their head down. This seems to relate to a lot of things, including the collapse of the I35W bridge.

    I wrote about this last January:
    Since that time I’ve heard a few more anecdotes that suggest that our state government has become truly dysfunctional – at a lot of levels.

  2. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 07/07/2011 - 10:12 am.

    I believe that a large part of the current problem has to do with the Grover Nordquist pledge that many of the GOP and a few of the DFL in the legislature have signed. The pledge is: “I will oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes.”

    Signers include Kurt Zellers.

    This is clearly a conflict of interest and makes it impossible for these legislatures to negotiate in good faith with respect to the matter of taxes.

    I suggest that in the next election voters insist that legislators that have signed this pledge be upfront about it. This is another one of those Trojan Horse issues – such as the social agenda – that the GOP were not frank about.

    Voters should not elect people who already have signed on to a preconceived position of intransigence. This is not in the best interests of the state as is painfully obvious.

  3. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 07/07/2011 - 10:22 am.

    What’s wrong? Republican legislators actually think government that no government is better than any government. They’ve been talking that way for so long they’re finally believing it.

    Many people believe taxes keep going up. That is not based in fact. We have not had a tax increase in Minnesota since the early 1990s, except for the Land and Legacy Act (which the public voted for) and a 5-cent-a-gallon gas tax (but because of fuel efficiency, the average person pays less in road use taxes.) In fact we lowered taxes under Gov. Ventura. State income tax rates used to be higher, even when sales tax rates were lower. Tuition is up. Fees are up. But taxes are down.

  4. Submitted by Ralf Wyman on 07/07/2011 - 10:28 am.

    “…compromising with Democrats would never bring about the fundamental reversal that they seek in the growth of government and of taxes.”

    This is indeed part of it. I think it also reflects a conservative desire to win on something, since the country is clearly moving in many social ways that are inexorably liberal.

    Yes 32 states have banned gay marriage, but that is a speedbump to history taking us to equality in 20 or 30 years.

    Many Republicans are also uneasy about the demographic change that is coming. Some states like Texas will be majority non-white very soon. This doesn’t make GOPers overt racists, it makes them humans who struggle more with change.

    So I think they are desperately trying to exert control in one area where they think they can win.

    The total intransigence and drive for capitulation strikes me as very brittle. A brutal grip on power that belies that the grip is strong in the moment, but lacks the flexibility to hang on if things get the least bit shaky.

  5. Submitted by Michael Corcoran on 07/07/2011 - 10:34 am.

    It’s simple. We went from being a largely liberal state (both Dem’s and Republicans) to a state where conservatives now match liberals in political appeal.

    In essence, we have a vibrant democracy for the first time in memory…

  6. Submitted by Katherine Johnson on 07/07/2011 - 10:46 am.

    “In fact, Minnesota is still way above average in the civility and cleanliness of its politics. It may not feel like it right now, but try spending some time in another state.”

    I agree. I was in New Mexico last October and the political ads run on the TV stations in Santa Fe and Albuquerque made Minnesota attack ads seem positively tame.

    In the era of Grover Norquist and his no-taxes pledge, unless more elected officials like OK’s Tom Coburn rebel against the Noquist camp, I don’t foresee compromises on taxes happening.

  7. Submitted by Mary McCarthy on 07/07/2011 - 11:12 am.

    Cogent and reasonable. David Brooks made similar points on the national level in “The Mother of All No-Brainers,” published on July 4, 2011.
    Since when have the liberal and the moderate been the only ones with a responsibility to work together? Makes you wonder how these Republicans did as children, when we learned to share and to play team sports.

  8. Submitted by Peter Mikkalson on 07/07/2011 - 11:13 am.

    This state has been living off its reputation since Wendy Anderson appeared on the cover of Time magazine in the 70’s. Now, having exhausted the means of securing additional funding for their grand, expensive and moronic schemes from the declining, if not disappearing working class, the morally bankrupt insiders of Minnesota government (you know who you are), along with their clueless supporting cast, turn on each other in a public display of conservative/business dominated cannibalism. The propensity to cut from social/medical services (which has historically never proven long-term cost-effective), but leave their exorbitant salaries and retirement packages (the single largest discretionary budget component) untouched will surely prove the coup de grace of fiscal functionality. Get use to it!

  9. Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 07/07/2011 - 11:16 am.

    I liked this article. For me there have been two big turning points in modern, nonmoderate Republicanism:

    First, the Reagan presidency with it’s voodoo economics. The idea that cutting taxes would increase revenues has been proven over and over to make no sense. Cutting taxes without cutting spending was the beginning of our current mega-deficits.

    Second, during the time that Gingrich was in power in congress, I sensed a very strong turn to negativity in the political discourse. It seemed like the Republicans would say almost anything negative about the other side and that gaining power was more important than preserving the honor of the republic. It was interesting at the time how many of those Republicans calling for Clinton’s impeachment were also having unacknowledged affairs. I think that time was the beginning of the trend who’s ultimate example is Michelle Bachmann and her wild, inflamatory statements

    Tony Sutton is right about “good and evil”; he’s just confused about which side is evil.

  10. Submitted by Tim Walker on 07/07/2011 - 11:31 am.

    Bill (#2) says: “Voters should not elect people who already have signed on to a preconceived position of intransigence.”

    How true, but the message that these types send to the voters is very seductive: “Vote for me, and I pledge not to raise your taxes.”

    And unfortunately, that message has been proven over and over again to work at the voting booth.

    Although those who make that promise generally get elected (Tom Emmer being a very rare exception), they are now bound to a promise they had no right to make.

    And that’s been a disaster to the state.

  11. Submitted by will lynott on 07/07/2011 - 11:37 am.

    “The propensity to cut from social/medical services (which has historically never proven long-term cost-effective), but leave their exorbitant salaries and retirement packages (the single largest discretionary budget component) untouched will surely prove the coup de grace of fiscal functionality.”

    #8, who are you talking about here?

  12. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 07/07/2011 - 11:57 am.

    Maybe it’s the same as the “compromise is weakness” argument, because modern Republicans won’t compromise with reality either. It seems — admittedly from outside the GOP — that facts literally are irrelevant as long as your values are correct. When Republicans can be shown talking points are factually wrong, they just change the subject, and later go right back to repeating the false information. What’s disturbing is while there’s some cynicism involved, they’re at least faking sincerity well, because they seem to believe it.

    Take the shutdown debate for example. They keep repeating that that offered a 6% increase, a precise figure that suggests they’re reading talking points. Yet the proposed spending this biennium is the same as what was spent last biennium. Show them they get the 6% figure only by ignoring some revenue sources and accounting shifts, and they don’t care. All that matters is the goal of winning the political battle.

    Maybe that’s the real Republican change. There’s no such thing as policy, just politics.

  13. Submitted by John Ferman on 07/07/2011 - 12:03 pm.

    It must always be remembered that the 2010 election turned out many fewer voters than in 2008 and that few of the Republican winners posted over 55% of their district vote. The current situation and the now thoroughly understood Republican objectives tells me the 2012 campaign should start now. Next year, all those 20 somethings will be back. To me, the most dangerous elements of the Republican agenda is Redistricting and Photo ID and (yet unstated) Instant Runoff Voting that eliminates Precinct Caucuses and District Conventions. These latter points all sound good in theory, but will result in the disappearance of participatory democracy and the feeling that comes with being a part of the process. We must not let the Republicans mow our Grass Roots.

  14. Submitted by John Edwards on 07/07/2011 - 12:04 pm.

    The editor-in-chief of Time Magazine when the story about Minnesota as a State That Works appeared in 1973 was Hedley Donovan, a native of Brainerd, a graduate of the University of Minnesota and a former newspaper reporter. A strong liberal, Donovan later joined Jimmy Carter’s White House staff as an advisor. When the story ran, there were those who thought Gov. Wendell Anderson, famously on the cover, had presidential potential. While gullible Minnesotans still relish the story today, those with a modicum of sophistication understand the obvious political purpose of the story. That Time made an independent judgment of what a fabulous state Minnesota was is one of a number of lingering political myths in the state.

  15. Submitted by David Broden on 07/07/2011 - 12:26 pm.

    This Mn Post article address where are the moderate Mn Republicans of today is right on. I am one of those and the comments that follow are key to the change in Mn GOP approach. First Minnesota government and poltics has in the past 20+ years moved dramatically from a true citizen driven poltical process with input from all segment to a process that is driven by ideological groups,study groups,and from within government itself. Citizen input has changed signficantly. The shape of ideas now come primarily from special interests and power groups not from citizens. Second the Mn Republican party had both a financial arm and the political arm in the days of Bob Forysthe, George Thiss,Chuck Slocum etc, as chair. This resulted in a focus on good government and was parallelled by the likes of George Farr and Warren Spannus. Today the two arms of the GOP are one and that makes Money and power the driver. Third is an expansion of the first point–there are more study groups, and special interest groups trying to direct the legislature today and the number grows each week.These groups basically either reinforce each other or conflict with each other to encourage the deadlock. Citizen involvement must be included. We have also gotten much more metro focused rather than the full greater Mn. As we look to solve the shutdown the real issue is not the budget but who is providing the input, who is listening and forming the solution, and what is the vision for Mn Government and the state going forward. This must link the role of state government in LGA, education, health care etc. across all of MN. As a moderate GOP I believe that is what Mn is a blend of moderate GOP and moderate DFL –that worked and I for one am try to steer the actions back to this focus.
    Dave Broden

  16. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 07/07/2011 - 12:34 pm.

    A lot of Minnesota culture was solidified right after World War II. The key to it all was we all pulled more or less in the same direction and wanted to see our state and country do well, contrary to today’s “Me” society that we have turned into. It all started with Reagan. If you look at a graph of personal wealth across time from when Reagan was president to now, the rich have gotten richer and the poor and middle class have declined. The intransigence started back then too and has steadily gotten more and more crazy. Reagan divided the country into red and blue, which was the start of the divide and it continues today. Red and blue has been subdivided further into social, evangelical, Tea Party, liberal, blue dog, etc, etc. It is hard to pull together when they have successfully divided the country to their own benefit. We’ve got lobbyists in politics getting politicians to sign ridiculous pledges to lock in their positions even before negotiating starts. The Supreme Court didn’t do John Q. Public any favors by allowing unlimited campaign donations. They turned a one vote system into a two vote system for some. Don’t think for a minute the big donors don’t want something big in return for their money and then they get to vote again in November. Now we have evolved to my way or the highway and calling it negotiating. Corruption is running wild in politics. We need to find the moderates in politics again. It is up to the voters to pay attention and make better choices.

  17. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 07/07/2011 - 01:09 pm.

    Continuation of #16.

    I forgot about the voter ID system the Republicans are trying to get passed across the US to disinfranchise voters who would be likely to vote for a Democrat. There is no desire at all on the part of the Republicans to work as a country. Their rhetoric nearly always contradicts their intended actions. The Republican party couldn’t figure out if the Tea Party would be good to include in their party – they now have the answer – absolutely not. Tea Party candidates have trapped the moderate Republicans in corners across the country with their extremely radical positions. We need to find the moderates in politics again. It is up to the voters to pay attention and make better choices.

  18. Submitted by Claire Lundgren on 07/07/2011 - 01:26 pm.

    I don’t recall seeing Grover Nordquist on the ballot. Scarey!

  19. Submitted by Dan Jurgens on 07/07/2011 - 01:37 pm.

    It’s strange that Minnesotans continue to fool themselves into thinking that they have the magic solution– that this is the only state out of 50 that “works”, or ever “worked” for that matter.

    It’s even more strange that they somehow draw a direct correlation between the idea that Minnesota “works” and that a high tax rate is responsible for that. New York City has its own personal income tax, in addition to the state’s. Does that make it a more livable place than Minnesota?

    There are plenty of states that have high tax rates, and that doesn’t make their state governments work any better.

    There are states that have no income tax whatsoever, and their educational system, high school test scores and “quality of life” rankings are equal, or better than Minnesota’s.

    Dayton shut down government in order to cause as much pain as possible, as a way of getting his way. More than that, he did so as a favor to the public union. After all, what better way to prove out necessary these people are than take them out of the game entirely?

  20. Submitted by Brian Simon on 07/07/2011 - 01:39 pm.

    Wasn’t Gov Carlson a Republican outlier, even while serving as Gov? I didn’t live here at the time, but what I’ve learned over the years is that he won the nomination over the endorsed candidate in his first election – and wasn’t endorsed by the party for reelection. Meanwhile, as the suburbs grew, legislators like Tim Pawlenty in the newly expanding suburbs were being elected to the MN House & Senate. Is it coincidence or cause & effect that MN Republicans moved right as the outer ring suburbs expanded in populaton & political influence?

  21. Submitted by Greg Gaut on 07/07/2011 - 02:42 pm.

    In researching an article on the visit of the Gorbachevs to the Twin Cities in June of 1990, my wife Marsha Neff and I were struck by how much Minnesota had changed in just 20 years. Gov Perpich invited the Gorbachevs to bolster his reelection chances. But the invitation was based on a widely shared belief that Minnesota was a model state which should play a major role on the national and international stage. This in turn was based on a solid bipartisan consensus favoring investment in infrastructure, social services and education. Eric Black accurately nails the primary cause of the breakdown of that consensus, although the reasons behind the “collapse of moderate Republicanism” still need to be clarified. In any case, it’s hard to imagine Minnesota regaining its self-confident swagger anytime soon.

  22. Submitted by Hal Davis on 07/07/2011 - 03:04 pm.

    Dan Jurgens (#19):

    == New York City has its own personal income tax, in addition to the state’s. Does that make it a more livable place than Minnesota?==

    As someone who used to live and work in New York City, I can attest it has many qualities that make it quite livable, as does Minnesota.

    As others wiser than I in tax matters — Ed Lotterman, Charlie Quimby — have pointed out, focusing on taxes as the sole determinant of livability is more than foolish.

  23. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/07/2011 - 03:16 pm.

    Very nice analysis!

  24. Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 07/07/2011 - 03:48 pm.

    Republicans have sworn an oath to the constitution, but they have pledged fealty to an unelected, private individual. How is it possibly acceptable that our leaders are pledging loyalty to private men? If democrats pledge loyalty to, I’d be just as disgusted. You swear an oath to the constitution and that should be enough!

  25. Submitted by John Borger on 07/07/2011 - 04:05 pm.

    Nate Silver at the NYT delves into the numbers that may lie behind this phenomenon at the national level, at

    In a nutshell: “The Republican Party is dependent, to an extent unprecedented in recent political history, on a single ideological group” and this makes it difficult for Republican politicians to compromise on certain issues.

  26. Submitted by Erich Russell on 07/07/2011 - 04:05 pm.

    When the cant that government is the problem crosses the line from rhetoric to governing philosophy you seek destruction rather than compromise.

  27. Submitted by Brad Lundell on 07/07/2011 - 04:42 pm.

    I’ve watched the change up close and while Eric doesn’t miss much here (he rarely does), I would say there are two additional points I would add.

    (1) The nationalization of the political culture and the resulting conversation. Used to be that a Republican from Minnesota looked a lot different than a Republican from a Republican from Texas. You sidle up to this Eric, but I’d be curious to know if you believe Minnesota is the “chicken” or the “egg.” Clearly, there’s been a change in Minnesota. In the mid-1970s when the Legislature was overwhelmingly comprised of DFLers, this was still a strong pro-life state and a number of prominent Republicans were pro-choice. Not the case anymore and while this is just one dynamic in the argument, it’s an interesting exercise to map this change and see how it applies across both economic and social issues.

    (2) I think everyone in politics/government/oh, just make it everyone who draws breath on the face of the Earth should read Bill Bishop’s “The Big Sort.” As small towns empty and suburbs grow (at least until the collapse of the housing market) Americans continue to “sort” themselves into increasingly homogeneous communities that then become homogeneous legislative district and elect candidates really not prepared, at a level, to compromise. As a small town kid growing up in the 1960s, I saw everything from the relatively well-off (sorry, no super rich) to the very poor living in one community. Area legislators saw and understood the “whys” of poverty during that era and although they didn’t always vote with an expansive spirit as it relates to the less fortunate, they at least had to go back and face the community during the next election. In today’s political culture, so many legislators don’t even have to get within a light year of issues relating to poverty because it is extremely scarce in their district.

    Anyway, great article. I intellectually wrestle with this stuff all the time.

  28. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 07/07/2011 - 04:58 pm.

    What changed?

    When politics became religion and religion became politics.

    When God is only on your side, is there any wonder why compromise becomes a soul-destroying deal with the devil?

    Europe has already had a few hundred years of war resulting from the nexus of politics and religion. We seem determined to follow that.

  29. Submitted by Matthew Steele on 07/07/2011 - 05:13 pm.

    Wow that must be James Hohmann of AVHS debate fame. It’s cool that I debated against the author!

  30. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 07/07/2011 - 05:17 pm.

    What has changed?

    The people of MN are beginning to realize that:

    The 22% average growth of the state budget b.p. (before Pawlenty) is unsustainable.

    The DFL wants to simply give more money to the people who give them the money. (big education and big unions)

    No matter how much we raise taxes, it will never be enough to satisfy the DFL special interests.

    Regarding #16 “RR divided the country into red and blue.” No, Mondale moved the almost totally Red because of his promise to raise taxes. Thank you Walter! Mark Dayton is a gift to the GOP!

  31. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 07/07/2011 - 05:48 pm.

    Nicely done, Eric.

    Right-wing ideology is, if nothing else, implacable. Some of the people funding its display in the current Republican Party have been waiting a generation and more to repeal FDR’s “New Deal,” Truman’s “Fair Deal,” and Johnson’s “Great Society.”

    I’m a little surprised, in fact, that Republicans haven’t come out with a policy position officially endorsing oligarchy, since their tax policies pretty much guarantee an aristocracy based on wealth, and with the Citizens United ruling and the recent Wal-Mart decision, the current SCOTUS obviously leans rather heavily in that direction.

    I’m a certified Old Person, and I used to read a lot of science-fiction. Even back in the late 50s and early 60s, there were authors writing about the corporate governance of nations, and even whole planets. For many years, I thought the notion preposterous, but no more. The Republican Party has become the political arm of moneyed, corporate interests. In that context, refusal to compromise, while distressing, to say the least, is not surprising.

    CEOs don’t compromise. I’d be surprised if there were even 3 companies among the Fortune 500 that operate in any significant way democratically. Most big companies closely parallel the Medieval in terms of their internal politics – rulers, vassals, treaties, patrons, supplicants, duplicity, orthodoxy (intellectual as well as religious), persecution of heresy, etc. I see lots of similarities between that internal corporate structure and the policies (often the opposite of the rhetoric) favored by Pawlenty/Sutton Republicans.

    “Jobs, jobs jobs” and the “laser focus” on them seems to have disappeared, hasn’t it? Instead we have – as part of a budget dispute – policy proposals from Republicans to enshrine sexual prejudice in the state constitution, limit the franchise to long-time residents, and in general impose Big Brother on the citizenry in the name of “lower taxes” and, especially ironic, “freedom.”

    Yes, there are left-wing ideologues, as well, but they’ve never been in a position to dictate policy to a significant degree. What we’re seeing now is essentially unchanged from what used to be called “The Radical Right.” Now it’s being passed off as “mainstream conservatism” when in fact, it’s not at all conservative. Repealing the 20th century, whether in Minnesota or the nation, is the antithesis of “conservative.” At best, it’s knee-jerk reaction. In any case, what’s being put into place by Republicans is a radical alteration of the cultural and political landscape.

    @#29: Good points, both, Brad. I voted for Republicans in Missouri in the early 60s who’d never have an opportunity to run for office as Republicans today. Nationally, it’s useful to remember that Nelson Rockefeller was a Republican. It’d be kind of fun to be a fly on the wall while a time-traveling Nelson Rockefeller conversed with Tony Sutton about matters political. I’ve not read Bishop, but I’ve encountered “The Big Sort” concept elsewhere, and it has considerable validity. Economic segregation is often just as pernicious as overtly racist segregation.

  32. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 07/07/2011 - 07:14 pm.

    Interesting people keep defending Ronald Reagan. His policies as they relate to everyone, not just the special few, failed miserable. You may have noticed the republicans have stopped saying in the tradition of Ronald Reagan because he failed. The need a new leader. Also interesting people arguing against no new tax increases on the top 1% and 99% of them won’t be affected. I guess they have fallen for the Republican fallacy of low taxes on the rich will create jobs. Ten years of the Bush tax cuts and no appreciable job increases would be information enough to know that falsehood isn’t true. I suggest those against taxes for the betterment of all that there are openings in the state of Mississippi that might meet you lowered standards requirement. You can’t listen to the Republicans because their rhetoric and their actions work counter to each other. They want government out of our lives but are the first to put it in our lives with their social engineering proposals. They rail against government programs and then are first in line to get some. Pawlenty railed against the government stimulus and then took the money to solve his budget balancing problem. When asked about being against it and then accepting it his answer was “if they are stupid enough to offer it I’ll take it”. Hypocrisy will not get our state or our country back on track. The voters have to pay attention and do a better job of voting or we will get more of the same extremism in politics.

  33. Submitted by David Broden on 07/07/2011 - 07:16 pm.

    I will do a second comment based on what others have added. The article by Eric is stimulating good dialogue and that is great. First I will comemnt that I believe that during the 1960’s-1990+ years of moderate Mn Republicans there were more buiness leaders supporting the GOP than there are today.The ideological hard liners are involved today–good government focused people are not. During the 1950’s-1990 etc it was easy to name 20 individual community,business and ag leaders from across Mn who had the interest of Mn in mind and worked with both parties to get the legislation to do the job. Today this attitude and participation is not really evident. The initiatives come from special interest and so calle think tanks who are focused on their point and not on the good of Mn. The growth of these independent groups is really driving the topics and approaches. Further the groups seem to be very metro focused– Greater Mn remains part of the state as I see it but most of the ideas continue to flow from those who claim to know Mn but yet cannot find where an outstate city is> I recently had a discussion with several of these thinkers and asked if they had ever been outstate and several said that they had no reason to go beyond the metro area that is where the people and issues are. Yet these same people are advising the governor and the legislature. We need greater Mn involvement not a metro solution.
    That will help communicate the real Mn citizen views and estblish a solution.Too many think tanks telling us how to do things.
    Dave Broden

  34. Submitted by Ann Spencer on 07/07/2011 - 09:17 pm.

    As a “flaming moderate” with a Republican spouse, I remember well when the anti-abortion forces took over the moderate Republican Party caucuses in southwest Minneapolis in the early 1980’s. What’s relatively new is the infusion of economic issues with the same sort of good/evil, black/white, purity/heresy rigidity that once belonged only to social issues with serious moral implications and deeply and sincerely held convictions on both sides.

    On the issue of taxes, I think both Governor Dayton and President Obama make a tactical error when they appear to be scolding high-income people for not paying enough taxes. Most people with high incomes in fact do work very hard and become defensive and angry when they feel demonized. It’s just as unfair in its way as the right-wing commenters who constantly complain about the “deadbeats” who pay no federal income tax. In both cases, these groups are merely the beneficiaries of existing law. In the former case, it is Republican lawmakers who insist that high-income people simply should not be asked to pay more. They purport to be speaking for this group, but are they?

    A better approach would be for the Governor and the President to do an end run around the office holders and appeal directly to the better angels of high income people along these lines: “Some of our elected officials are selling high income folks short. These are hardworking Americans who care about their country and their community. They want to help us out of the financial mess we’re in. I’m betting that most of them would be willing to pay a little more to do that—-but we haven’t asked them!”

  35. Submitted by will lynott on 07/07/2011 - 09:26 pm.

    “The DFL wants to simply give more money to the people who give them the money.”

    You’re merely confused, #32. This far more true of the Rs. In your heart, you know it’s true.

    “No, Mondale moved the almost totally Red because of his promise to raise taxes.”

    Mondale promised to raise taxes. Saint Reagan actually did it, four times.

    You voted for him anyway, didn’t you?

  36. Submitted by craig furguson on 07/07/2011 - 10:49 pm.

    An Republican Aunt who lived on the same block as Stassen and
    Durenburger in South St Paul on “pill hill” told me when the young conservatives came after Reagan, they basically told her that she could keep the books for the caucus, but she was no longer one of the decision makers She remained a Republican for the remainder of her life, but her party had been basically hijacked. I went to a retirement party where Quie and Carlson were in attendance. They were still working the crowd, but I couldn’t help but think that I was witnessing the end of the moderate/progressive era when looking around the room. sad.

  37. Submitted by Bruce Pomerantz on 07/07/2011 - 11:07 pm.

    A well-known optical illusion is to take a grey-colored card and place it next to a black card. The grey card now looks more whitish. Now take the grey card and place it next to a white card. The grey card now looks more closer to black. The grey card, of course, never changed color. The change came from the observer’s perspective.

    I moved to Minnesota in 1998 at the tail end of the Arne Carlson era. He was known as “Governor No” and had prickly relations with the Democrats who controlled the House and Senate. Flash forward 13 years and Arne Carlson is now viewed as a moderate Republican. Why? Because of the contrast with the far-righter Republicans that he is being compared to. But just because the current Republican leadership has moved far to Carlson’s right does not make him a Rockefeller Republican. Remember Carlson for his actions when he was in office, not for some specious nostalgia.

  38. Submitted by Paul Scott on 07/08/2011 - 12:59 am.

    Thanks for this great piece. When I ask myself what happened to the GOP, I invariably end up thinking about the isolating and self-serving effects of suburbanization and exurbanization, places where you tend to go from your mudroom into your car and travel to work without ever making contact with others….and Fox, which has normalized a relentlessy caustic appraisal of the opposing party, in the service of ratings. Disdain and mistrust and the concentrating of people in non towns linked only by their cable providors. Sprawl did this. Look at how the third ring votes.

  39. Submitted by Christian King on 07/08/2011 - 02:27 am.

    @ #19.

    I’m sorry, but you forgot to post your citations. If you look at statistics state-by-state, you find, not surprisingly, that states with the lowest taxes also typically have the crummiest educational systems, the worst health care, the highest poverty levels, and are supported the most by the federal government. (Alaska, which has essentially a negative income tax, accepts massive funding from the feds). States with the highest tax rates are the opposite.

    Republicans refuse to accept that throughout the ’90s and much of the ’00s, Minnesota had one of the highest, but not the hightest, per capita tax rates in the country yet had one of the lowest unemployment rates in the U.S. This is fact, not opinion. Meanwhile, low-tax states typically have high unemployment.

    People aren’t just attracted to low taxes. If that were the case, Alaska, which gives tax dollars BACK to citizens, would be the most populous state in the nation. Quality of life matters to thoughtful people. Taxes can be used to raise quality of life.

    Here are my citations.

  40. Submitted by Ann Spencer on 07/08/2011 - 08:43 am.

    Re my previous post @ #36: Seldom has one of my hypotheticals been so decisively and immediately refuted as when I opened my Star Tribune this morning and read the article about the “cool” response of the state’s million-plus earners to paying higher taxes! So much for that theory…..I guess it’s a good thing I’m not giving spin advice to our elected officials.

  41. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 07/08/2011 - 09:53 am.

    I remember cringing at the statement but a Vietnam-era military commander after a Vietnamese community had been razed, “It became necessary to destroy the town [provicial capital Ben Tre] to save it.”

    It seems our Republican friends are taking exactly the same approach to government, nationwide, but that sad fact is that their approach is based on a set of psychological dysfunctions they share with most of their most ardent admirers (and largest financial supporters).

    Their missing personality pieces: the ability to experience or express compassion and empathy, as well as the ability to trust people who do not agree with them own their extensive laundry list of social issues,…

    have been sent into internal exile because expressing earlier in their lives them brought such painful verbal or physical punishment that their psyche’s locked up those pieces in order not to allow them to cause what seemed to be life-threatening pain again.

    Those missing pieces are now acting (unconsciously to those with the dysfunctions) as “tricksters” from within them, urged on by the joker in chief, Grover Norquist, who, if his true nature appeared on the outside would bear a striking image to both the clown from Stepehen King’s “It,” and to Heath Ledger’s version of “The Joker” from Batman.

    These “conservatives” who are rendered extremely uncomfortable by their dysfunctions whenever they encounter situations in which the normal human responses would be empathy, compassion, and trust,…

    are, unconsciously, urged on by their internal tricksters, seeking to destroy the economy of the US and each state in order to create for themselves a world in which everywhere they look, they will see impoverished people, legitimately deserving of EXACTLY those things they are SO uncomfortable with.

    Thus are they being unconsciously tricked into doing the things that will destroy ALL of us, eventually even themselves.

    Perhaps it’s time to stop them, to help them find healing for their dysfunctions (if they’re willing), but at the very least, to legally remove them from positions of power as soon as possible because,…

    As they’re currently functioning, our “conservative” Republican friends are simply incapable of taking us anywhere but down into more and more total destruction. The more we allow them to take exactly what they demand, the more we will ALL be destroyed.

    I can almost hear Norquist chuckling as he intones “They ALL float down here.”

  42. Submitted by David Broden on 07/08/2011 - 01:20 pm.

    This dialogue is very important as serious good government focused citizens move to state a firm message of making Mn work the way we believe it should. A couple additional points from previous comments–The shift in Mn GOP from moderate to ideological can be linked very closely to the emergence of the Center for American Experiment which in many ways is a shadow government for the ideological GOP in Mn– prior to this group good government ideas flowed from the citizens and from the Citizens League–not so much at this time. Second the Grover Nordquist pledge by all must be broken and it is time that GOP leaders, study groups, foundations, and to express strongly that Mr. Nordquist was not elected by Mn nor does he live in Mn and the elected official first responsiblity is to the constitution of Mn. These two links have shaped to Mn GOP and it is now time to bring Mn back to its roots of social concern and fiscal responsiblity which is what both parties want and represent.Bottom line too many special interest shadow governments vs. the real citizen politics.

    Dave Broden

  43. Submitted by Ron Salzberger on 07/08/2011 - 02:31 pm.

    Very nice piece. Thank you. Eric.

  44. Submitted by Marshall Skare on 07/08/2011 - 02:51 pm.

    #43 – The history of compromise has led us to this point of unsustainable governmental growth, which needs to be slowed back down to realistic, sustainable levels. It seems that the only way to reverse the course of governmental growth is for the Republicans to take a harder line and force that change.

    Are the Republicans handling the negotiations well? Of course not. Since they’re all emotionally stunted luddites as you claim, it will take a little extra time for them to comprehend the long sentences and big words that are inherent in government documents. Just be patient and love them, even though all Republicans kick puppies and punch babies for sport.

    Since the largest sticking point appears to be another tax hike on the ultra-wealthy, my suggestion is to let that become law so the government can run again. It will be entertaining to watch how many affected people homestead in another state afterwards.

  45. Submitted by Ron Salzberger on 07/08/2011 - 03:23 pm.

    Here’s a response from a philosopher who teacvhes in CA:

    Pardon the analogy but the dynamics here resemble those of Neville Chamberlain and Hitler pre-WWII. Chamberlain kept making concessions, thinking at each concession that this would be the one Hitler would accept. Hitler made no concessions because he wasn’t interested in compromise, he was interested in getting what he wanted. Mn. (and other state and national) Democrats keep putting forth compromises that the Republicans reject. The result is that Republicans get their way on a great many things and then remain stubbornly fixed in their positions anyway.California has an awful situation because even though Democrats hold almost 2/3 of the seats in the Assembly, tax bills and budgets require a 2/3 majority. Recent budgets could have been written by the GOP, they contain so many concessions by Democrats in order to get the 3 or so Republican votes they need. A small minority is able to call the tune because they are completely uninterested in compromise or in good public policy–all they care about is getting what they want.

  46. Submitted by Rudy Gonzales on 07/08/2011 - 08:52 pm.

    This has proven to be the collapse of the moderate Republicanism that dominates national and state parties have effected a no-compromise stance. Tom Delay first started this concept in Texas and his absolute power corrupted him! This will result in the further crippling of John Boehner the current House Speaker! It is the Tim Pawlenty-Michele Bachmann-Rick Perry – Mitch McConnell and their no-new-taxes, compromise-is-evil version that prevails nationwide today. This new TEA party is un-willing to raise taxes, especially progressive taxes, to pay for the good things that they believe government can do — for education(Throwing the children under the school bus), for economic development(Failing to legislate jobs in America as they said they would do when they ran for office), for quality of life for the middle class(Making sure the middle class supports the entire US economy by themselves) and to help the poor and the sick be a little less poor and sick. These actions have taken an ominous role in every aspect of today’s politicians. At the national level, congressional Republican are taking a similar posture in negotiations over a multi-trillion-dollar deficit reduction and debt-ceiling package. Moderate Republicans are in the cross-hairs of this new breed of politician. You voted these people into office – Only you can throw them out of office!

  47. Submitted by Aaron Sinner on 07/09/2011 - 11:56 am.

    First of all, this post reminded of your earlier post, Mr. Black, from March: — specifically, the “Poll on compromise” section at the end.

    Secondly, while this is a good read, I’m not certain you’ve answered your question. As you point out, MN is the only state to go through a budget shutdown this year and the only state to have two shutdowns this decade. You’ve made your case that MN Republicans shifting to a “no compromises” stance is a major change in MN politics. But, as many comments from the readers demonstrate, there’s at least some evidence that this shift has also happened on the national level.

    Can you make the case that Minnesota’s shift to a “no compromises” GOP is something wholly Minnesotan, not seen throughout the rest of the country? If you can, I hope that post soon follows. If you can’t, then I don’t believe you’ve explained why Minnesota’s the only state with a shutdown right now.

  48. Submitted by will lynott on 07/09/2011 - 03:03 pm.

    “Since the largest sticking point appears to be another tax hike on the ultra-wealthy, my suggestion is to let that become law so the government can run again. It will be entertaining to watch how many affected people homestead in another state afterwards.”

    #46, the notion that the rich will up and leave if taxes go up has been debunked too many times to take seriously anymore.

  49. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 07/09/2011 - 03:26 pm.

    I believe you have nailed it, Mr. Salzberger (#48).

    The perfect example would seem to be the health care reform act, before which the president and Senator Baucus (D-MT), his designated plan-maker, took single-payer/Medicare-for-All health care off the table. Baucus even refused to let liberal Dems on his committee offer amendments that might appear to the committee’s right-wing Republicans as “socialistic.”

    Obama even refused to welcome his former doctor from Illinois to join the discussion because that doctor favored single-payer.

    As I see it, Obama, Baucus and his fellow Blue Dogs GAVE victory to the right wing by “compromising” before even opening the discussion and then controlling the discussion so the socialistic words were not even uttered, much less fought for. Even the promised public option was compromised away.

    So now we have a plan that is an improvement over our current system, but which will not cover everyone and will cost more because of its extra layers of bureaucracy and because the government will have no control over the insurance and drug industries’ annual obscene price rises and profits.

    I only feel good about Washington now when I listen to Bernie Sanders or Dennis Kucinich or a few others speak out with real outrage at what the right-wing is getting away with at our expense. And when I hear Governor Dayton say that he cannot accept what the right wants to do to Minnesota’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens in their quest to destroy government.

  50. Submitted by steve lewis on 07/09/2011 - 10:34 pm.

    What changed in minnesota? minnesota went from being dominated by progressives, liberals, the dfl, hubert humphrey with a weak republican party to a state that’s no longer dominated by one party. the demographic types would probably point out that years ago, the twin cities politically dominated the rural areas. then as rural areas became more populated by people escaping the twin cities, those people in the areas outside the twin cities became republicans. actually, it’s even more complicated than that. competition for office has finally emerged giving minnesotans a clear choice instead of same tired liberal democrat and republican in name only (rino). notice how former politicians complain that nobody in minnesota politics gets along anymore. that’s because those has-been politicians were a bunch of scam artists that couldn’t make it in today’s competitive environment. it’s much better to have politicians at each others’ throats all the time. conflict is healthy, minnesota.

  51. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/11/2011 - 03:08 pm.

    The current conflict is healthy only if you agree with Nordquist that the best government is no government.
    On the other hand, if you want a government the delivers essential services (like maintaining roads), then the current ‘no compromises’ conflict is not at all healthy for those of us who can’t afford private helicopters.

  52. Submitted by will lynott on 07/11/2011 - 07:04 pm.

    #51, reasoned debate is healthy, take-no-prisoners conflict is definitely not. The wingnuts see this stuff as war, winner take all, scorched earth, my way or the highway. The concept of compromise is alien to them. They are beholden to a relative few whose crippled view of the world is that government must be “drowned in the bathtub.”

    They’re not your friends, or mine. If you choose to further their interests, be advised that they don’t give a damn about you, glad as they are to know that your “beliefs” compel you to get out front and cheer them on. But if you sink along with the rest of us they will shed no tears, nor will they give you a second thought.

    You know it’s true and so do I.

    Meditate on it.

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