Call this “An Outsider’s Guide to Minnesota Politics.”
Obviously “outsider” doesn’t include those who hang out at the statehouse or count the days to the next session. Or those who believe precinct caucuses are the true expression of American democracy. And it definitely doesn’t include those who keep a short list of all the short lists Sen. Amy Klobuchar is allegedly on.
No, those folks likely already know the lineage, the politics, the top-five donors to the state’s many vaguely named and like-sounding political groups. They surely know to distinguish TakeAction Minnesota from the Minnesota Action Network. They can ID the affiliation of an acquaintance by simply asking whether they support the Minnesota Jobs Coalition or Minnesotans for a Fair Economy.
And they definitely know that Minnesotans United is not a professional soccer team.
But what about everybody else, the newly arrived to Minnesota or the otherwise productively occupied? How might they fully understand all the groups that raise money, spend money and lobby for one point of view or another — all those generic-sounding organizations flowing off the tongues of "Almanac" guests?
Before we go on, here's a pop quiz. Can you correctly identify the purpose of the following groups based on their names? Click or tap an answer to see if you’re right.
Non-informative but also non-offensive names are the rule in Minnesota politics. Many stake out philosophical territory with terminology that would be highly unlikely to engender any opposition. Would anyone, for example, form a Lose Minnesota group in order to do battle with Win Minnesota? How about Minnesotans for an Unfair Economy? Alliance for a Mediocre Minnesota? The Anti-Jobs Majority?
Regardless of your opinion of the National Rifle Association, at least it is upfront with the subject matter. Its members are interested in guns. OK, they're interested in more than that, but it's close enough to give a recipient of NRA mailings an idea of what might be inside.
But Is Minnesota Majority in favor of a DFL majority or a Republican majority? (Republican, it turns out). What Does Protect Minnesota want to project us from? Gun violence, though that requires an extra step to discover. Minnesota has an affiliate of the national group No Labels called No Labels Minnesota; perhaps it could start with the public service of starting something called Better Labels Minnesota.
And in at least one situation, ambiguous group names can't even be cleared up by looking at a list of staff. TakeAction Minnesota is directed by Dan P. McGrath. His opposite number at Minnesota Majority? Dan P. McGrath.
Education groups are especially prone to the phenomenon. There's MinnCAN, Minnesota Comeback, Parent Aware, Parents United, AchieveMpls. But the worst might be Education Minnesota. Is that a political action committee, an advocacy group, a reform group, a union or a state agency, or all five at once? At least it had the word “education” in it, but it raised extra confusion for newcomers, since most everyone in the state still talks about MEA Weekend, doing so with the same expectant tone they use for the announcement of the latest food at the Minnesota State Fair.
What is this MEA they speak of? And why did it have its own weekend? This was particularly confusing because MEA wasn’t MEA anymore. The Minnesota Education Association became Education Minnesota after a merger with the AFL-CIO affiliated Minnesota Federation of Teachers. Yet the merged name didn’t catch on outside political and union circles. Parents and kids did not speak rapturously about the upcoming EEE-aye Weekend. They still said MEA even after MEA was no more. The union eventually gave in and renamed the October teachers conference that triggered that long weekend for students - the Minnesota Educator Academy. MEA, get it?
At least there's Generation Next, which is what passes for an explicit name these days, given that it appears to be in support of the next generation.
That’s correct, right?