Providing a nonpartisan model for generating and sharing          

    essential information on public issues and proposed solutions              

Shining a light on Minnesota public policy since 2005

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ts Beginning,  Its Progress, and Its Future

A.  Early history

It all began in 1950 when four of us who had become close friends at the University of Minnesota held the first meeting of what we referred to as the Civic Caucus.  Our discussions centered on public policy issues of mutual interest.   This “public policy” passion never departed from any of the original four participants—Chuck Clay, Raeder Larson, Jim Olson, and me.  I was elected its first chair and have never been deposed from that position.  Our caucuses have always utilized written agendas to assure that discussion does not meander.

These caucus sessions have continued on a regular basis for over a half-century, with three of the four original members still participating today.  The fourth, Raeder Larson, continued until his death in 2001.   Chuck Clay and I, upon Raeder’s death, then had a decision to make.  Should we continue the caucuses among the two of us, with Jim Olson participating via email and when occasionally visiting the Twin Cities (Jim had moved to Decatur, Illinois, years ago)?  Or should we finally abandon the whole thing?  We wanted desperately not to have to do the latter. 

About then came an inspiration to increase the participation by adding three new members—Jim Hetland, Gene Preiss, and Clarence Shallbetter—all long time friends who were also public policy oriented.   Unfortunately, Gene passed away a short time ago.  We have added  additional core participants well versed in public policy issues, John Mooty, John Sampson, Paul Gilje, John Rollwagen and Lee Canning..

B.  Advantages of email

Email is a perfect way to keep in touch with close associates, some of whom live far away and are not as mobile as they were when younger.  Among other things email offers a way for elders to remain involved and to keep their minds active and off their ailments.   Email also affords an opportunity for busy parents who are working and bringing up children to keep informed on and participate in public policy issue discussion and formulation.

We soon realized that what had begun as a way for a few close friends to talk public policy issues had developed--using current technology-- into an innovative, high potential prototype for the future. 

C.  Adding electronic participants

Thus began a deliberate attempt to perfect the prototype through real life experimentation.  We were involving retirees, persons too busy to attend meetings, and persons in far away locations.  Our communication list has now grown to nearly 500 individuals who receive detailed summaries of the most recent session, copies of draft reports, and selected columns and articles from  thoughtful publications. In several instances we asked for and received signatures of assent from many of our electronic participants in supporting the policy position we had taken.

Our participants are divided into two categories.  The first group consists of the current core participants who meet weekly interviewing public officials and thought leaders, and to consider, develop, and adopt policy proposals.  The rest are electronic participants.  Electronic participants are invited to express viewpoints on the agenda issues, and those views are communicated to the others on the address list.  The age of our participants now ranges from the upper 20’s to nearly 90 years old.  Emails to and from participants have increased steadily.  Indeed, the experiment is bearing fruit.

Word has spread about what we were doing.  For example, we were contacted by Bill Bishop, a newspaper reporter from the Austin, Texas, Statesman. Bishop was so impressed that he flew to Minneapolis to attend a meeting and then wrote about our work in his newspaper.  Moreover, he has communicated with us periodically since then.

D.  Four reports issued

Our primary objective is to provide pragmatic and creative education, involvement and solutions on public policy issues for both individual citizens and public officials.  The momentum of the Civic Caucus has built to the point where four major reports have been produced in recent years: 

            1.  US government policy leadership for handling the Middle East crisis. 

            2.  Reducing Twin Cities area traffic congestion.

3.  The future of the Twin Cities Metropolitan Council.

4.  A constitutional amendment on dedication of the gas sales tax to transportation.

All this has been produced by a few core volunteers, with no budget and no paid staff until very recently.

Our report on metropolitan transportation contains far ranging proposals for reorganizing the basic transportation responsibilities between the state, the Metropolitan Council, counties, and cities.  It also has important relevance to other metropolitan areas around the country. 

E.  Positive support

Let me cite comments received from one West Coast individual currently on our communication list, since it offers further proof that we truly are developing a prototype for a sound public policy formulation organization that could be replicated or utilized elsewhere in the future.  He wrote:

"Hope everything is going well for you.  Thanks for keeping me on your mailing list.  I always enjoy the informed discussions the forums provoke.  At one point I thought I read that you were interested in replicating the forum in other locations.  If so, would you consider Marin County, California, where I live?  If this strikes any interest, please contact me as to how we could and should proceed." 

F.  The caucus in the future

During the spring of 2004, the Civic Caucus held a two-day conference focusing on how we might make the caucus more meaningful to participants and further extend and strengthen the educational experience on issues for all within our reach.  We held  similar planning conferences in 2005 and 2006, spending 30 hours each in intensive sessions over three days.  Out of this process have come the following key conclusions:

1. To overcome threats to our democratic process-- We are deeply concerned at the growing polarization of our political process, contributed to by such trends as the gerrymandering of congressional and legislative districts, domination by those with political views on the right and the left, and the resulting impasse on almost all needed legislation.  We feel that the deterioration in our political process is becoming a threat to the democratic process we hold so dear.

2.  To stimulate non-polarized problem solving-- We reaffirmed our belief that Minnesota can lead our nation in   providing a means by which non-polarized, solution-oriented individuals can become better informed and speak out on important public policy issues.  The Civic Caucus can become a prototype for other individuals throughout our nation who feel similarly, are willing to establish a means of replicating our example, and welcome interchange among such similar organizations.  These initiatives could revitalize those who have been disenfranchised by the polarization of our political process.

3.  To make a difference-- Our future focus should concentrate on issues on which the caucus feels it can (1) offer a unique point of difference, (2) effectively disseminate its educational findings, through influential individuals or organizations, and (3) have a visible impact through its statements and communications.

4.  To have a broad scope-- The scope of the organization should focus primarily on local and Minnesota issues but not preclude involvement on, national, and international public policy issues the caucus regards as vital to the continuation of our democratic process and on which impasse appears likely.

5.  To utilize telephone conferencing-- We should utilize telephone conferencing so more core participants can be involved throughout the year and to make it possible for outside resource persons to offer assistance without having to attend sessions in person.

6.  To work through other organizations-- We will encourage other organizations locally and nationally, such as the Citizens League, the Itasca Conference, and Common Cause, to include issues we identify as high-priority in their own programs, and, indeed, sometimes work with us.  Follow-up with elected officials should not be a significant part of our agenda.

7.  To develop a web site-- A web site that can be maintained is essential to our future.  The purpose of the web site should be to improve communication and participation among our electronic participants and broaden our ability to have an impact in the educational process. 

9.  To expand our list of electronic participants-- Our list of electronic participants should be expanded to perhaps as many as 1000, emphasizing individuals who are involved in public policy issues and impacting upon the issues.  Electronic participants should select whether they want to receive information on all issues or only those in which they are most interested.   The number of core participants should be expanded slightly.

10.      To assure a modest level of staffing-- A modest level of paid staff is needed.  This will require constituting the Civic Caucus as a nonprofit organization to which tax deductible contributions can be made.  A target figure of $60,000 annually has been agreed upon. And the Civic Caucus has recently become an authorized 501©3 , eligible to receive eligible funding.

We currently are moving aggressively to implement these recommendations, and are confident that they will meet with significant success. 

G.  Onward and upward 

Doubtless our greatest personal satisfaction centers on the recognition that older and experienced individuals with significant amounts of discretionary time can and should continue to lead the way in making important contributions after most have been written off as either has-been's or never-will-be’s.  We prefer the words “career change” to “retiree”.   Even more gratifying is to demonstrate that we “ experienced elders” can implement leading edge experimentation with new technology such as the internet. 

It has been said that most anything is possible if one only believes it is possible.    We are in the process of proving the soundness of this philosophy.  We are breaking new ground, and we believe we are on to something significant.  Momentum is building rapidly and replication is at hand.  Indeed, this has been one of the most time-consuming, most productive, and exciting initiatives of our lifetime.  And, as I always say, “The best is yet to come.”


The Civic Caucus   is a non-partisan, tax-exempt educational organization.   The Interview Group  includes persons of varying political persuasions,
reflecting years of leadership in politics and business. Click here  to see a short personal background of each.

  John S. Adams,  David Broden,  Audrey Clay,  Janis Clay (executive director),  Pat Davies,  Paul Gilje, Dwight Johnson,  Randy Johnson,  Sallie Kemper,  Ted Kolderie,
 Dan Loritz,  Tim McDonald,  Bruce Mooty,  Jim Olson,  Paul Ostrow (chair),  Wayne Popham,  Dana Schroeder,  Clarence Shallbetter,  and Fred Zimmerman

© The Civic Caucus, 01/01/2008
2104 Girard Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55405.

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