here for PDF format
the Meeting with John Brandl
Circle, Bloomington, MN 55437
Verne Johnson, chair
(by phone); Chuck Clay, Jim Hetland (by phone), John Mooty, Jim Olson (by
phone), John Sampson, Clarence Shallbetter, Paul Gilje, and John Brandl,
B. Presentation by
Sampson introduced Brandl, professor, Humphrey Institute, University of
Minnesota. Brandl is a former president of the Citizens League, served 12
years in the Minnesota Legislature, and also worked for many years in the
federal government in
Brandl was invited to share his comments with us on the caucus report, "America's
Political Process is in Grave Danger." In his introductory comments,
Brandl made these pints:
1. Need for "virtue"--He made
reference to two papers, Federalist No. 10, concerning factions, or
special interests, and Federalist No. 51, the theme of which is "we're not
angels," Brandl said, "we need constraints." In Federalist No. 10,
was concerned about adequately controlling factions. We think of politics
only as a clash of interest groups, Madison warned us. If that's all
politics is, the government won't work. We need virture. Placing virtue
into the process becomes possible, he said, when non-governmental entities
that depend on good will are given an opportunity to provide services.
2. Rely more on non-governmental institutions--Americans
today have extreme expectations of what government can do for them. We
have built-in disappointment because we expect so much. Much of what
government does can be done better through non-governmental institutions.
Brandl recalled that while campaigning for office several years ago he met
a couple with a child with severe mental retardation, who was being cared
for by the state. A change in that approach occurred whereby the family
was given a monthly stipend from the government and allowed to care for
the child themselves. The cost was about one-tenth of
institutionalization but provided better care.
Brandl said that
Madison favored competition in government. Government can decide what
needs to be done but ought not be the only vehicle for doing something.
Brandl gets in trouble with his political party because he is an advocate
of education vouchers for families.
In summary, he said
that competition is an effective constraint on power of special interest
groups and that non-governmental entities that depend on the good will of
their participants can insert "virtue" into the process.
3. Evaluation of the points in the Caucus draft--Some
proposals in the draft do get at the problem of "factions" or "special
interest groups". He said that specifically, we've got to take away the
power of the legislative body to determine its own district boundaries.
Some of the points in the draft do not attack the problem.
Question-and-answer session with Brandl--During
the discussion the following points were made:
1. Validity of the statement of the problem--Brandl
was asked to evaluate the 19 points made early in the draft that discuss
concerns, not solutions. He agreed that media coverage is a problem. So
much of what the media reports is only a clash of interest groups. He
sensed the problem also in yesterday's hearings on the Roberts nomination
for Chief Justice, in which some Senators were trying to put more words in
the nominee's mouth.
wondered whether it might be possible to change the discourse in the
public media, because what is happening today is dminishing respect for
the entire system.
2. Campaign spending difficult to deal with--Every
time we try to fix this problem we fail. It seems as if we need to find a
way to live with it.
3. Growth of single-interest groups--It's
been about 30 years since Brandl first ran for office. During this time
the number of single-interest groups has grown considerably. They are
ever more specific and insistent. An interest group insists that a
candidate adhere to every point, without exception.
4. Shift in local-state-federal responsibilities--Brandl
agreed that people seem to look much more to the federal government
today. However, we're of two minds. On the one hand people want
government to be involved, and on the other hand, people have libertarian
ideas. Brandl said that a key challenge is to strengthen state and local
government, especially state government.
5. Creating competitive congressional districts--It
was noted that the California proposal doesn't require that districts be
competitive and, in fact, certain states with commissions (Iowa and
Arizona) don't seem to have created competitive districts. Brandl said he
would favor that such commissions be required to make districts as
competitive as possible. He acknowledged that the Civil Rights Act
guarantees that some districts won't be competitive.
6. Evaluation of the caucus system for selecting
convention delegates--Brandl said the system is not working.
In his party, DFL, caucuses can elect people who specifically represent
interest groups. What has happened more recently, he said, is that fewer
and fewer people are attending the caucuses, so such sub-caucuses no
longer are as needed. Now whoever shows up at the caucus will have a good
chance of being elected, because of poor attendance.
7. Example of the Katrina aftermath--The
group discussed briefly the example of Katrina as an illustration of
today's difficulty in knowing what state and local government should be
doing, in light of people's high expectations of the federal government.
8. Over-reliance on the federal dollar--It
was noted that so many people today are seeking the federal dollar. The
"pork" in the recent transportation bill was mentioned. Brandl mentioned
that an extra-majority of votes is required for a bonding bill in
Minnesota, but that requirement seemed to backfire in the most recently
adopted bill. The Legislature just enlarged the "pork" to get the extra
9. Causes of polarization--Brandl
said the rise of the interest groups and gerrymandering seem to be the
chief causers of polarization. Another person noted that a contributing
factor is that more and more people are expecting government to do things
for them and, therefore, set up interest groups to advocate on their
asked how we can blame gerrymandering because the Senate seems as
polarized as the House.
10. Possible corrective action--Brandl
said when he was in the Minnesota Senate he prepared--but didn't
introduce--a bill that would have given all voters in the state the right
to elect State Senators. Each year eight State Senators would be elected,
one from each congressional district, but voters throughout the state
would cast ballots for all eight.
11. Reviewing the possible solutions--Asked
to comment on the list of possible solutions in the draft, Brandl
highlighted the redistricting idea. Many of the others aren't going to
solve the problems of special interests, he said.
12. Improving the educational system--Brandl
was asked, in light of the founding fathers' interest in an informed
citizenry, how we can accomplish such an objective today. Kids get most
of their information from TV, which is a national media system. Brandl
agreed that this is a serious problem.
13. Different kinds of "special interests"?--Asked
to identify special interests that contribute to polarization, Brandl
singled out the teachers union and the no-tax groups. One person
wondered whether groups that don't involve a personal economic stake for
its participants, such as groups advocating for parks, should be placed in
the same category. Brandl mentioned
definition of a special interest, or faction, as a group that advances its
interest at the expense of the public interest. Brandl recalled that
when he was in the Legislature he tried to develop a proposal that would
compromise on abortion, but both the pro-choice and pro-life people
group thanked Brandl for meeting with us.
The Civic Caucus
is a non-partisan,
tax-exempt educational organization. Core participants
include persons of varying political persuasions, reflecting
years of leadership in politics and business.
A working group meets face-to-face to
provide leadership. They are Verne C. Johnson, chair; Lee
Canning, Charles Clay, Bill Frenzel,
Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland,
John Mooty, Jim Olson, Wayne Popham and John Rollwagen.
Click Here to
see a biographical statement of each.