here for PDF format
of Meeting with Wy Spano
8301 Creekside Circle
#920, Bloomington, MN 55437
Friday, October 28,
Verne C. Johnson, chair;
Chuck Clay (by phone);
Jim Hetland, Jim Olson (by phone); Clarence Shallbetter, Paul Gilje (by
phone), and Wyman Spano, guest
Introduction of Wyman Spano—Verne
introduced Spano, director of the new Center for Advocacy and Political
Leadership at the
Center offers weekend classes toward a Master’s degree in Advocacy and
Political Leadership. It began operating in Fall 2004 and now has 50
students in three cohorts with another 15 or so expected this Spring.
Spano is the former founder and co-editor of the publication Politics
served for many years as a lobbyist in the Minnesota Legislature and is a
member of the DFL Party. Spano was invited to comment on the Caucus
position paper concerning threats to America’s democracy.
Comments by Spano and discussion with the Caucus—During
his comments and the discussion the following points were made:
1. Purpose of the Center for Advocacy and Political
said that Center encourages its students to set their own goals and then
helps them accomplish them. The Center is non-partisan, although the term
“advocacy” tends to draw more liberals than conservatives. The Center
stresses honesty and integrity in public dialogue. One of the star
students in the program is a committed conservative and active Republican,
who loves to argue with the liberals, Spano said.
2. Agreement with our position paper—Spano
agrees with the overall position taken by our draft, that there are
several threats to our democracy today. He said that the sense of
unhappiness, bordering even on desperation about where the nation has been
going is reflected in the draft. It is perfectly adequate, he said.
Problem of income distribution—Spano
said that he has some other concerns not addressed in our paper. He’s
disturbed by the changing characteristics of income distribution in the
USA, moving our nation toward “banana republic” status, that is, with
financial resources concentrated in a small portion of the population,
with hardly any middle class, and with the rest of the population left
statistics that he said are from Larry Bartels, founding director of the
Center for Study of Democratic Policies at Princeton University. Bartels
was at the Humphrey Institute the other day. The Bartels data, he said,
illustrate that from 1954 to 2004 the average income for the upper
one-third of the population increased $50,000 in inflation adjusted
terms. Income increased $9,000 for the middle third, and $650 for the
bottom-third. He finds that astounding.
that he became aware of substantial changes in political ideology in
Minnesota when, in the mid-1990’s, he wandered into a meeting in Minnesota
of five Republican legislators who were discussing whether or not the
state should be providing free public education. He said such discussions
never would have occurred a generation ago.
4. A result of how our democracy is structured
or how the people vote—Spano
and caucus members discussed whether the problems Spano is citing come
about because of structural defects in our democratic system. Spano
replied that one major problem is the way our congressional and
legislative districts are created.
agreed that structural problems are important, but also cited the
significant ideological shift as contributing to the condition.
5. Party influence impacting legislative consensus—the
Republican and Democratic caucuses in the Minnesota House are much more
dominant now than before. Currently, a caucus occurs before every
committee meeting, where decisions are made on how members will vote in
committee. He advised the Democrats not to follow the pattern of
Republicans, but he said they felt they had no choice but to follow the
same procedures. Decisions used to be made much more on the political
interest of individual legislators as opposed to the political interest of
now have a much greater role in campaign finance. He cited the federal
district court decision by Judge Ann Montgomery in the late 1990’s which
overturned Minnesota law which limited to $5,000 what a caucus could
contribute to a legislative campaign. Now no limits exist, and caucuses
are playing a much larger role in individual members’ elections.
Minnesota legislative elections used to be very limited in spending, with
nearly all candidates sticking to the limits of $20,000 or so in House
seats. After the Montgomery decision, the first election where caucuses
spent whatever they could get their hands on was in northwestern
Minnesota. Now Rep. Paul Marquardt defeated then Republican incumbent Bob
Westfall. Instead of an election which spent about $40,000, nearly half a
million was spent, most of the money coming from the caucuses. This
simple change in Minnesota law changed the way caucuses dominate
elections. Now, in heavily contested seats, caucuses are the dominant
voice in the election. They’re not allowed to coordinate what they do
with the candidates.
6, Potential to deal with the problem of
repeated his view that the No. 1 improvement he would like seen is
removing legislators from their role in reapportionment. He doesn’t see
that the problem of campaign finance is solvable. The Supreme Court has
essentially taken the issue off the table. Asked to comment on suggestions
in our previous meetings that only individuals, not groups or
organizations, be allowed to make campaign contributions, Spano thinks
such an idea is vulnerable to being thrown out as an infringement of free
speech, even though he likes the idea and doesn’t think it’s an
7. Extent of polarization—Spano
believes that the political spectrum has moved considerably to the right,
so that today’s left wing Democrats are about where conservative Democrats
were 30 years ago. He personally would favor abolishing party
8. Two top vote getters should advance to
general election—He would
provide that the two top vote getters in a primary advance to the general
election, regardless of their party. Thus, you could have two Democrats
or two Republicans face off in the general election. Such an approach
would present an opportunity for moderates, but party people hate the idea
because it takes away their power. He thinks that instant runoff voting,
as suggested by Tim Penny last week, is a lot tougher to sell but would be
a very good solution if you could sell it. His solution, allowing the two
top vote getters from the primary in the general election, would be less
desirable, but more possible.
9. The Capitol is no longer a “grey” area—In
the 1970s and 1980s one could see legislators on different sides of an
issue coming together in compromise. Now it’s a black-and-white
arrangement. You are either for me or against me. Civic Caucus members
said it is difficult to understand the polarization on some issues. For
example, broad public and business support seemed to exist in the 2005
Legislature for a gasoline tax increase. But the tax couldn’t be
enacted. Spano said at a time in the past it was patriotic to pay taxes.
Now, taxes have become black and white, just like other issues. All taxes
have been defined as bad which makes compromise on spending difficult.
10. Fixing reapportionment—Discussion
occurred over criteria for reapportionment. Whoever is given the
reapportionment responsibility, one view is that the criteria for
maximizing competitive districts needs to be clear. Spano said he thinks
that preserving a sense of community in districts is also very important.
He thinks the Civic Caucus might want to consider as a major initiative a
series of constitutional amendments in Minnesota and around the country
which decree that congressional and legislative districts in that state
can only be done every 10 years, that they’re done by independent bodies,
and that the criteria be focused on compaction, contiguity and community
instead of on the political affiliation of the voters, which is really a
way of focusing on the political affiliation of the person elected from
11. Value of third parties—Spano
isn’t sure of their value. If Peter Hutchinson runs in 2006 and receives
5 percent of the vote as an Independent, that could have the effect of
electing Pawlenty over Hatch, he said. Nevertheless, he also said that
third parties make it possible to bring disaffected people into the
12. Other potential resource persons—Spano
suggested State Senator Sheila Kiscaden and Mike Ciresi.
Thanks to Spano—Caucus
members thanked Spano 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.