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Meeting with Ted Kolderie
8301 Creekside Circle
#920, Bloomington, MN 55437
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Present: Verne C. Johnson, chair;
Chuck Clay, Paul Gilje, Jim Olson (by phone), and Clarence Shallbetter
1. Introduction of Ted Kolderie--Verne
introduced Kolderie, a senior associate with Educational Evolving in
Minnesota, a cooperative project of the Center for Policy Studies and
Hamline University. Kolderie is a founder of the charter school movement.
He also served as Citizens League executive director from 1967 to 1980.
Earlier he was a journalist with the Minneapolis Tribune.
2. Open remarks by Kolderie--In his
comments Kolderie made the following points:
a. When reforms need reforming--Widespread
agreement exists, he suspects, that the problems brought to the Civic
Caucus' attention over the last several months are very real. It's
interesting, he said, if you look at one, the matter of Congressional
redistricting. If you look at maps of Congressional districts in many
parts of the nation, you're outraged at their design. The concept of
one-person-one-vote was made clear in Baker vs. Carr in 1962. But looking
at Congressional districts today you have to wonder if the old
axiom--every reform will be taken to excess and ultimately will need
reform itself--doesn't apply very clearly in the voting system today.
What's the remedy? Kolderie wonders if perhaps we need someone again to
make a constitutional challenge. The courts didn't want to get into
redistricting around 1960, but sharp people put together a compelling
case. Couldn't the best legal minds today come up with something that
changes the way districting is occurring today?
b. Necessary conditions for action--He
recalled what Elmer Andersen said in the 1970s, when asked about
leadership. When the public is clear about a problem and is ready for
action, elected officials are very important. In a period like the current
one, when the public is unclear and unready, political people naturally
hesitate. This suggests an alternative interpretation of the problem.
Perhaps what we're seeing is simply politic behaving 'naturally', the way
politics is built to behave. Perhaps in earlier years there were either
'conditions' -- in the world or in the nation or in the community -- that
forced politics into greater bipartisanship or some kind of community
pressure that forced politics to be more responsible about policy. Think
about Senator Vandenberg working with FDR during World War II. In
Minnesota there was certainly strong pressure on elected officials from
the private sector to deal with real problems. So perhaps what's changed
is that this outside pressure has gone away, allowing politics to revert
to 'normal'. Clearly Minnesota has seen a dramatic deterioration in its
private-sector public-affairs institutions. We should ask whether this
might explain what's happening in politics, which we now tend to blame on
c. In some cases political leaders have stepped
out in front, even in the absence of widespread public awareness--He
cited two cases. The first was education. Even by 1980 the public was
convinced there was a problem, and that action needed to be taken. So when
Minnesotans in the '80s approached the political leadership with proposals
the elected officials were receptive. They acted, even without clear
public support, against the opposition of powerful interest groups; on
open enrollment, on chartered schools. It was the kind of courageous
action we are looking for today. And it came, because the conditions and
the consensus were right.
The second is fiscal policy. Most well-informed people are terribly
concerned about the irresponsibility of congressional and administration
action. But most Americans grew up in the postwar world; the
half-century--as John Borchert said--of greatest increase in real output
the world has ever known. In this new situation it was impossible to
maintain the old ethic of self-denial. People felt, and not without
reason, that they could have anything they wanted. Somebody else would pay
for it. How can anyone look at the levels of private debt today and wonder
why the public is unconcerned about the level of government debt or the
size of the trade deficit?
d. In the past Minnesota leaders didn't just try
to solve problems, but they took advantage of opportunities--When
you think back to the major legislation adopted in Minnesota in the late
60s and early 70s, a remarkable set of institutions in the Twin Cities
worked together to stimulate change in governmental organization and
e. Changing role of the newspapers--Kolderie
recalled that the Twin Cities newspapers were very much a part of the
changes that occurred in the 60s and 70s. They saw their role in reporting
a sensible policy discussion. He's asked newspaper leaders today why they
don't cover policy and has been told that "This is not what the public is
interested in." It's just insider talk involving a few people, he's been
told. Kolderie thinks the problem is much deeper than that. People today,
as he noted earlier, are into self-fulfillment. Thus the papers report
things that the reader is most interested in: (1) himself or herself, (2)
their friends. Public affairs comes way down the list. The paper seems to
be a collection of advice columns, even answering such questions as an
owner's day-to-day problems with an animal pet.
We need to recognize newspaper economics, too, he said, and that the shift
in readers' attitudes gave newspapers an excuse not to do what they no
longer could afford to do.
Sports coverage, interestingly, is an anomaly. Remember, Kolderie said,
that newspapers have no legal responsibility or license. They can cover
what they choose to cover, and it doesn't do much good to lecture them
about their responsibility.
3. Discussion--During the discussion
with Kolderie the following points were raised:
a. An interest in policy "action" not policy
development--Kolderie recently attended a meeting of private
civic leaders who were joining to work together on selected public policy
issues. All they cared about, he said, was action, not really paying
attention to what the action was, or its basis in addressing a public
policy problem. They said they were done studying and needed to act. They
aren't interest in policy discussion.
Kolderie said that some people are calling for action on early childhood
education, without concern for what the action is. For example, he said,
one proposal is essentially to extend conventional K-12 education one or
two years earlier, using the same system as now. The implications for
class size and teacher compensation are enormous.
b. Turn to new places for policy leadership--In
the past, Kolderie said, it was common that local institutions tied to the
community, such as banks, newspapers, and utilities, to be turned to for
leadership because they would always need to be headquartered locally.
That's all changed, he said. Our banks, newspapers and utilities are all
owned by firms located elsewhere. Consequently, he said, we need to look
to other local institutions, such as our University of Minnesota,
community foundations, and the arts and culture community.
c. Develop proposals and build consensus for
change--Groups who want to accomplish change need, of course,
compelling ideas. But as critical is the need to develop the coalitions of
support. Asked which issues might be best suited for bringing about both
good proposals and a consensus for change, Kolderie replied that
redistricting might be a good candidate. Others noted that part of the
gerrymandering issue relates to designing districts to fulfill civil
rights requirements. Another possible issue, Kolderie said, is campaign
finance, although every effort to contain the money seems to be thwarted
by another way to channel the money.
d. People seeking more from the public treasury--Kolderie
was asked about the possibility that democracy is threatened when so many
people demand a share of the public treasury that budgets no longer can be
balanced. He referred the group to a 2003 book by Daniel Usher: The
Economic Prerequisite to Democracy. Usher's concern is what happens to a
democracy when more than half its people have their income politically
e. Don't under-rate Minnesota legislators--Kolderie
stressed that he has high regard for leaders in the Minnesota Legislature.
He singled out Steve Kelley, Larry Pogemiller, Barb Sykora, Alice Seagren,
and Mindi Greiling. They know how to carry their responsibility.
f. Proposals he would make to the Caucus-- I see this question asked of
others; some of whom are recorded as having had no real proposals to offer
. . . as I assume they didn't. I'm saying that to be effective--which I
assume is important here--just having proposals for change isn't enough.
For something really to happen the conditions need to be right and the
consensus needs to be present. So the CC needs a two-part strategy:
developing action-recommendations and developing the consensus. We can't
do anything about 'the conditions'. We just have to wait and hope these
Unhappily, in the situation we have today we lack effective mechanisms to
build the needed consensus. These mechanisms will have to be developed. I
see a long, slow job of institution-building. It took this town a
generation to build the institutions that generated the
political/governmental performance we had by the 1970s, and the reputation
that came with that. It will be especially hard because we'll have to
start over with a new concept of civic leadership and with new mechanisms
and processes for the discussion of problems and solutions.
I'm afraid we're looking at 20 years of hard work to build back what we've
lost here in Minnesota. How to do that is the subject of another
discussion; is the 'other half' of the agenda for the CC,
since--again--that outside consensus, outside pressure, will be necessary
to get the political system to make the changes it basically doesn't want
4. Thanks--Verne thanked Kolderie for
meeting with us today.
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.