here for PDF format
of Meeting with George Latimer
Civic Caucus, 8301
Creekside Circle, Bloomington, MN 55437
Friday, March 24, 2006
Chuck Clay, Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland, John Mooty (by phone), Jim Olson (by
phone), Clarence Shallbetter
Introduction of George Latimer--Verne
introduced George Latimer, Professor of Urban Studies, Macalester College,
one of the country's leading authorities on urban issues. Latimer has a
special interest in public-private partnerships that encourage growth and
development of affordable housing. Before coming to Macalester, Latimer
served as Mayor of Saint Paul from 1976 to 1990, was Dean of Hamline
University Law School, and was an advisor to Secretary Henry Cisneros at
the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Latimer received his B.A.
from St. Michael's College and the L.L.B. from Columbia University Law
School. Latimer received the Distinguished Humanitarian Service Award
from the Ramsey County Bar Association on May 17, 2005. He has held
leadership positions with the Citizens League.
Comments and discussion with Latimer--During
Latimer's comments and discussion the following points were made:
1. Agreement on problems of polarization and
paralysis--Latimer said he has
read many of the materials distributed by the Civic Caucus and, while he
doesn't consider himself an expert on electoral fixes, he is in basic
agreement with where we are today, with a lack of comity and persistent
extremism. It's hard for a sensible, independent-minded person to be
comfortable in either party, he said.
2. Need to change redistricting--There's
no question, he said, that elected officials who are affected by
redistricting should not be the ones setting the boundaries in the first
place. He said he would trust a cross-section of judges. Latimer, a
Democrat, is impressed by the quality of federal judges in Minnesota,
including those appointed by Republican presidents.
3. "Appalling collapse" of the media in public
affairs--He's deeply concerned
over the future of newspaper coverage in St. Paul, with the uncertainty of
the future of the Pioneer Press. He said that on TV it's almost
impossible for an elected official's message to be heard directly by the
public. Instead the commentator is providing a voice-over the film or
picture of the public official. There's been an "appalling collapse" of
the media, he said.
Star Tribune has had many more financial resources than the
Pioneer Press. He's concerned that the Pioneer Press hasn't
focused on hard news and that its views reflect mostly the business
community. On the other hand he heard an exchange of views on MPR the
other day in which John Finnegan, former Pioneer Press
editor, was highlighting the fact that the Pioneer Press has a good
record of coverage of the State Capitol.
4. "Them" versus "us"--The
"cableization" of the media has helped balkanize the community and its
underlying sense of connectiveness. Now, he said, people think of "them"
versus "us". They don't feel connected with one another. Latimer
recalled that years ago everyone listened to Jack Benny on Sunday nights.
5. Nature of student body at Macalester--The
students are very idealistic and committed change and helping people, he
said. But they are more hands-on, one-on-one, emphasizing direct
assistance. They are skeptical of a public-governmental programmatic
response. They are respectful of each other and the rest of the class to
a point of political correctness. They also are far to the left in
6. Change precinct caucus-primary system--He
agrees with others who believe the precinct caucus system needs change, as
well as the date of the primary. But he also isn't anxious so see a
longer campaign. He likes the idea of a party providing multiple
endorsements of candidates. Perhaps candidates who subscribe to a set of
principles would receive party endorsement. In discussion it was noted
that the Sabo retirement in the 5th Congressional district is producing
some interesting tests for endorsement-primary system. In this case the
retirement was announced after the precinct caucuses, so the selection at
the convention will be made by delegates selected without reference to any
candidate in the 5th.
7. Advantages of "diverse" districts--Latimer
remembered the legislative district for the late Sen. Nick Coleman. It
included a variety of socio-economic areas, including West 7th, Crocus
Hill and Summit-University. A legislator from such a district will
promote connectedness, not balkanization. Thus, in the interests of
reducing polarization in the Legislature whether district boundaries
should be drawn more to include a variety of socio-economic groups than to
be politically competitive.
8. Constitutional amendments versus
noted that the Minnesota Legislature is considering proposals that would
provide constitutional guarantees for certain functions to receive sales
tax revenues. Latimer said that he hasn't taken a position yet on the
constitutional amendment for transportation but that he's a "purist" and a
believer in the representative form of government, not government by
initiative and referendum. Verne wondered whether the Civic Caucus
should hold a number of educational meetings this summer on the question
of what belongs in the constitution.
9. Importance of issues like immigration and
early childhood education--Latimer
repeated what he had said earlier that he's much more interested in
substantive issues than structural questions. On the matter of
immigration he's a liberal but he's also for law and order. An illegal
immigrant isn't legal.
matter of early childhood education, Latimer said Don Fraser, Nancy
Latimer (George's wife) and others have demonstrated hands down the
benefits of early childhood education.
noted the connection between the transportation amendment and providing
funds for early childhood education. The transportation amendment removes
$600 million a year from the general fund and constitutionally dedicates
the funds to transportation. Clarence is puzzled why child care
advocates and other supporters of education and health and welfare aren't
more concerned about the implications of the transportation amendment.
Latimer said he hates dedicated funds. They demonstrate a lack of
confidence in our ability to govern ourselves.
continuing discussion on early childhood education, Latimer said he
doesn't want whatever funds are made available for early childhood to
disappear in the existing k-12 educational bureaucracy. He noted that
the McKnight Foundation, through Nancy Latimer, has established seven or
eight centers in St. Paul to help four-year-olds learn to read. Some kind
of hybrid system is needed, not just the "cookie-cutter" school system, he
of educational priorities in light of limited finances, the discussion
turned to whether more investment is needed in early childhood than on
high school education, accepting the fact that such a step might appear to
"write off" needs of older children. Latimer restated his feeling that
early childhood needs to take precedence.
10. Educational function of the Civic Caucus--Verne
asked about the usefulness of the educational function provided by the
Civic Caucus. We have about 160 electronic participants who, over the
last six months, have received summaries of some 25 meetings we've had
with thought leaders on issues of
democracy. Latimer said he is very much encouraged by the involvement of
older persons with vast experience in the Civic Caucus. He'd expand that
concept. Too many older people are concerned about their prescriptions
and little more. However, the contribution that such an effort is making
to better public policy decisions is open to question, he said. Latimer
wondered whether some integration with the Citizens League might be
that we in the Civic Caucus are wondering about the usefulness of a
process where we simply provide information, without recommendations.
Some of us believe that it is essential to make recommendations. Latimer
said he is dubious whether we would have impact on our recommendations.
However, he feels that it would be useful for the Civic Caucus to see if
it could write a series of opinion articles for the Star Tribune.
Such articles would establish the Caucus' visibility.
approach is taken on communication, Latimer said the most important factor
is what is said, as against where it is said. If the Civic Caucus has
something to say, and expresses its thoughts in a thorough, well-reasoned
fashion, that is the best contribution it can make.
Possibility of a Leadership Council--Verne
said the Civic Caucus is evaluating whether a special group of thought
leaders might be set up to provide informal counsel to the Civic Caucus
and also be ready to comment when the Legislature's polarization leads to
paralysis.. Latimer said we shouldn't under-emphasize the contribution
that the members of the Caucus itself, with their own experience, can
thanked Latimer 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.