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of Discussion with former Governor Arne Carlson
Civic Caucus, Sunsets
Restaurant, Wayzata, MN
Verne Johnson (Chair); Dan Loritz; Tim McDonald; Wayne Popham; Bob White
Context of the meeting—Former
Governor Arne Carlson is with us today to discuss leadership issues in the
coming gubernatorial campaign.
A Republican, Carlson
has a history—throughout his political career—of obtaining and holding
elected office without explicit party endorsement. He is one of the string
of three governors from Perpich through Ventura who was elected without
having first won the party endorsement.
Welcome and introductions—The
Governor, born in the Bronx of New York City, came to the state to attend
graduate school at the University of Minnesota. He has a long history in
public office going back to his first election to the Minneapolis City
Council in 1965. From there he served in the Minnesota House of
Representatives, as State Auditor, and as its chief executive.
Comments and discussion—During
Carlson's comments and in discussion, the following points were raised:
1. Fiscal situation of the state--“When
I came to Minnesota it was obvious the Big Middle governed everything. Now
the fringes govern with Dems wanting to tax—you could confiscate
everything from the above-$500k crowd and still be unable to reconcile our
budget gaps—and Republicans who want to ignore the seriousness of the
two things our state leaders need to do: “Get used to living on less, and
bring the public in.” Do we really need to have every public service, or
can we arrange new methods of consolidation?
country nor the state has resolved its financial problems, he argued, they
are merely pushing them off to the future.
asked: Do you see a way through it?
need to sit down with President Obama and have a sober discussion. I don’t
know if other states are in this position, but perhaps the Feds could
consider a loan program or second stimulus, as much as I hate to say
that.” We need to have some federal accommodation, he concluded; there
needs to be limited sharing of the burden by the federal government. If
our deficit reaches $6 billion or $7 billion, we will need federal help.
2. Political climate in the state--Many
people today are concerned that the state is held back by an overly
hostile political climate. To this, Carlson had a few thoughts.
political climate is always harsh. He remembered his first year in office:
“The hardest year of my life. When we came in we had a $2.3 billion
deficit. Everything was dried up. Operating in a financial crisis like
that is like a 4th down with 26 to go. You can throw out 90
percent of your playbook.”
politics were absolutely dreadful. We came in, amateurish—all newcomers to
the office are amateurish.” The campaign had been relatively short, his
having come to it late, so they were yet to become familiar with all the
players. “We hastily set up committees to select managers. Many never
worked in a political setting and most I had not met. Hence, the shakedown
cruise was rough.”
3. The evolution of the role of the political
role of the political party seems to have changed, a member observed.
noted that Minnesota is not accomplishing what it used to—is it because
those that were most effective did not need to adhere to political party?
Yes, perhaps, Carlson replied, talking on it some.
is undergoing a very fundamental change that we have been slow to pick
up,” with the decline of the role of the business community. Business
leaders were very involved in public affairs, through organizations like
the Citizens League and their Friday morning Policy Advisory Committees.
Now their focus is more on the global competition and market expectations.
had the hey day of public affairs,” he said, “where the caliber of people
involved in the parties was just incredible. And at the League gatherings
you could have the president of a bank sitting next to a labor leader,
sitting next to ordinary citizens.” Legislators read the bills, citizens
understood the policy.
did not rest with the political community, he said, but with business and
civic-mined individuals channeled through parties and civic groups.
to be that we had policy as a goal” of political parties, he said. Now
politics is the goal.
have people who are elected to build up staffs. When staff grows, it tends
to prop up the politicians and the goals are more political and less
4. The role of Governors in calling commissions--“When
you come into office and want to make a change, the status-quo is
grandfathered in and you build on top of that.” Politically, it was the
only feasible route. Commissions, however, were a great way to get ideas
officials should see themselves as facilitators,” he said. “God did not
endow those of us elected with being able to solve all the problems on our
that the state needs to spin off as many study groups as it can—from the
office of the Governor, the Legislature, or private organizations.
“Otherwise, as Curt Johnson says, ‘You can get awfully good at sitting
around and admiring the problem.’”
avoidance is the demon.”
time as governor, Carlson brought together commissions continually to work
on problems. Governors often did that.
asked about a report put together in 1995 by John Brandl and Vin Weber in
1995, the result of a commission convened by Carlson. “It was such a good
report,” he said, with good recommendations, “but nothing seemed to come
of it?” (For a copy of that report, contact email@example.com.)
report did have good results,” he said, “particularly with the emphasis on
long-term planning.” The process was good. People came together and
cooperated. The bureaucrats worked with the commission members.
5. Idea-generation in the state--“We
need to call on all the good thinkers in the state,” he said. “People like
Ted Kolderie and Curt Johnson,” for two. “Curt made extraordinary
contributions on health care that will probably never be fully recognized.
He handled health care infinitely better than Obama has.”
sorts of people are the ones who can bring solutions to the challenges
facing the state. It is difficult for Governors to bear too much of that
burden, or they will risk over-reaching.
executives we all fall into the trap of the Ambitious Agenda. The more
ambitious, the greater the resistance will be. You need to focus publicly
on only one initiative, though you also need to have a larger plan. CEO’s
start to get into trouble when they talk about two or more things at
once.” Obama has the economy and health care now, he said, and those two
are linked—but in the public’s eye they’re separate. It’s making his job
of Minnesota is innovation. We need to innovate. “Our biggest disadvantage
is what Jimmy Carter stumbled on when he called us the ‘Rust Belt.’
Minnesota has to recognize its trying to remodel its old infrastructure,
which is more challenging than building anew.”
had a hey day. The ingredients of that hey day no longer exist. But we
still have the interest of people for cooperative action.
6. Public financing of elections--“The
Citizens League should put public funding of campaigns on the table,” he
said. “Right now, too much public policy has been developed by funding
sources and not the public.” Without thinking about what the Constitution
says,” we need to pursue the question of campaign regulation. Parties
should take a pledge not to endorse anyone who does not abide by campaign
7. Closing thoughts--The
chair asked Carlson if he had any last thoughts. “There needs to be more
long-term planning for the state,” he remarked. “The big middle has to
take its place back.”
Asked for suggestions
for the Caucus’ coming statement on the future of the state, Carlson said:
“Collective action. And say, to gubernatorial candidates, ‘Drop the
slogans and tell the truth.’”
Thanks. to former
Governor Carlson for his time and thoughts.