The Civic Caucus
8301 Creekside Circle #920,
Bloomington, MN 55437
March 9, 2012
Notes of the Discussion
Verne Johnson (chair), David Broden (phone), Janis Clay (phone), Pat
Davies, Paul Gilje, Sallie Kemper, Clarence Shallbetter, Dwight Johnson,
Dan Loritz, Tim McDonald
Summary of discussion
- Ted Kolderie, Senior Fellow at the Center
for Policy Studies, offers one definition of Minnesota's vision: "to be
and remain the best state in America." This has been our vision, he said,
and can be for the future - but coming to consensus on that definition
requires a new generation of leadership to commit to the charge.
A. Introduction of speaker
- Ted Kolderie has worked during his career
on large public-sector systems design and legislative policy. Through the
1960s and '70s, he focused on urban and metropolitan affairs and public
finance. He began working in the 1970's with questions about the redesign
of the operating side of the public sector with the Public Service Options
project. He was involved nationally on these questions with the Rand
Corporation, SRI International, the Urban Institute and others.
During the 1980's he ran the Public Services
Redesign Project while at the University of Minnesota School of Public
Affairs. By mid-1980 the project's work began to focus on the redesign of
K-12 public education. He and his associates developed Education|Evolving
as a 'design shop' for education strategy, state and national. Since 2009
he has again been closely involved with the broader questions about the
redesign of major public systems, both governmental and non-governmental.
A graduate of Carleton College and of the
Woodrow Wilson School of Public Affairs at Princeton University, Ted was
previously a reporter and editorial writer for the Minneapolis Star and
Tribune, executive director of the Citizens League and a senior fellow at
the University of Minnesota's Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
- In recent months the Civic Caucus has
encountered many speakers returning frequently to the theme of Minnesota's
lacking a well defined, broadly accepted overall vision for the future of
the state. We invited Ted Kolderie to share his response to the following
summation of the Caucus' present assessment of this issue:
Vying for status in an increasingly competitive
global market requires a concerted effort if Minnesota expects to succeed
as a "top tier" state. Citizens, business interests, government and civic
institutions need to rally around a clear vision of what the state should
be striving for in order to retain its prominence. In brief, the issue
could be stated:
PROBLEM: Minnesota lacks a
The state should have a sense of direction
and common goals.
Get back to work on being the best state in
Members of the Civic Caucus believe this issue
is sufficiently concerning to warrant further discussion focused
specifically on this problem. In our meeting today, Ted Kolderie responds
to the Caucus' definition of the problem, reviews the state's history of
uniting around a common vision and suggests ways to adapt that historical
approach to meet present circumstances. The following notes summarize his
remarks during the discussion.
C. Kolderie's Response.
Step one: Don't talk about the need for a
"'Visions' are hard concepts to define,"
Kolderie began. When Harlan Cleveland was at the Humphrey Institute he
brought in James Callaghan, the former prime minister of Britain. In a
discussion at the Institute Callaghan said: "I don't think there was ever
anyone better than I was at knowing what the boys in the Tea Room would go
for. But I have no vision of the future".
A statement of vision must meet several tests.
It must be substantive. It must be aspirational, but at the same time,
realistic. And finally, it must be simple.
Citing other good examples, Kolderie recalled
that Dean Acheson once proposed that we're trying to create a world in
which we can live in peace and continue to develop our own society. That's
a good aspirational vision, Kolderie said.
He also cited a strategic director from a
Minnesota business that sought a worthy vision for his company. He went
into a company retreat with simple question, "how can we become a great
corporation?" That's simple, but an example of a vision with substance,
Instead, see that Minnesota has always had a
Minnesota has always had a vision, Kolderie
said. The people that came here from the Atlantic states brought with them
a desire to have here in the Midwest communities and institutions as good
as the ones they remembered out east. The vision was then, has been
through the years and is now: to have here institutions of top national
Minnesota has always wanted to "punch above its
weight" - to account for more than the 2 percent (now closer to 1.5
percent) proportion it represents of the national population. And we've
done that, Kolderie said. We have had a couple of candidates for
Presidency, two members of the federal Supreme Court. We largely grow our
own business and in the Twin Cities have the largest number of fortune 500
companies per capita of any metro region outside of Manhattan.
"I grew up in Omaha. Nebraska looked up to
Minnesota - they always beat us in football," he added. Minnesota was
always a "big deal".
When the Federal Reserve System was established,
Minnesota claimed one of the Fed's bank locations. Minnesotans have always
wanted to have a high quality of life, a quality of life in general that
was superior to that of other states.
In his 2003 research analyzing the effectiveness
of state governments, Jack Frymier took every statistic he could find on
the states to generate an overall ranking. His book Culture of the
"Minnesota sells a high quality product at a
high price," Kolderie said. "We're about good public housekeeping,
municipal maintenance, public infrastructure and public services. Plus we
value highly our private arts and cultural facilities. We have the lowest
proportion of medically uninsured. I remember Minnesota being proud during
the 1940's of having the lowest rejection-rate in the military draft. The
list goes on and on. You see this in Frymier's book." Not all states seek
those same goals, he added. Some sell a low quality product at a low
price. Some have lower quality at a similar price. Dan Elazar, a political
scientist noted for his work on political culture, described Minnesota as
a "culture of the commonwealth."
Two requirements must be met to be the leading
Kolderie said two components appear necessary
for Minnesota to have maintained a leading position among states: our
ability to leverage our resources effectively and our ability to adapt and
change our institutions.
Combine resources to compete effectively. We
recognized early on that we had to combine our resources to produce
institutions -- academic, cultural, corporate, civic and governmental --
big enough to compete nationally.
This pattern was established early. In the
mid-1860's, the legislature decided to combine the state and land grant
universities and locate the combined institution in the state's population
center as the University of Minnesota. Minnesota was the only state to do
this, Kolderie said. "Divide your resources for elementary-secondary
education", President Folwell famously said, "(but) concentrate your
resources for higher education. Found but one university."
People in Minnesota instinctively and
collectively accepted the notion that the health and prosperity of the
metropolitan area gave Minnesota a status other nearby states did not
have. In the 1960s the legislators purposefully sought not to have the
different parts of the region go to war with each other as some were doing
As a consequence we have almost everything in
the Metro: the University, the state capital, the prison, the state fair,
the headquarters of most all major corporations, the theater and arts.
Substantially all major communal assets are concentrated here.
Encourage institutional adaptation. The
second factor in becoming a leading state,Kolderie said, is our having had
civic and government institutions with a superior ability to adapt and
change. These days, however, this is tougher because the challenge now is
to re-make existing institutions rather than to develop something
In the late 1950's when the question of
major-league professional sports appeared, the question was whether
Minneapolis and Saint Paul wanted to be the 27th and 43rd
largest cities in the country; or whether they'd think of themselves as
one community and be 15th largest. There was no debate about
it, Kolderie said. Private sector leaders, including the corporate CEOs,
committed to regional unification.
Three major challenges face us today.
The enduring vision of Minnesota, one that John
Fisher, the editor of Harper's Magazine, summarized as The State that
Works, faces three major challenges:
Everything's getting bigger nationwide- businesses as
well as populations - and it's easier for other states to get bigger
than for us to get bigger. Today as the local business firms grow to be
more international in scope their headquarters town is becoming less
important. For some the tradition holds on, but it's becoming less and
less influential. Part of our problem is we have no "hinterland",
Kolderie said. He said he'd once challenged someone from the baseball
world about the Twins' being a "small market team". "I noted that
Minneapolis-Saint Paul is larger than several other cities not described
as 'small-market'." The response was, "But you have no hinterland."
Lloyd Johnson said much the same thing when he was CEO of Norwest
Corporation. "We're the headquarters for the North Woods and the
Northern Plains," he noted. "Nobody lives there", was the response. And
Norwest went to the West Coast.
The fiscal challenge.
We used to run a split-level state - the
state provided one level of service statewide, and if Minneapolis and
Saint Paul or Hennepin and Ramsey counties wanted to do something extra
they'd add their own level of service. For example the state would pay
for the inner two lanes of a road. If four lanes were needed in the
metropolitan area, the local counties paid for the additional two lanes.
After the election of 1972 when the DFL took
full control of government their program was essentially to spread the
metropolitan level of service statewide to schools, universities,
hospitals, roads. That has naturally put some pressure on the state
More recently the constraints on spending,
partly economic and partly political, have put our basic deal of a
high level of service at a relatively high price at risk, Kolderie
said. Can we keep up the high quality?
Deterioration of civic infrastructure.
In his 2006 speech,
The Cold Sunbelt (see http://tinyurl.com/3fws35o) Kolderie listed
several forums in which serious issues used to be studied and discussed.
With their disappearance or decline we have lost a lot of our capacity
for raising and resolving issues, anticipating opportunities and
problems, and generally operating as an opportunity-driven polity,
rather than a crisis-driven state.
"I'm cautious currently about the fact that
we're so much into cursing the darkness. We just spend so much time
talking about what's going wrong and not identifying opportunities and
Minnesota defies national perception.
The Metro region had a big economic sag after
World War I, and during the Great Depression. In 1936 Fortune wrote
about the decline of the Twin Cities, basically saying, "It's over". The
timber was gone; the milling industry was moving out or dying; now the
truck strikes had ended the ability to exploit labor.
But Fortune could not have been more wrong. Ten
years later a huge revival of civic and economic life was under way. The
businesses grew up and became national. We built an airport and were back
to the theme of doing big things well. In the '70s we were the only
growing northern metropolitan area.
During WWII young people in business and law
began to gather in networking groups - "cells" - that eventually combined
to become the Citizens League. The DFL pulled itself together. Mayor
Hubert Humphrey got busy changing Minneapolis.
Kolderie said he thinks a large part of this
growth had to do with the Cowles' arrival, putting together the three
Minneapolis newspapers. They turned their attention toward supporting the
development of a strong civic, business, and governmental culture,
cleaning up the police department, ending isolationism, getting rid of the
anti-Semitic tag that had been hung on Minneapolis.
Other cities have had a vision, Kolderie
observed: Denver had a good intuition, as many Chicago institutions moved
to Washington, to become the Western capital. Indianapolis decided they
would become the collegiate sports center. Atlanta had a campaign called
"America's Next Great City", though that didn't work out as planned.
Get to work on making Minnesota a leading state.
We want to be "big time". We want to stay in the
top tier, to remain, as we are now, the 16th largest in the
country. We want to continue to be at the top of all the "best of" lists.
Leadership will need to emerge among the next
generation to build a productive civic culture up again. "We're going to
have to start over. We can't impose the old way on the new systems. We
need to prune down to the roots and let the plant re-grow."
He provided some steps:
A group could make a proposal to one of the local foundations to
finance a study defining where Minnesota stands currently with respect
to the goal of being a nation-leading state.
A successful vision needs a method to assure follow-up. Something
useful a group of civic-minded individuals could do is set down a series
of benchmarks that the state would want to meet. First you want to know
where we are, then what would represent a measure of progress and a good
rate of progress. The group could follow the old Citizens League process
of doing research, determining findings, drawing conclusions, and making
If that group could get some money, it could develop a 'report card'
on key areas, showing realistic goals and benchmarks to measure
The group could identify and then link/network with other
individuals and groups sharing this vision.
The business community used to be the key
leaders in this kind of effort because when headquartered here and when
run by people who grew up here and when doing much of their business here
they had a vested interest in Minnesota's success. But with globalization,
business leaders are too often less concerned with the local community
than before. Their focus is now national and international. Consequently,
we need to engage the "can't run" institutions in the state, those whose
success is still closely aligned with the success of the state, as
business used to be. Governments, arts and cultural institutions,
hospitals, foundations - those are the ones you have to build on, because
those are the ones that are firmly planted here, Kolderie said.
To close Kolderie said the main task for those
seeking to move Minnesota up is to remind the state of what its vision has
always been and to organize with others invested in the state's success to
do the work needed to realize that vision. He suggests that we start by
assuming that Minnesota has this vision, then networking to find people
who share this vision and who remain deeply invested in the state's
success. He advises organizing with this group to get them contributing to
a strategic plan - perhaps with an open-source format - for implementing
the vision and meeting the benchmarks. He suggests this would be an
effective way to "start building a bigger thing than you have around this
The chair thanked Kolderie for the helpful visit.
The Civic Caucus
is a non-partisan,
tax-exempt educational organization. The Core participants
include persons of varying political persuasions, reflecting years of leadership in politics and
business. Click here
to see a short personal background of each.
Verne C. Johnson, chair; David Broden, Marianne Curry,
Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland, Marina Lyon,
Joe Mansky, John Mooty, Jim Olson,
and Wayne Popham