Policymakers would benefit from
more reports with recommendations
A Civic Caucus
Focus on Competitiveness
Interview August 22, 2014
John Adams, Dave Broden
(vice chair), Janis Clay, Pat Davies, Dave Durenberger, Paul Gilje
(coordinator), Randy Johnson, Dan Loritz (chair), Dana Schroeder,
Clarence Shallbetter. By phone: Audrey Clay.
Every week, readers offer
their thoughts on Civic Caucus reports of interviews. A few months
ago, former U.S. Senator Dave Durenberger, in addition to offering his
comments on a Civic Caucus interview with officials of the University
of Minnesota, raised questions about the Civic Caucus itself.
"What is the current role of the Civic
Caucus?" he asked. "To determine what's on the minds of persons in
leadership positions or serious policy thinkers about the present and
future of our community? Or, to play a role via the conversations and
online exchanges in coming to some conclusions which can be more
The answer is both, Durenberger says in this
interview. He believes the Civic Caucus should continue interviewing
policy leaders and also issue reports with its own conclusions, such
The following notes summarize a discussion
with Durenberger about the current environment in which the Civic
Caucus conducts its weekly policy conversations.
Former U.S. Senator Dave
Durenberger believes people in local public leadership positions today
are as qualified or better qualified than people who held those
positions 40 or 50 years ago. He does not believe the same to be true
of elected officials at the state and national levels, because of
ideological partisan politics, perennial elections and campaign
He asserts that some of the institutional
arrangements created in Minnesota in the 1960s and 1970s aren't
working as well 40 or 50 years later. The Civic Caucus has an
experienced membership, he says, who owe it to today's local leaders
to help make these institutions function more effectively in what is
now a different world.
Durenberger says the Civic Caucus fulfills
an important educational role by broadly distributing summaries of the
discussions it convenes with people with ideas on important public
It's also important,
he believes, for the Civic Caucus to put out reports with policy
recommendations. But Civic Caucus members, he says, could also make a
difference by using
the instincts, expertise and wisdom of their years of public-policy
experience to inform and mentor people currently in local and state
He contends that passage of the Affordable
Care Act (ACA) might bring a greater focus on the importance of strong
local government in creating healthy communities, with its goal of
reducing the 40 percent of health care costs that lie in the social
determinants of health.
Dave Durenberger, former
U.S. Senator from Minnesota, recently retired as Senior Health Policy
Fellow at the University of St. Thomas and as chair of the National
Institute of Health Policy, which he founded there in 1998.
Durenberger served in the Senate from
November 1978 to January 1995. He was first elected in a special
election in November 1978 to complete the unexpired term of the late
Sen. Hubert Humphrey, whose position had temporarily been filled by
Humphrey's wife, Muriel. Durenberger was reelected in 1982 and 1988.
During his time in the Senate, he served as chairman of the Select
Committee on Intelligence, the Health Subcommittee of the Senate
Finance Committee, and the Intergovernmental Relations Subcommittee.
Prior to his election to the Senate, he
served in the U.S. Army as an officer in Military Intelligence and as
a reserve Civil Affairs and Military Government officer. He practiced
law in South St. Paul with Harold LeVander and served as his chief of
staff when LeVander served as governor from 1967 to 1971. From 1971 to
1978, he was counsel for Legal and Community Affairs at the H.B.
Fuller Company in St. Paul.
He is author of Prescription for Change
and Neither Madmen Nor Messiahs and teaches and speaks
nationally on the future of health-care delivery and policy. He has a
B.A. in political science, history and English from St. John's
University in Collegeville, Minn., and a J.D. from the University of
Minnesota School of Law.
process is grievously disconnected today. The problem, Durenberger
said, is the prominence of money and the U.S. Supreme Court's
Citizens United decision that
prohibits the government from restricting
political expenditures by
labor unions and other associations.
"Today," he said, "if you run a business and
you make a lot of money and then run for public office, other people
who make a lot of money are going to give their money to your
campaign, because they know you'll put your own money into the
campaign, if it looks like you're going to lose. There's not much we
can do about that one."
People in local public leadership positions
today are as qualified or better qualified than people who were in
those positions 40 or 50 years ago. Durenberger said he sees those
qualifications in the gender, preparation, experience, motivation and
political independence of people in elected and appointed local
government positions today. He believes they are probably better
qualified today to take on the kind of challenges they face than those
of us who were in those positions back then.
Durenberger does not share this opinion
about people in elected positions at the state and national level,
where "ideological partisan politics, perennial elections, and
campaign financing have destroyed both the power of the informed
citizen and that citizen's ability to be elected to state or national
office from anything but the extremes."
An interviewer disagreed with Durenberger's
assertion that leaders today are better prepared. The interviewer said
he thinks it's just the opposite. He had spoken recently to a group of
150 Teach for America corps members, who are working in the Twin
Cities to help prepare high school students for college. He said only
a few of the corps members had taken college courses in 20th-century
world history or late 20th-century U.S. history and none
had studied the cultural geography of the U.S.
"How will we help high school students learn
to confront the world today if the people teaching them don't know how
the world works?" the interviewer asked. Young people need to learn
how to get involved to make a difference, he said, but many of their
professors are careerists and are not necessarily involved in groups
like the Citizens League.
"Fifty years ago," the interviewer
continued, "the things people knew and the things they needed to know
to be effective, coupled with the value system they brought to their
public-policy involvement, were different from today." He believes
young people today don't know how things work. "They don't know what
they need to know, compared with the challenges of today's complicated
world," he said.
The interviewer claimed that value systems
are different today. He pointed out that Donald Dayton (former CEO of
Dayton's) made time to be heavily involved in public policy because he
thought it was important and thought private business and public
business are the same.
We all have a shared heritage in civic
activity. Durenberger said back in the 1960s and 1970s, the
reformers in the Legislature came to the table with something to talk
about, because many had a background with reports from the Citizens
League and other organizations. "There is something special about all
of us who got tutored into public policymaking through the Citizens
League," he said.
Some of the institutional arrangements in
Minnesota that were created in the 1960s and 1970s, many by the
efforts of Citizens League members, don't appear to be working as well
40 or 50 years later. The world is different now, Durenberger
said, after 40 or 50 years of increased national and state financing
and regulatory pressure on many of the local government institutions
that implement critical public policy.
"At the federal level, the progressive
conservatives saw the problems of civil rights and gender bias and we
did something about it," he said. "We made the difference between the
Democrats and the Republicans. We did it with the environmental issues
and all the water issues. We just kept loading this stuff on."
"The conservatives didn't want the national
government doing this stuff," he continued, "so we said the states
should pick up the ball." But, Durenberger said, the federal
government didn't follow through with the necessary funding.
"The progressive conservatives are part of
the problem," he said. "We did create a lot of these institutions. We
were meeting a challenge of how you get more people involved and how
you have a better outcome at the end."
The Civic Caucus has an experienced
membership who could be resources to assist in systems change in these
institutions. "We who created the Metropolitan Council, Fiscal
Disparities, etc., owe to today's local leaders help in making the
institutional arrangements we helped create function more effectively
to empower community leadership," Durenberger said.
The Civic Caucus serves an important role by
providing a forum for people with ideas on improved governance, policy
formulation and policy implementation.
These discussions help educate others
through distribution of the discussion summaries to a broad e-mail
audience, Durenberger said. Those online participants, he believes,
can help give some sense of the value and priority to the community of
the ideas discussed in the forums.
It's important for the Civic Caucus to put
out reports. An interviewer asked Durenberger how important it is
for the Civic Caucus to put out reports with recommendations and what
the frequency of such reports should be. The interviewer noted that
the great strength of many reports from civic organizations is that
they actually propose something. Durenberger responded that he thinks
it's important, but the Caucus should take on this broader role of
mentoring, as well, and not spend a whole year putting together a
Civic organizations help bring people
together in a common effort, an interviewer said. He cited successful
Citizens League reports on setting up institutions and on dealing with
tax and finance issues, especially the property tax.
But people involved in the Civic Caucus
could also make a difference by mentoring people in local and state
public office. Durenberger said people with years of public-policy
experience could "take all the instincts, the expertise and the wisdom
we collectively have generated over time and commit that to informing
and mentoring people in local and state public office. We'd make quite
a difference. It would help policymakers confront the opportunity to
change the role of government."
Passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA)
might provide an opportunity to focus again on governance at the local
level and on the difficulty of meeting community needs through
metropolitan, state or national governments. Durenberger said the
ACA focuses on systemic institutional and professional reform, with an
"essential focus" on reducing the cost consequences of the social
determinants of poor health and safety, such as poverty, immigration,
housing, education, health care, mental health and addiction.
"Having healthy communities is critical,
since 40 percent of the costs of health care lie in the social
determinants of health," he said.
One role of government is to make choices
possible, but not to dictate them.
The federal government's role in K-12
education should be simply financing part of the costs and redirecting
financing to follow the reform. Durenberger said the federal
government has a legitimate role in education, because without its
involvement, "one-third of the states would stick it to the poor and
the voiceless." But education should be mostly done by the local
community, with the help of the state, he said.
Minnesota has many resources to draw on to
come up with good ideas. An interviewer commented that creative
proposals from civic organizations aren't the final word. Those
proposals stimulate others to come up with their own. The interviewer
recounted that when the Citizens League came up with the idea of the
Metropolitan Council, a legislator quickly came up with a slightly
different proposal that was enacted into law. The Citizens League
proposal became the stimulus for legislative action. The interviewer
said more organizations must recognize how important it is for them to
generate ideas, to get the debate going, even though their own ideas
won't necessarily be enacted exactly as advanced.
It's important to think ahead to try to do
something for the collective good. Durenberger said we need to
seize opportunities to better inform those who are in office now and
to challenge them to think differently. An interviewer commented that
we currently have an outstanding Legislature, which could be working
on solutions to issues like pollution, the water supply,
experimentation with solar and wind energy, changing the electrical
grid, and judicial elections. "But legislators are not creators of
ideas," the interviewer said. "We must give them ideas on a silver
Another interviewer commented that
founder of the Civic Caucus, once advised him that generalized
objectives won't get us anywhere; we need specific action that will
effectively achieve what we want to achieve.
The Civic Caucus
is a non-partisan,
tax-exempt educational organization. The Interview Group
includes persons of varying political persuasions,
reflecting years of leadership in politics and
business. Click here
to see a short personal background of each.
S. Adams, David Broden, Audrey Clay, Janis Clay, Pat Davies, Bill
Frenzel, Paul Gilje (coordinator), Randy Johnson, Sallie Kemper, Ted
Kolderie, Dan Loritz (chair),
Tim McDonald, Bruce Mooty, John Mooty, Jim Olson, Paul Ostrow, Wayne
Popham, Dana Schroeder, Clarence Shallbetter, and Fred Zimmerman