Civic Caucus Internal Discussion - Civic Process 3
Preserve learning and teaching
as central roles for the Civic Caucus
October 2, 2015
Present John Adams, Steve
Anderson, Dave Broden (vice chair), Pat Davies, Paul Gilje
(executive director), Randy Johnson, Sallie Kemper (associate
director), Dan Loritz(chair), Paul Ostrow, Dana Schroeder (associate
director), Clarence Shallbetter.
Essential aspects of
civic life in Minnesota include (1) learning and teaching about the
state's public problems and opportunities; (2) coming up with
specific proposals for action; and (3) taking action. Results of its
new inquiry into the state's civic infrastructure and process will
help reveal what changes the Civic Caucus should make in its central
Regardless of that outcome, the Civic
Caucus should continue to concentrate on learning and teaching via
its weekly interviews and in-depth e-mail reports of its interviews.
To effectively carry out its role, the Civic Caucus should place
high priority on carefully selecting (a) topics for
interviews, (b) the group conducting the interviews, (c) individuals
it invites for interviews, and (d) questions it asks in interviews.
The Civic Caucus should enlist younger
people and people of varied ethic and cultural backgrounds as
interviewers and interviewees. The Civic Caucus must preserve its
strictly nonpartisan, non-special-interest approach.
Note: The use of
the word "interviewer" in the discussion notes below refers to
members of the Civic Caucus interview group who were participants in
this internal discussion session.
Readers who responded to the Civic
Caucus's e-mail reporting its Sept. 11, 2015, internal discussion
agreed that the Civic Caucus should conduct interviews on the
overall public-policy development process in Minnesota. Civic
Caucus Associate Director Sallie Kemper gave a review of the written
responses to the Caucus's e-mail reporting on the group's Sept. 11,
2015, internal discussion. That meeting featured a discussion of
whether the Caucus should undertake a review of Minnesota's process,
past and present, for generating policy proposals to help solve its
most difficult problems.
Kemper said that as of October 2, only 22
had people responded to the e-mailed notes of the Sept. 11 meeting,
by answering questions posed in the e-mail and/or sending back
written responses. She noted that such a limited response does not
permit drawing conclusions about a general level of support for the
statements posed. She reported that those responders to date have
replied to the e-mail questions as follows:
20 of the 22 responders moderately or strongly agreed that the
topic discussed at the Sept. 14 meeting is of value. One responder
16 responders agreed that further study of the topic is
warranted. One responder strongly disagreed.
21 of 22 responders agreed that a vital part of a state's
livability is the ability of its people to devise solutions to
20 responders agreed that Minnesota's comparative advantage in
public policy, built up over several decades, is at risk.
21 responders agreed that given the gravity of today's
problems, such as gaps in income and education, the state couldn't
rest on past accomplishments.
All 22 responders agreed that new proposals addressing today's
problems are needed.
21 responders agreed that the Civic Caucus should conduct
interviews on the overall public-policy development process: how
civic and community institutions respond to events, analyze
options, devise proposals and take action.
Some readers said the Civic Caucus ought
to use the information it generates to develop solutions to
problems. Kemper analyzed the written comments offered by the
responders and reported the replies included two main themes:
1. Frustration about lack of further
action on issues. The Civic Caucus interviews and interview
notes sent by e-mail are great, but then what happens? What do you
do? We see no action. What can you do with all this information to
identify, develop and promote solutions? The Caucus is all talk and
no action. The Caucus needs to transform its findings into action or
get them into the hands of those who can. It's frustrating that the
Caucus discerns problems and possible solutions, but no one seems to
take up its clarion call to action.
2. Anguish about the demise of
cooperation. There were lamentations over the current partisan
divide, the intolerance for bipartisan cooperation and the powers
that be remaining stuck in old thinking. It's good for people to
come up with wonderful policy proposals, but they die because of the
intransigent partisan divide.
In addition, Kemper said, there were two
subthemes in the written comments:
1. Concern about diversity of
interviewers. Three people called into question the makeup of
the interview group and its lack of diversity. One said there should
be more regular citizens and fewer experts.
2. Questions about transparency of the
Caucus. Several people commented on the relative "opaqueness" of
the Civic Caucus. "One suggested that we are viewed somewhat as the
wizard behind the curtain," Kemper said. Some responders said it is
not readily understandable who the Caucus is, what it purports to do
and who it represents. One noted that a number of people who are
active in public affairs are completely unaware of the Civic Caucus.
There are two models the Civic Caucus is
discussing, both from the past.
An interviewer commented that one is a
policy action role and one is a teaching role
1. The first model, policy action, comes
from a time when there was an overlap between the two parties and
civic groups tried to identify feasible solutions that could find a
home with people interested in solving a problem;
2. The second model, a teaching role, is
similar to former Minneapolis Mayor Art Naftalin's 500 interviews on
his Minnesota Issues public-affairs program, broadcast on
Twin Cities public television from 1976 to 1987. He interviewed
elected officials, thought leaders and people involved in public
affairs on a variety of topics
The first is a model of policy proposals
and action, the interviewer said, and the second is a model of
asking questions and passing on information to people.
The interviewer continued, saying the
Civic Caucus has interviewed a number of people involved in
vocational-technical education and a number of people more broadly
involved in preparing young people for life. "If we had zeroed in on
those people," he said, "and made them tell us what we can do and
how we can do things that will make a difference down the road, we
could lay that out as an action plan from the point of view of
people who are in the business. But we usually didn't get that far."
Another interviewer noted that the model
used in the past by some civic groups included not only a study
process, but also a strong effort to implement whatever proposal was
developed during the study process. He said the Civic Caucus in its
history faced that issue: are we going to convince the Legislature
or the county board to endorse a proposal? "The conclusion was that
we didn't have the capacity," he said. "That approach is very
The political culture has changed. An
interviewer commented that today issues are seen as interests while
leadership is defined as negotiating among those interests to find a
compromise among all special interests. "That doesn't mean it's good
public policy; more often than not, it's not," he said. "People
don't know how to take us, because the radical part of the Civic
Caucus is that we don't carry water for anybody. What other group
out there can you say that about?"
Another interviewer agreed. "You don't put
a committee together composed of one representative of each
aggrieved group," he said. "It's almost guaranteed you're not going
to get a good answer. You have to get people who can stand back and
look at the bigger picture. The politics of today are the politics
of identity, so you have to deal with the fact that people look at
things through very narrow eyes and don't know about or care about
the bigger picture. In the long tradition of Minnesota politics till
several decades ago, there were people who did think of the larger
picture as the first thing they thought about and then negotiated
the details later."
The same interviewer said that at the
recent first meeting of the new Citizens League task force on the
Metropolitan Council, he tried to ask the question of who represents
the future of the metropolitan area, when Hennepin and Ramsey
Counties are fighting over where to put public facilities, for
Good planning is supposed to be able to
determine, he said, things like where to put sewer and water to
serve the area for the next 30 years. "But planning got pushed into
the background when the Metropolitan Council became the overseer for
a bunch of different operating agencies."
Another interviewer commented that if the
Metropolitan Council is not doing planning, it's not fulfilling its
original function. "Who is responsible for future planning for the
well-being of the state, which is intimately dependent on the
well-being of the metropolitan area?" she asked.
The Civic Caucus has had primarily a
teaching function, illuminating the various sides of large
questions. "We don't have the resources for implementation," an
interviewer said. "What we can do is inform. There isn't any place
else where these kinds of questions are explored in a nonpartisan,
Another interviewer agreed. He said
Harvard Professor Niall Ferguson has written about the collapse of
civic organizations. And Otto Scharmer from MIT has said we are so
dominated today by stakeholders that nobody's looking toward the
future or the common good. "The Civic Caucus has a wonderful
opportunity to take on that role as an educator, to pass on
knowledge," the interviewer said.
The Caucus should focus on how we get
action anywhere in the public-policy domain and how the Civic Caucus
fits into that process. "What is the big picture?" an
interviewer asked. We must be sure we look at the process from the
state standpoint and not just the metro standpoint. He added that we
need the public sector working together with the private sector to
solve public-policy problems. "We need to expand that dialogue. The
strength of Minnesota has been partnership."
Gilje suggested that during the Caucus's
upcoming interviews dealing with human talent, we should also take
the opportunity to ask the interviewees about their views on the
state's civic process.
As part of its focus on human talent, the
Civic Caucus should explore incarceration and its impact on the
African American community. So much of the incarceration relates
to substance abuse, an interviewer said. Another interviewer said
society is missing the talent contribution from incarcerated people
and is spending "a ton" of money that could be better spent. "We
lose on both fronts," he said. A third interviewer commented that
the incarceration was not just a war on drugs; it was a war on the
black community. And a fourth interviewer noted that there is a
joint legislative committee currently looking at the question of
What are the questions the Caucus should ask upcoming interviewees
about the civic process?
Interviewers suggested the following:
Are conditions today different from the past so that a new or
different form of civic process is needed?
How has the significant increase in public-policy groups
and/or special interest groups impacted the evolution of positive
Are useful proposals being advanced? If so, what sources seem
to be the best?
How does and will the Internet and social media impact the
formulation of public-policy content and recommendations?
Are people's personal schedules interfering with their civic
activity more today than in the past?
What public-policy problems are most in need of proposals
Is there as great a need today to work on structural problems
as in the past? Was there the same urgency in the past to work on
social problems as today?
Is there a greater need today to emphasize identifying
possible solutions and devising proposals?
Who in the civic process represents the future?
How are we educating young people to be citizens?
How has the state legislative process evolved and how is it
How has the civic process evolved over the past 40 years?
What was the civic infrastructure in the past? What do people
think it should be if it isn't what it was? How did it work? How
should it work?
Are there still classes in schools on civics or government and
on Minnesota history?
How can young people come to adulthood not having a clue about
the governance system of our country and how it works at any
How can we help young people understand how the civic process
used to work?
Are we a republic or a democracy?
Are teachers comfortable having an open conversation about
difficult topics like gun control or foreign policy?
An interviewer said the civic process is
dying because nobody joins anything. People are losing hope, because
they're so self-focused. Another interviewer agreed, saying people
are growing more and more frustrated with the civic process, so
they're looking outside the parties in the presidential race.
The group suggested a number of potential
interviewees on the topic of the civic process. One interviewer
suggested that the Civic Caucus host a public forum featuring people
we've interviewed about the civic process.
We need a strategy for helping young
people understand how the civic process works. An interviewer
said we should interview people who can give us a strategy for
tapping into the energy of young people who want to change things.
These young people will be in the Legislature in 15 years or will be
doing other things in the future that people we talk to are doing
today. "Let's connect with the place where the education is
happening and help steer it toward a result that five years from
today we can be proud of." Another interviewer commented, "We need
to change the farm system for the Legislature."
People used to come to Minnesota to see
how we were doing what we were doing. Some civic organizations
get members by saying certain things, Loritz said. "They get their
members roused up, but there's not a general civic discussion.
They're all trying to support what their members want. But there was
a time when people came here to see how we were doing what we were
"They came here because there were a
number of things that had been done that were novel, original, and
unique to this area," an interviewer said. "Fiscal Disparities was
preeminent. They couldn't believe it. How could you pass something
that shares the wealth?"
Another interviewer said there was a time
in Minnesota when labor, government and business talked with each
other and worked together as a team.
Gilje suggested that the Caucus interview
Sean Kershaw, executive director of the Citizens League, to discuss
the aims and philosophy of the League, based on a 1953 report it
republished last year. "The Citizens League strategy worked at one
time," Loritz said.
An interviewer countered that there are a
lot of factors that helped that strategy work that are no longer
here. The Cowles newspapers were open to the Citizens League's ideas
and endorsed those they liked. Everyone read the newspaper then.
"That's all gone away now," he said. "We can't redesign the past."
But, he said, "The ground is ripe for
someone to come along and say there's a set of general interests out
there. Thoughtful people already see there's a problem. Sooner or
later something's going to change. People are saying we've got to
get out in front of this in a different way. There's going to be a
hunger for another way to think about what we're doing that's going
to get the job done."
It's not certain that the Civic Caucus
will be able to come up with a proposal for a different civic
infrastructure, but it should at least stimulate the conversation.
Loritz asked whether the Civic Caucus could come to a conclusion
about what we think the civic infrastructure should be. An
interviewer responded, "There's no harm in giving it a go. There's
no harm in trying to stimulate the conversation. There's a lot to be
gained from poking at the conscience of this community."
Many people have talked to him, Loritz
said, since the notes of the Civic Caucus's Sept. 11th internal
discussion were sent out. People said they didn't know if it's
possible for the Caucus to come up with a proposal for a renewed
civic process, but somebody should try.
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 (executive director), Dwight Johnson, Randy Johnson, Sallie
Kemper, Ted Kolderie,
Dan Loritz (chair), Tim McDonald, Bruce Mooty, Jim Olson, Paul Ostrow, Wayne
Popham, Dana Schroeder, Clarence Shallbetter, and Fred Zimmermany,