Restore value that an
effectivecivic infrastructure once offered Minnesota
Minnesota’s Civic Process
Interview October 9, 2015
Steve Anderson, Dave
Durenberger, Paul Gilje (executive director), Randy Johnson, Sallie
Kemper (associate director), Ted Kolderie, Dan Loritz (chair), Paul
Ostrow, Amita Ramachandran, Bill Ridelius, Dana Schroeder (associate
director), Clarence Shallbetter, Mike Temali. By phone: Janis Clay.
According to former U.S.
Senator Dave Durenberger, the most important strength of the Twin
Cities metropolitan area and of Minnesota as a whole has been the
community's ability to take collective action to resolve major
problems. He says that during his time in the Senate (1978 to 1995),
he took many Minnesota public-policy ideas-such as chartered
schools-to Washington. There they became critical to bipartisan policy
reform in the areas of health, education, welfare, environment,
transportation and federalism.
Comparing the community today to that of the
1970s, Durenberger says there have been changes in corporate
leadership and huge growth in the number of nonprofit organizations
competing for money. He notes changes in the foundation community and
in the media and said many people are getting their news from
seven-second sound bites. He laments that the University of Minnesota
is no longer the important community resource it once was.
In the past, he says, elected leaders and
leaders of the corporate civic culture left a significant mark on our
civic infrastructure and our national reputation for good governance.
But the interests of the forces that shape public policy in Minnesota
and shape our current contribution, or lack thereof, to national
policy have changed, he says. Durenberger sees little evidence now of
a market in Minnesota for rebuilding civic infrastructure and the
development of creative policy ideas. But he suggests there is a
legacy in the community that we can draw on and shares ideas on what
the community could reflect on and do to restore a broad-based civic
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 Humphrey. Durenberger was reelected in 1982
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 was governor from 1967 to 1971. From 1971 to 1978,
Durenberger was counsel for Legal and Community Affairs at the H.B.
Fuller Company in St. Paul. While there, he also served as chair of
the Metropolitan Parks and Open Space Commission and the Hennepin
County Park Reserve District and as executive director of the
Minnesota Commission on the Future of the Arts, the Minnesota Supreme
Court Code of Judicial Conduct Advisory Committee, and the Minnesota
Constitutional Study Commission.
After his election to the Senate,
Durenberger, who had campaigned on "changing the role of government,"
secured a seat on the Intergovernmental Relations Subcommittee of the
Government Affairs Committee, later becoming its chair. He became a
member of the Advisory Committee on Intergovernmental Relations in
1981. Working with the National Governors Association, he drafted
President Ronald Reagan's "New Federalism" proposal in 1982.
He also served as chairman of the following
Senate committees and subcommittees: the Select Committee on
Intelligence, the Health Subcommittee of the Senate Finance Committee,
the Oversight Subcommittee of the Senate Environment and Public Works
Committee, and the Rights of Individuals Subcommittee of the Senate
Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
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.
This interview with Dave
Durenberger launches a new focus for the Civic Caucus: reviewing the
quality of Minnesota's past, present and future civic process for
developing good public-policy proposals and action to anticipate,
define and resolve major problems. The Caucus developed this new focus
during three internal discussion sessions, held on Sept. 11,
Sept. 18 and
Oct. 2, 2015.
While it undertakes this review of the civic process, the Caucus will
also continue its interviews exploring the topic of human capital in
Note: The interview with Dave
Durenberger was held by special arrangement in a conference room at
the Neighborhood Development Center (NDC), located in Western Bank in
St. Paul. NDC President Mike Temali welcomed the Civic Caucus and gave
a short update on his nonprofit organization. The NDC, Temali said,
trains and supports low-income entrepreneurs of color to start and run
businesses, most of which are located in low-income neighborhoods. He
said the organization has been replicated in Detroit and Syracuse and
it looks like it's about to be replicated in Philadelphia and New
York. "There's a national interest in this model that is very
place-focused," Temali said. For a more complete discussion about the
NDC, see the
March 6, 2015, Civic Caucus interview with Temali and former Western
Bank President Bill Sands.
The most important strength of the Twin Cities metropolitan area and
of Minnesota as a whole has been the community's ability to take
collective action to resolve major problems.
Dave Durenberger referred to and supported this idea that Ted Kolderie,
former executive director of the Citizens League, posited in a 2005
Durenberger mentioned the importance of the
Citizens League in the community's civic process, calling it, in its
"heyday" in the late 1960s and the 1970s, "the mother of civic
infrastructure and policy proposals." He said he took many of the
League's ideas on governance reform and public service delivery
options from that era to his service in the U.S. Senate. There they
became critical, he said, to bipartisan policy reform in the areas of
health, education, welfare, environment, transportation and
The history of Minnesota evolved from the
frugal Yankee entrepreneurs of New England, their Calvinist
conscience, and their civic virtue, which met up here with northern
and eastern European immigrants. Durenberger referred to his 2014
speech to the Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota, in which he said
that these immigrants were frugal of necessity, but possessed a social
conscience and religious values that more than anything shaped the
state's progressive cultural and political traditions.
When the commons is threatened, we're ready
to act. As an example, Durenberger noted that in 2008, in the
middle of partisan political battles and the collapse of an old
economy, 62 percent of Minnesotans voted for the Clean Water, Land and
Legacy Amendment to the state constitution, that is, to tax themselves
to provide for future generations.
What's different about this community now,
compared to where we were back in the 1970s? Durenberger said
there have been changes in corporate leadership and huge growth in the
number of nonprofit organizations, which are competing with each other
for money. Those and other factors make it more difficult to change
"But we haven't changed," he said. "This is
still the same state it always was. It isn't because we don't have
enough civic education or that our kids are all too busy raising
kids." Those aren't the barriers, he said.
He noted changes in the foundation community
in Minnesota and questioned some of their recent grants. He said the
media have changed and pointed out that 64 percent of people in the
U.S. never watch public television or listen to public radio.
"Everybody's getting their news from seven-second sound bites," he
There is little evidence that we have a
market in Minnesota for rebuilding civic infrastructure.
Durenberger said in the past, elected leaders and leaders of the
corporate civic culture left "an enormously significant mark on our
civic infrastructure" and on our national reputation for good
governance. "Much of that, and the interests of those forces that
shape public policy in this state and shape our current contribution,
or lack thereof, to national policy, has changed," he said.
He sees little evidence of a market in
Minnesota "for rebuilding civic infrastructure, creative policy ideas,
civic education or for leadership from a new generation of citizen
leaders." Nor does he see a market for "problem identification, issues
discussion, problem analysis, issue clarification, policy development,
public debate and policy action."
"I say that with deep regret and a great
deal of personal frustration," Durenberger said.
How are we to restore the value that a
broad-based civic infrastructure once had to the community of
Minnesota? Durenberger suggested calling out all the Minnesota
resources responsible for our being a 1970s destination for
Who are the leaders who, if they were approached
with a plan for recreating a civic infrastructure for the 21st
century, would volunteer their time and their best resources?
A goal that describes and unites us
. He suggested that goal
as "Minnesota: A Renewable Resource."
A clear purpose that will distinguish us in 21st century terms
What can civic and collective action accomplish in a state like
Minnesota today that it, and only here, can accomplish?
. Subject expertise, research capacity, capacity to
involve people in leadership positions in 87 counties.
The University of Minnesota
. This institution's resources
helped make Minnesota what it has become. Today the capacity of this
huge national and international resource needs both leadership and
Private business corporations
. He is impressed by the
business and moral sagacity of many of the women and men who rise to
the executive suites in our state. But he said he's under-impressed
by their personal commitment to things other than public
entertainment arenas in our state.
. There must be 10 times as many
today as yesterday, which is a tribute to our failure to deal with
our community's problems and to the skill of the institutional
advancement profession's philanthropic skill. Define the benefit
they might render to collective civic action.
. What impact do they have on our community or
its civic action?
Republicans and Democrats
. We should find a way to shame
both into disengaging themselves from national agendas and national
funding and supporting our promise to create a real citizen
legislature once again.
Someplace to start
. Durenberger suggested starting by
studying the impact of post-World War II public policy on the
21st-century core cities and older suburbs. He pointed out that
economic disparities more clear today than ever, in both communities
of color and of immigrants, impact public health, public safety and
There's a legacy we can draw on. An
interviewer commented that some people look at Minnesota today and
don't see as many top-flight, creative public-policy proposals coming
forth. Some blame polarization of government for the difficulty of
making change. Others say we should look to see if we're getting the
proposals we should.
Durenberger responded that the good ideas
are at the community level, in places like the Neighborhood
Development Center. "The spirit of what we're talking about lives on,"
he said. "We have left a lot of legacy in this community that in one
way or another can be drawn on."
The media have changed, leading to less
transparency around public decisions. An interviewer lamented that
transparency around public decisions seems to be getting worse.
"Officials are under pressure not to speak publicly about anything
till some kind of an agreement is reached," he said. "It seems as if
there isn't the same public wrestling with ideas. All that happens
behind closed doors." He asked Durenberger whether that was different
in his era.
"Part of it is the media," Durenberger
responded. "The media always broke this stuff loose, but the media
have changed. I'd suggest that in my 50 years in the public spotlight,
the quality, skill and experience of journalists on specific subjects
relating to public affairs and public policy have diminished. This has
happened as the financial rewards for solid, proven, investigative
journalism have decreased and the financial rewards to media from
advertising have increased."
The interviewer then recounted his
conversation with a Star Tribune reporter before the city of
Minneapolis made its decision on how it would help fund the Vikings
stadium. The interviewer said city leaders successfully convinced
people that city sales tax revenue was not available for the city to
spend in other ways. In reality, he said, the sales tax revenue would
have been freed up starting in 2018 to be used for community
development, housing and other needs. The money would have started out
at about $30 million per year, growing eventually to $50 million or
$60 million a year.
The reporter responded to the interviewer's
comments by saying, "Why would I cover that? Nobody's debating that."
The interviewer also said there was no
public debate about an unusual financing method Minneapolis is using
to fund streetcars, because the method was never talked about
"The Fourth Estate is supposed to be looking
after government," the interviewer said. "Now they just referee the
political fights. That's not what it's supposed to be about."
People in the middle don't have anybody to
vote for. Durenberger is concerned about what he calls the
"Minnesota Moderate Middle." "A huge percentage of people in the
middle aren't voting anymore, because they don't have anybody to vote
for," he said. "We must bring them back in by finding leadership
inside the extremes who will build bridges to each other."
An interviewer asked how we can address some
of the lack of involvement of young people in the civic process.
Durenberger noted that several of his children are living in Minnesota
and they're not finding people to vote for. He said we must deal with
this at the local level. "We must grow it from the bottom up," he
said. "That's the only way you'll bring my sons and their children
back into the process."
We have over-nationalized many things.
An interviewer commented that there is a growing federalization of
funding for a large number of public services, along with a huge
increase in the number of special interest groups in Washington
pleading for federal funds. Durenberger responded that we have
over-nationalized many things, but haven't done much to address the
lot of poor people in Minnesota.
Washington, D.C., is not innovative; it must
have examples for change. When he was in the Senate, Durenberger
said, he and Sen. Joe Lieberman took the new idea of chartered
schools, which had just been created in Minnesota, and pushed for
federal incentives to encourage other states to embrace the concept.
That was an example, he said, of taking a good policy idea from a
state and promoting it nationally. Washington itself is not
innovative, he said.
"The incentives to bring innovative state
solutions to Washington have decreased," Durenberger said, "even as
the public and private costs of implementing federal spending and
regulatory policies have increased. This is due to the shift in
partisan power at both the national and state levels toward single
issues, special interests and sound-bite solutions."
Having a group of the community's nonprofit
organization leaders sit together at a table once in awhile could have
positive results, but we don't have a place to do that.
Durenberger mentioned the Humphrey School
of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota (U of M). "We have
institutions in place, but they're not where people go," he said.
Durenberger said for 100 years, the U of M
"was a fantastic place for growth in this community." But now it's
involved in things like building a new $168 million athletic village.
"Of all the institutions in the state, the U has had the most
traditional promise, the most to contribute," he said. "It has great
potential to support and encourage action by the larger Minnesota
"But it's been diluted by leadership and by
governance. It and some other traditional institutions in this state
have been absorbed by today rather than tomorrow. It's full of people
who are into tomorrow, because they're teaching students. But their
value is being diluted by all these other forces, the main one being
leadership. There is also a lack of understanding by the state
legislature of the unique character of its responsibility to invest
predictably in its one state university/land grant college."
The question for this community, Durenberger
said, is not only where are the leaders, but also, what are the
satisfaction rewards of being a leader.
Some civic organizations, like the Civic
Caucus and the old Citizens League, have attempted to deal with
problems upstream, while lots of nonprofits are downstream dealing
with problems. Durenberger said lots of nonprofits are operating
downstream, just trying to keep ahead of today's problems for the
people who are suffering from them. "But, for example, why are we not
dealing with the disadvantaged child born today and what
responsibility the mother has and feels for that child?" he asked. "We
know that the first three years of brain development are key to
In the past, the Minneapolis newspapers
aimed to act as an educational institution, with reporters the
equivalent of college professors. Civic Caucus interviewer Ted
Kolderie recounted that when he came to work at the Minneapolis
newspapers, one of the things he learned about from other reporters
was a 1951 talk by John Cowles, Sr., publisher of the Minneapolis
Star and the Minneapolis Tribune. Cowles talked about the
newspaper as an educational institution. In 1950, Kolderie said, most
adults in Minnesota had not been to high school. The median education
level for adults over age 25 was about 8.5 years. "I'm not talking
about graduation from high school, but just going to high
school," he said.
Cowles laid out the concept of reporters
being the equivalent of college professors, Kolderie said. "They
behaved like that," he said. "They wrote serious books. Minneapolis
Tribune science and health reporter Victor Cohn made the community
aware of the development of the Kaiser program in California. The
Tribune's Sam Romer was among the leading labor reporters in the
country. I always felt that contribution in a major way."
In the 1930s, Kolderie said, a famous story
ran in The NationMagazine about Minneapolis being the
most anti-Semitic city in America. "The paper institutionally went
after that problem," he said, "which later became the foundation for
Hubert Humphrey's work on civil rights."
"That's totally gone," Kolderie continued.
"In 1951, when Cowles made that talk, the newspaper had the resources
and the motivation to do this kind of thing and had essentially no
competition. This has all so dramatically changed. It's the loss of
that independent function that seems to be one of the major
contributing causes to the present situation. Is there anything like
that coming out of traditional print, public radio, public television
or out of new technologies, such as MinnPost?"
Durenberger said the Star Tribune now
has close to a monopoly over the news in print or online. "They seem
to have a veritable monopoly on journalistic resources." Kolderie
commented that Glen Taylor coming into ownership of the newspaper is
potentially very significant.
A well-functioning civic process would be
looking out ahead at challenges facing the community as a kind of
radar system. Kolderie said the civic process should be
anticipating challenges facing the Twin Cities area rather than
waiting till problems happen and then asking how we're going to fix
them. "The rate of change and the potential for massive, disruptive
change-including the appearance and spread of the digital world-is
raising all kinds of questions," he said.
As one example of major change, he noted
that the William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul is now offering
an online program that filled its quota the first year with students
from around the country, even though law school admissions in general
have gone down by around 40 percent. But, he alleged, St. Paul city
officials are not thinking about the implications of online learning
on the many higher education institutions located there.
"You wish somebody were thinking about these
things," he said.
In the old days, the U of M was an important
community resource. Another interviewer asked whether agenda
setting, as Kolderie suggested, is more important than putting forward
policy proposals. Durenberger said back in the days when people at the
University were receiving Nobel prizes, there were people who were
committed to seeing and predicting the future through solid research.
"We, including our state legislature and our political parties, need
to fortify the importance of that, as well as identify the importance
of a news source that does that well," he said. He said that should be
one of the next steps in the Civic Caucus's review of the civic
Minnesota is a renewable resource. "Somewhere
outside of the single issues lies the future of Minnesota,"
Durenberger said. "What can bring people together is the common goal
of Minnesota being a renewable resource. That's what's unique about
this state-whether it's land, water, human capital or whatever. That's
one of the possible ways to start thinking about what kind of future
Minnesota can have."
He concluded by saying of the Civic Caucus:
"I'm grateful you're doing what you've been doing for 10 years."
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,