Civic Caucus Interview Group – Internal
A progress report: What have we learned
and where do we go from here?
A Civic Caucus
Review of Minnesota’s Public
Discussion February 26, 2016
Steve Anderson, Heather
Bandeen, David Broden (vice chair), Janis Clay, Pat Davies, Paul
Gilje (executive director), Randy Johnson, Sallie Kemper (associate
director), Dan Loritz (chair), Paul Ostrow,Bill Rudelius, Dana
Schroeder (associate director), Clarence Shallbetter.
Caucus is undertaking a review of
the quality of Minnesota's past and
present public-policy process for anticipating, defining and
resolving major community problems. The Caucus interview group held
an internal discussion to suggest findings it's learned from
interviews on the topic held so far.
There have been dramatic
changes in civic life in Minnesota over the last 50 years, the Civic
Caucus interview group has found in its review so far of the state's
public-policy process. In an internal discussion of preliminary
findings of that review, the group observed that these changes have
led to a loss of the generalist citizen point of view and a failure
to look at the deeper causes of community problems. Findings suggest
that there were more actionable, coherent public-policy proposals
being developed and implemented during the 1970s, 1980s and early
The group questioned whether there is a
way today for citizens to gain the knowledge and skills to counter
the ever-growing multitude of special interest organizations, with
their well-financed staffs and lobbyists. Participants noted that
some public-policy institutions used to empower citizens to gain the
deep knowledge needed for such direct policy involvement through
participation in study committees. Fortified with that knowledge,
citizens were able to present public-policy reports and
recommendations and testify at the Legislature. The Civic Caucus
group questioned whether any community organization is engaged today
in the kind of citizen-empowerment needed to effectively respond to
special interest groups.
The Caucus group noted that historically
there have been a wide array of institutions of public policy:
general-interest civic organizations, state agencies and local
governments, political parties, academic institutions and the media.
It questioned whether these institutions are fulfilling their
responsibility today for researching and defining issues and
offering recommendations for resolving community problems. It said
institutions receiving large amounts of public funds ought to be
able to do more to attack state problems, with better ideas and
proposals coming forth than there are now.
The Civic Caucus group believes there is
receptivity at the Legislature and in the state's executive branch
to improving Minnesota, but these institutions are not getting the
kind of help they need. They need good proposals with definable
things to do, but the state no longer has a system producing such
The group will continue to explore the
public-policy process with further interviews and plans to produce a
final list of findings, conclusions and recommendations over the
next six to 12 months.
Looking ahead to the Civic Caucus
in 2017. Civic Caucus Chair
Dan Loritz suggested that before we get into the subject of
institutions of public policy today, the interview group members
spend a few minutes discussing their hopes for the Civic Caucus in
2017. Among the comments:
Since 2009, our interviews have covered four topical areas:
redesign, competitiveness, the work force, and, now, institutions
of public policy. It will be interesting to see what's next.
Perhaps we should explore the potential for closer contact
with other organizations, such as MinnPost or the Institute
for Freedom and Community at St. Olaf College, which is studying
the history of civil discourse.
Maybe more emphasis is appropriate on how different age groups
and other demographic characteristics relate to public policy.
The state could benefit greatly if someone, perhaps the Civic
Caucus, could assemble, and keep current, a list of key
opportunities and problems facing the state and share that broadly
with organizations, the media, colleges and universities,
foundations, and the public.
There seems to be potential in linking college students with
ongoing studies in the community.
The blurring of responsibilities among local, state and
federal entities needs to be explored.
An inquiry into the structures of elections and government at
all levels is needed.
With so many changes in the nature of "family", how does one
build effective groups with a sense of values? Is there too much
focus on what "I" want versus what the "community" needs?
It might be worth exploring good models of civic involvement
in other states.
We might look at emerging areas where public policy is being
generated. Three examples:
The task forces the Legislature is establishing, which are
new. The study groups are made up of members of both legislative
houses and take testimony during legislative interims. One task
force is looking at prison population reform. Use of task forces
like these might become permanent.
The summits the governor is starting in areas like
agriculture and water.
The role of individual leaders, such as Marla Spivak, who
has shifted the entire conversation on bee pollination. How do
those people emerge? Many come from the University of
Minnesota's agricultural campus, rather than from the
University's Humphrey School.
What have we learned so far in our
exploration of how well Minnesota's process for developing
actionable public-policy proposals is working? The group
suggested findings we've learned from interviews we've held so far
on the topic. Among them:
There are things that could be done to encourage kids to be
more involved in public affairs in high school.
There have been dramatic changes in civic life over the last
There is little evidence of a market in Minnesota today for
redeveloping our civic infrastructure. Is a part of our role to
create that market? It may involve reaching out to high schools
The marketplace is abuzz with ideas, but they're mostly
self-interested, narrow ideas. Perhaps the market isn't looking
for those comprehensive recommendations.
There is no countervailing force against special interest
There are thousands of organizations that can raise issues and
help shape them. Many are able to receive tax-deductible
donations. It's a free-for-all. We've created a situation through
tax policy that gives everybody an opportunity to communicate
directly. All of this pours into the Legislature, the
issue-resolving body. And the Legislature can raise issues on its
own, shape those issues and resolve issues itself.
The number of children born out of wedlock is very concerning.
We need families in order to implement public policy.
Looking back to Jefferson's idea, if the Republic doesn't have
educated people, it won't last.
A big subject relates to understanding the family and how it's
affected institutionally in the state.
If we're looking at how to close the achievement gap, it comes
down to housing, poverty and the movement of kids around the whole
metro area. We can't even find them sometimes as they move from
place to place. That leads to a decrease in their ability to
learn. There are underlying social problems here that schools
alone can't resolve.
There are hard realities that Minnesota's institutions of
public policy must face now and in the future: the increase in
immigration, changes in demographics and changes in the family.
There are unintended consequences of well-intentioned actions
taken in the past. For example, the Legislature closed the big
state mental centers and everybody was supposed to get treated in
their communities. But there was no money for treatment. Now
mentally ill people are out on the streets. Half the prison
population is mentally ill. The prisons aren't tuned in to
providing mental health care. That's not what their role is.
The classic business model is planning, implementation and
evaluation. Respected public policy institutions are known for
presenting plans, but we aren't sure if the plans are implemented
or whether or not they're working. Is it possible to hook the
media into reporting numbers on programs run locally or by the
state to tell the public how they're doing?
Communication is a big way of turning public policy back into
some action. How do we communicate public-policy topics so people
can see how they affect them?
There's no leadership in dealing with the issue of mental
illness in the schools.
The role of the citizen versus that of special interests is
critical. Is there a way for citizens to get the knowledge and
skills to counter the special interests, which have staff and
lobbyists? Is there a role for the citizen in putting forth the
Some public policy institutions used to
empower citizens to do that through the deep knowledge citizens
gained through study committees. Citizens, not staff, were the ones
who talked publicly about reports or testified at the Legislature.
It was the citizens who had been empowered by what they had learned
and deliberated over. In some organizations, the boards were always
very strong and made the decisions on what to study or whether to
adopt a particular report. Now that seems to have turned the other
way, with the staff in control of many organizations.
A number of foundations today are staff-directed, rather than
We're looking for something that's been lost: the generalist
point of view, the citizen point of view and an effort to look at
the deeper causes of community problems. There isn't an
organization in the community that's engaged in that kind of
Historically, institutions of public policy have been in
place. We created public entities, such as state agencies and
local governments, that all exist to deal with public policies.
They could be sources of ideas and thinking about what should be
Political parties have been seen in the past as vehicles for
advancing proposals for changing the way systems operated.
We've heard conflicting statements that maybe foundations are
not a primary source of ideas.
The media could do some exploration of public policy issues
and come up with ideas and recommendations.
We have a lot of institutions of public policy, some of which
are publicly chartered to do things.
Higher education could perhaps be a place where some ideas
should come from.
We knew what once was and we'd like to get something in place
that would do that again.
There is no shortage of ideas, but we're not focusing on the
root causes of problems.
We can try to improve the system that we have by bringing
pressure from the outside or we can create incentives where
systems improve on their own. You have to do both of them.
Leadership doesn't always begin at the front end of a problem.
We must get the topic raised so people will say they can do
something about it. Rather than waiting for leadership to emerge,
it's more important to get the topic out there at a level of
intensity that says somebody has to take charge.
Some institutions of public policy decide which parts of a
system are amenable to change and focus on those. The challenge is
how to take ahold of a piece of the total issue.
There is receptivity at the Legislature and in the state's
executive branch to improve Minnesota, but they're not getting the
kind of help they need. They need to get good proposals with
definable things to do. We don't have a system that's doing that
We don't get public policy discussions in the media. The only
coverage the issues get is when there's any kind of partisan
We need to get our message out about the idea of generalist
citizens. It seems that now when a committee is set up to address
a problem, we make sure every special interest is on the
committee. Then the solution ends up being one that all those with
special advocacy positions agree on. That's not necessarily the
Some people are concerned that the role of the University of
Minnesota in helping resolve the state's problems may have
changed. The group wondered if there are hard data available to
illustrate the proportion of U of M research relating directly to
Minnesota problems that was conducted in the past compared to
When a problem becomes local, then you do something about it.
We need to look at how to get data down to the citizen.
Institutions receiving large amounts of public funds ought to
be able to do more to attack state problems, with better ideas and
proposals coming out than there are now.
Perhaps there are elements in the old public-policy process
that could be applied today. For example, the Humphrey School puts
on a program and, unless you were there, you'll never know what
went on. We should put forward the concept of minutes or notes
being helpful to the people who weren't there. The Citizens
League's minutes of meetings of its current committee on the
Metropolitan Council are written for the people who were there,
not for the people who weren't.
There seem to have been more actionable, thought-out
public-policy proposals being developed and implemented during the
1970s, 1980s and early 1990s.
A well thought-out, actionable idea will trump the influence
of the moneyed special interests.
We agree that problems like mental health and the achievement
gap should be priorities. But we never get to them, because money
rules the game.
We should look into what other states are doing.
What's next? The group discussed
coming up with a draft of findings and then moving on to drawing
conclusions and coming up with recommendations. Chair Dan Loritz
suggested that we complete that process within six to 12 months.
An interviewer proposed that we take more
time for internal discussion, like today's meeting. He said in
addition to holding more interviews, we should devote every second
or third meeting to internal discussion.
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,