Charlie Weaver, executive director,
Minnesota Business Partnership
Legislative polarization stalls action
on good public policy proposals
A Civic Caucus
Review of Minnesota’s Public
Interview June 10, 2016
Present John Adams, Steve Alderson, Steve
Anderson, Dave Broden (vice chair), Janis Clay, Paul Gilje
(executive director), Randy Johnson, Ted Kolderie, Dan Loritz
(chair), Dana Schroeder (associate director), Clarence
Shallbetter, Charlie Weaver. By phone: Audrey Clay, Paul Ostrow.
Civic organizations that exist to change public policy and their
future are relevant, says Charlie Weaver of the Minnesota
Business Partnership. But if they want legislators to embrace
public-policy change, he says the organizations must deal with
politics, have some involvement with advocacy and form
coalitions with like-minded groups. And they must pay attention
to two things that affect legislators: how their constituents
feel about an issue and whether taking a position on an issue
will affect their re-election chances.
Weaver discusses the
importance of marketing to get the public to support policy
change, giving examples of how groups marketed the Fiscal
Disparities concept and the Minnesota Legacy Amendment and how
they worked to defeat the 2012 Minnesota Marriage Amendment. He
says, though, that even if individuals or groups do everything
right in dealing with a topic, coming up with a proposal, and
getting public support, they still might fail because of a
strong lobbying presence at the Legislature. He gives examples
of issue positions most people support, saying that lobbyists
for various interests are able to keep those proposals from
making it through the Legislature.
Weaver asserts that
polarization at the Legislature is the main reason good
proposals are not being enacted today. He says today's
Legislature offers a very different environment from that of the
1970s and 1980s, when legislators could think about things and
discuss compromise positions without immediate retribution. Now
the environment is such that ideas can't form, percolate and be
discussed without people pounding on legislators.
And lastly, Weaver
sharply criticizes the Minneapolis School District for its lack
of progress in improving outcomes for students.
Charlie Weaver, Jr. is the executive director of the Minnesota
Business Partnership, a nonpartisan organization founded in 1977
that comprises 115 CEOs of Minnesota's largest employers. He has
served in that position since 2003.
Weaver served five
terms as Minnesota state representative (R-Anoka), first elected
to the Minnesota House in 1988. In 1998, he ran unsuccessfully
for attorney general. Governor Jesse Ventura appointed him
Commissioner of Public Safety in 1999, a position he held
through 2002. In 2003, Governor Tim Pawlenty appointed Weaver
chief of staff, a position he held for 11 months before leaving
to head the Minnesota Business Partnership. He served as a
criminal prosecutor for Anoka County from 1991 to 1998 and was a
lawyer with Lindquist & Vennum from 1984 to 1988.
Weaver is the son of
former Minnesota State Representative Charles Weaver, Sr.,
(1931-1992) and nephew of former State Representative John L.
Weaver. He received his bachelor's degree in political science
from the University of Oregon and his law degree from the
University of Minnesota Law School.
Background The Civic Caucus is undertaking a
review of the quality of Minnesota's past, present and future
public-policy process for anticipating, defining and resolving
major public problems. The Caucus interviewed Charlie Weaver of
the Minnesota Business Partnership to get his assessment of the
state of that public-policy process and to learn more about the
Partnership's role in the process.
About the Minnesota Business
Founded in 1977, the mission of the nonpartisan Minnesota
Business Partnership is to maintain a high quality of life for
all Minnesotans by ensuring that the state's economy remains
strong and globally competitive and its prospects for growth
bright.This mission, it says, is based on the firm belief that
the quality of life for all Minnesotans is directly linked to
our state's economic health.
The Partnership works
with elected officials, state agency staff and others on a range
of public-policy issues relevant to all Minnesotans: education,
jobs and the economy, and health care. It stresses that it
offers specific recommendations intended to help government
deliver services and benefits more efficiently and effectively.
It emphasizes that its focus is on progress, not partisan
are several assumptions we can make about civic groups and the
Charlie Weaver, Jr., of the Minnesota Business Partnership laid
out several assumptions:
exist to change public policy. Most of these groups have a
goal of thinking about issues that matter to Minnesota and
coming up with ways we can make them better.
In order to
change public policy, you need to move legislators. It takes
three things to get legislators to embrace public-policy
constituents demand it.
affect their re-election chances? They'll think twice
about taking a position that's going to negatively
affect their re-election chances.
certain legislators are personally committed to
something that's core to their being, such as a pro-life
stance. Lobbyists' views or constituents' views aren't
going to change their views on the issue if it is core
to their values.
Are civic organizations and their
Weaver answered his own question. Yes, he said, but they must
pay attention to the first two things that affect legislators:
constituents and re-election.
How do civic
organizations get the public to support policy change? he asked.
How do they create a groundswell? How do they get people behind
There are basic
questions that must be answered, "yes" before an organization
can do that, Weaver said:
Do people care
about the issue?
Is it an issue
people are passionate about?
Is there a path
to making a change? If not, people won't get engaged.
Can the policy
change be part of a cause or a movement? Young people today
like being part of a movement and being part of an
organization that's making a difference, whether it's
Cargill feeding the world or Ecolab cleaning water in
Figuring out how to
market whatever issue a civic organization decides to raise is
important, Weaver asserted. He gave several examples:
When the Citizens
League developed the concept that became the Fiscal
Disparities law in 1971, the League and others advocating
for the idea didn't talk about the minutiae of how the
program would work, Weaver said. The hook in gaining public
support was that the law would encourage cities throughout
the region to have parks and open space, rather than
competing for the next big power plant to enrich their tax
advocates for the Minnesota Legacy Amendment, which was
approved by voters in 2008, ran a very effective campaign.
The constitutional amendment raised the state sales tax to
put money into a fund for arts and culture, wildlife, clean
water and more. "They didn't market that around the arts,"
he said. "No one mentioned the Guthrie Theater. Broadly, it
was about clean water. That's what sold that amendment. That
was a very effective marketing tool."
people working against the 2012 Minnesota Marriage
Amendment, which would have banned gay marriage, talked
about the importance of the institution of marriage, rather
than focusing on gay marriage alone. He said that's what
defeated the amendment.
marketing is different today, Weaver remarked. Groups need to
deal with social media, which he called a big change and a
challenge for civic organizations. And in the old days, an
organization might have been the only one with a certain idea.
"Now there are a million people with opinions on both sides of
an issue," he said. A proposal must be presented in simple terms
and it must be unique. "It better have some angle or avenue that
others don't jump into," Weaver declared.
Even if individuals or groups do
everything right in dealing with a topic, coming up with a
proposal and getting public support, they still might fail
because of strong lobbying presence at the Legislature.
Weaver offered several examples:
He said 70
percent of people in the state are in favor of graduation
standards. But the Legislature removed them because of the
power of the teachers' unions.
percent of people support being able to buy alcohol on
Sunday. "But the municipal liquor lobby is really strong,"
he said, so the measure keeps getting voted down.
The NRA is
powerful enough to defeat even the most minor proposed gun
limitations, such as gun-show background checks, even though
most people are in favor of them.
requirement that school districts follow the "last-in,
first-out" policy, that is, to fire the youngest teachers
first in times of teacher cutbacks, is opposed by 80 percent
of the public, who say teachers should be employed on the
basis of performance, not seniority.
Civic organizations must deal with
politics and have some components getting involved in advocacy.
The Business Partnership, Weaver said, began by doing research
on education issues, but then decided it needed to get involved
in the political process and advocacy. It now advocates for its
own ideas and those of groups like Greater MSP and the Itasca
"It's a double-edged
sword," he said. "The Civic Caucus has credibility because it's
not political. If you get into advocacy, people label you.
That's the risk. If you want to be effective, you must be
engaged in advocacy to a certain extent, but you have to be
careful about being on one political side or another."
Polarization at the Legislature is
the main reason good proposals are not being enacted.
Weaver said the problem is not a lack of business involvement,
because CEOs like as Richard Davis of U.S. Bancorp are very
engaged in public policy. Nor does he think the problem is lack
of ideas or interest in civic engagement.
"The Legislature is
very different today," Weaver said. "Ideas can't form and
percolate and be discussed in an environment where people don't
pound on you. Legislators are different. There are very few
citizen legislators today. Legislators are on television all the
time, so they're posturing."
commented that in the past, there was a heavy focus from both
parties that good government came first and politics second. He
asked how we could get back to solving long-term problems rather
than just trying to solve today's symptoms. "No one's taking a
risk to do something smart on an issue," the interviewer said.
Weaver cited the
issue of transportation. "It's very hard for legislators to take
the long view," he said. "The environment is so different." The
Legislature had an opportunity to do a 10-year plan on
transportation, he said. But some people won't even talk about
transit and some insist on using the gas tax rather than the
general fund. There isn't much incentive to find common ground.
He noted that Speaker
of the House Kurt Daudt suggested increasing license tab fees,
which would have raised $100 million, as a compromise to achieve
long-term funding for roads and bridges. Almost immediately, at
the state Republican convention, party members criticized Daudt
for bringing up the tab fees idea. "That paralyzed the
Republican caucus," Weaver said. "In the 1970s and 1980s, you
could think about things and discuss various compromise
positions and there would be no immediate retribution."
commented, "We're in a period of very rapid change. The change
is affecting the issues. I'm struck that our way of shaping the
issues is not keeping up very well. Politics have always been
there. It used to be offset by other elements in the process.
But we're still shaping issues in old ways." He asked whether it
makes sense to try to bring radical issues into the next
Weaver replied that
in order to be effective, organizations should consider forming
coalitions with other like-minded groups. He cited MinneMinds,
which is a coalition of 100 different groups working on early
learning access for children in need. "You have to be far more
strategic than in the past," he said.
The interviewer asked
whether people must work on proposals over a period of sessions.
"Exactly," Weaver replied and offered the example of Sunday
liquor sales, which has come up in a number of sessions. Every
year, it's gotten more votes, he said.
We need to hold people accountable
who are not behaving in a way that creates a healthy civic
In response to a question, Weaver cited recent remarks by U.S.
Bancorp CEO Richard Davis about the value of civic engagement,
decency, respect, tolerance and the ability to raise new ideas
and challenge old notions without being personally attacked.
"Having leaders in this community act in a way we want to see
our legislators act is a start," Weaver said. "We're so blessed
to have great business leaders in the community who model this
approach to civic engagement that we want everyone to emulate.
We need to continue to drive those values and hold people
accountable who don't behave that way."
Transportation and transit are not
top-three issues for most people, so it's harder to pass
legislation on these issues.
"The struggle we're having with achieving a long-term
transportation solution is that transit is not a top priority
for most Minnesotans," Weaver said. "Transportation and transit
are just not top-three issues in people's minds, even though
they're a priority for the business community. Getting elected
officials to take the long view on controversial issues is a
He agreed with an
interviewer that technology like Uber and driverless cars is
going to change the world. "There are going to be driverless
cars and it's not too far away," he said.
The role of the state departments
in legislative discussions is significant.
Weaver said legislators are so inundated now and so swamped with
data and facts that they really have to narrow their focus. "If
you're on the Transportation Committee, you rely heavily on
MnDOT," he said. "If you're on the Natural Resources Committee,
you rely heavily on the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
There's also a skepticism, though. Legislators are less likely
to take the agencies' word for it today than they used to be."
People must be rewarded for taking
risks and not lose their jobs.
In order to get people to be leaders and take risks, Weaver
said, people need to be comfortable doing it and must know that
someone effectively has their back. And legislators must know
that they have some political leverage. "That'll help with risk
taking, which is rarer and rarer in politics," he said.
Foundations are pretty ineffective
politically, but they can have big impact by where they spend
In Minnesota, Weaver said, the business community makes about 48
percent of all nonprofit contributions. The foundations in
Minnesota spent over $200 million on education in the last year.
though, is to get them organized and focused," Weaver said.
"We're working to try to get them to hold the recipients of
their grant dollars accountable." The foundations are doing good
work, he said, but often they don't know if their investment
works, even though it feels good.
Workforce is the critical issue
It'd be great to have the Civic Caucus's leadership around that
issue, Weaver said.
The business community wants to
improve outcomes for students in Minneapolis schools, but is
frustrated with the lack of progress.
"As a business/political person in the community, the thing I'm
most embarrassed about is the failure of the Minneapolis School
District," he said. "Someone should go to jail over what's
happening there. The business community is very energized around
finding strategies that would improve outcomes for students in
Minneapolis, but incredibly frustrated over the lack of progress
in the district. We cannot afford to lose another generation of
young people who are the victims of this dysfunctional system."
The Civic Caucus should continue
to be fearless, to be active, to be courageous and to drive
"You've got nothing to lose," Weaver said. "There is a role for
this organization and the issues you think about. You should
think about how you can combine with other organizations when
you pick a topic. And you should think about the advocacy side.
They're both really important in achieving change."
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,