Bob Brown is an advocate of the Electoral
College. The Electoral College will work out well if we change
to the system used by Nebraska and Maine, Brown said. Those two
states allocate electoral votes by Congressional district.
"Then everybody has a chance to win," he
said. "Right now, candidates only have to campaign in about seven to
10 states, where they see these big blocs of votes. But if each
Congressional district has its own electoral vote and there are two
at large from each state, you'd eliminate any concern about real
corruption going across the country. But you'd actually allow people
in states that are small to see presidential candidates once in
Brown added that the states have complete
control over how they allocate electoral votes. "That's something to
think about in terms of our state," he said.
Reapportionment and redistricting are very
difficult to do fairly. But with advances in technology, Brown
said, all you have to do is to set the criteria for what you want to
do. An example, he said, is that you wouldn't break up a village
smaller than a certain population. "You put these things into a
process and then turn it over to some techies," he said. "Then you
draw lots over which corner of the state you start in on the
reapportionment map, with no interference from politics."
Money in politics is destroying the
political parties. "It's very difficult for someone who
doesn't have a lot of visibility or a lot of money to get elected,
no matter how good they are," Brown said. That's true, he said, even
down to the legislative level. "You see all the money being spent by
single-purpose groups," he said. "The people who want to get elected
have to put together a group of special interests rather than trying
to serve the broad interest. I find that really disheartening."
We need to train and recruit good people
to be public servants. Brown said during the time the
Republicans were in the minority when he was in the Legislature, he
formed a nonprofit organization called Within the System to recruit
people to be involved in the political process. "We got a lot of
great young people as interns who worked on this," he said.
He also had an internship program at the
Legislature, both when he was a state senator and when he was
chairman of the Minnesota Republican Party, to try to train young
people on the legislative process and on the organization and
operation of state government. "I'm proud to say many of my interns
went onto much more significant positions than I was ever in
politically," Brown said. Some became Congressmen, some legislators
and some subcabinet members in Washington.
Within the System no longer exists, but
currently, Brown has five or six young people he's working with
personally. "I'm concerned that people who run for public office,
while they might know something about how to win an election, have
no idea about how to make public policy," he said. "They don't know
about policy issues, because their whole goal is getting elected."
Now, both parties try to force people in
their own caucuses in line. Brown said when he was first elected to
the Minnesota Senate in 1966, he and other legislators were told in
a Republican caucus meeting that the only vote the caucus cared
about was the vote for leadership organization. "Otherwise, you're
free to do your own thing," Brown said the legislators were told.
It's different now, he said, as the parties both try to keep their
legislators in line. He tells young people interested in running for
public office that they should learn from different people and,
after that, they should use their own judgment.
We have to elect people to both the
Legislature and Congress who can work with each other and who
realize they have to make some compromises. Brown pointed out
that members of Congress aren't segregated by party. Both Democrats
and Republicans have offices on the same floor. "They actually talk
to each other in the halls and visit each other in their offices,"
he said. "It's not much, but it's a step toward getting some
dialogue going." In the Minnesota legislative office buildings, in
contrast, members of the same party are all on one floor, while
members of the other party are on another floor.
Flexible legislative sessions are a
disaster. "They've turned out to be regular sessions all the
time," Brown said. "So you get people in there who only want to be
People don't interact with each other
today. Brown said people are only interacting on their
computers or their phones. "They don't interact with human beings,"
he said. It's important to rebuild community organizations, but the
question is how.
It's obvious from the 2016 presidential
election that we do a really lousy job of teaching civics in the
U.S. In that election, "it was who were you voting against,"
Brown said. "It's pretty disheartening. A lot of schools don't teach
civics anymore. All the testing in math, science and English has put
almost everything else out of the system. There has to be more
balance in education."
He said he has spent a lot of time in
recent years with Ted Kolderie, whom he described as "the
intellectual behind the charter school movement and a lot of other
innovations in education." "We need more people like that," Brown
said. "I find very few people doing truly innovative things in
Party endorsement for school board
candidates is a mistake. Brown believes that party endorsement
encourages some people to run for school board only to launch or
enhance their political careers. Before, there were people of
stature on the St. Paul School Board who were there for community
service, he said.
Brown spoke of his time on the State Board
of Education and said he didn't know the political parties of six of
the nine members of the board. "They were people who were interested
in education," he said. "It was never a partisan thing." The
Legislature abolished the board because of pressure both from
conservatives and liberals. He said Minnesota and Wisconsin are the
only states without state boards of education.
Minnesota's Board of Education was started
early in the 20th century, Brown said. "It was a way to get people
who cared about education," he said. "When people started ganging up
on it, the State Board didn't have a constituency, because people
didn't know about it. "
The State Board of Education appointed the
State Commissioner of Education, he said, in the same way a school
board appoints a superintendent. Now, the governor appoints the
commissioner and, as in many states, "it's a very political job."
Brown has a strong disagreement with
University of Minnesota law professor Myron Orfield and his brother
Gary Orfield, professor of education, law, political science and
urban planning at UCLA. "They think if you put a group of people
who look different from each other in the same classroom, you're
going to solve the problems of diversity," Brown said. "But that
doesn't help. Some of our best charter schools are not very diverse,
such as Spanish-culture or Hmong-culture schools. That gives those
students a chance to develop in ways they might not otherwise."
Brown is a big believer in "informed
choice." "Affluent people have always had choice, because they could
go to expensive private schools," he said. "But poor people don't
always have those choices. That's where I think charter schools are
a big help."
"One of the problems, though, is that you
have to have enough knowledge to make an informed choice," Brown
said. School counselors could help, he said, but Minnesota has the
second or third worst ratio of counselors to students in the nation.
He developed a program at one time called
the Counselor Assistant Program, focused on the Minneapolis and St.
Paul School Districts. The program trained counselor assistants from
the community. "Counselors are all old white folks," Brown said,
"but the constituency is getting more and more diverse." He said St.
Paul refused the program and there were only a few schools in
Minneapolis that would accept the assistants. "There was resistance
to any kind of a change," he said.
"I wanted to see that we would have
community-based people to counsel the people in their
neighborhoods," Brown said. He wanted there to be people of the
community at neighborhood centers who would be trained to help
people choose a school for their children.
We must help people running for the
Legislature to understand policy issues before they get there.
"Otherwise," Brown said, "they get there and they're
straight-jacketed in various areas by other people. I'm disheartened
by what's going on in the Legislature and in Congress."
An interviewer asked how we get better
people in the Legislature. Brown responded that he's working right
now with some young people to help them understand public policy.
"Anybody who runs for public office should have at least three major
policy areas that they understand pretty well," he said.
An interviewer commented that neither of
the established political parties has leadership-development
programs that attempt to bring young people into their system. "As
long as we have a party system, we must get people to understand
there must be cross-party communication in order to get anything
done," he said. "The parties ought to jointly sponsor political
development for people who may have some interest in leadership
Brown responded that the parties aren't
looking at policy issues. "The primary concern is just getting
elected," he said. He pointed out that the Republican Party used to
have task forces that would meet for a year or two on specific
What are we going to do about developing
community leaders? Brown said when he was teaching at the
University of St. Thomas (UST), he and the head of the Minneapolis
campus developed the idea for a series of noncredit seminars for
people at a certain level in the education, business, government and
religious communities. The series would include speakers, reading of
various books and dialogue on different issues. All participants
would have to mentor someone else below themselves in their
organization. The seminar series idea was turned into a for-credit
class in the business department at UST, which Brown said "killed
the whole idea."
Brown said many of the home corporations
in the Twin Cities that had a sense of commitment and giving back to
the community have left or become part of larger businesses. "We
have to redevelop that sense of community commitment in our leaders
and our businesses," he said.
When an interviewer asked about the role
of the Citizens League in the community, Brown responded that when
he was in the Legislature, "most of the significant things we did
there came from the old Citizens League." When asked if the old
Citizens League could be simulated today, "I don't know how to get
something that has that breadth of coverage with such a variety of
people," he said.
We truly undervalue public service. An
interviewer made that comment and said that we've denigrated public
servants. "People used to see it as noble undertaking," he said. "We
have to work on that so we can attract people to public service who
bring with them some values."
The fundamental way new legislators are
informed is by the state agencies and by interest groups. An
interviewer made that comment and Brown responded that legislators
rarely come up with new ideas. "But you can't buy what the agencies
and special interest groups are selling," Brown said. "As the
Legislature has staffed up, individual legislators have become less
important. They've become captives of the staff."
"Legislators must have a sense when they
get elected of what are the important things to do," he said.
Minnesota's higher education institutions
are not doing much to improve the state's public-policy process.
"People are deceived by thinking we have all these higher education
institutions doing something, but we don't," Brown said. He said the
University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs was at
its best when Dean John Brandl was running it from 1997 to 2002.
Brandl was also director of the U of M's School of Public Affairs
(predecessor to the Humphrey Institute, which is now called the
Humphrey School of Public Affairs) during the 1970s.
Brown noted that fellows at the Humphrey
School have to raise money for their own salaries. "There's no
commitment from the institution," he said.
What would a partnership involving the
Civic Caucus to create a program of mentoring and informing future
leaders look like? An interviewer asked that question and Brown
responded that you can't form partnerships all at once and that
partners must have a common interest. "It's tough; you have to
listen to people," he said.
Party designation in legislative elections
and at the Legislature is now a disaster. Brown made that
comment in response to a question on having a nonpartisan
Legislature. He said he supported the switch to party designation
when he was in the Legislature, but, unlike today, both parties at
that time were broad-based and overlapped. He applauded the work of
organizations like No Labels, which are trying to lessen the
partisan divide. (See