Identify issues no one else wants to
address, deepen understanding
Caucus Internal Discussion February 9, 2018
John Adams, Janis Clay
(executive director), Fata Acquoi, Paul Gilje, Ted Kolderie, Paul
Ostrow (chair), Dana Schroeder (associate director), Clarence
Shallbetter, T. Williams. By phone: Audrey Clay.
In this internal discussion, the
Civic Caucus interview group raises the questions of what readers of
the Civic Caucus interview notes are getting that they aren't
getting elsewhere and why people are willing to be interviewed. One
interviewer calls the Caucus an advocate for a marketplace of ideas.
Another says the Civic Caucus has a newspaper model, with a unique
panel-style interview and a distribution process to inform the
citizen-public and deepen understanding about important issues.
The group looks back to the purpose of the
Citizens League, while also hearing that the Civic Caucus does not
have to do what the Citizens League used to do. There are people
around who have ideas and proposals. The Caucus can find these
people and give attention to those ideas and proposals.
About five years ago, the Civic Caucus
used to change topics quickly, sometimes from interview to
interview. In recent years, the Caucus has focused its interviews on
one topic over a period of months or even a year. The group
discussed changing topics more often, so the Caucus could deal with
issues as they arise. An important function of the Caucus should be
to tackle issues no one else will. The members list a number of such
Continuing this focus, beginning in
October 2017, the Civic Caucus has held a series of interviews with
eight 2018 gubernatorial candidates, interspersed with interviews
about the quality of Minnesota's legislative process. The Civic
Caucus interview group held this internal discussion to explore the
Caucus's mission and its future focus.
Organizations need to
examine four elements: mission, structure, distribution of power and
responsibility, and resources. One member of the Civic Caucus
interview group started the discussion with that remark, which he
attributed to Robert Kudrle of the University of Minnesota's (U of
M) Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Kudrle said the ordinary
tendency is to look down to the bottom element, resources. He says
it's better to go to the top and redefine what the point of the
An interviewer said it is still unclear to
him exactly what the mission is, the well-defined purpose, of the
Civic Caucus. What are readers looking for that they don't get
Another interviewer said it is crucial to
think about why people read what the Civic Caucus produces and why
people are willing to be interviewed. This could help us shape where
the Civic Caucus goes. Someone else noted we should also ask why
people drop out of the interview group.
The Civic Caucus conducted 24 interviews
last year, not counting internal discussion meetings. An
interviewer was surprised at that number, thinking we had conducted
more interviews. He said we could consider having one session a
month to digest what speakers have said or a board meeting once a
The Civic Caucus is an advocate for a
"marketplace of ideas." An interviewer made that remark
and said that we call on citizens to engage in informed debate. This
is almost nonexistent elsewhere.
How do we differ from MinnPost? an
interviewer asked. Another interviewer said the Civic Caucus
is more niche.
What were the aims of Verne Johnson when
he founded the Civic Caucus? An interviewer said she has some of
his thoughts from 2002 on this. Ted Kolderie discusses Johnson and
the Citizens League in chapter six of his book Thinking Out the
A productive way to look at the Civic
Caucus is that we actually have a "newspaper model." An
interviewer earlier had articulated this idea. We have in place a
reporting process, with a unique panel-style interview, and a
distribution process to inform the citizen-public and deepen
understanding about important issues. An interviewer pointed out
that, early on, the Citizens League was led by two ex-journalists,
Ted Kolderie and Paul Gilje.
We have a good idea of who opens the notes
from our interviews and have built up a very impressive e-mail
distribution list. We now have 5,500 people on our e-mail list,
including news outlets from across Minnesota. The Civic Caucus needs
to be sure to update its distribution list to include the people
newly in elected office, such as city councils and mayors, an
Five years ago or so, Civic Caucus
interviews used to jump from topic to topic, but in more recent
years, we have stayed with a topic for much longer periods. An
interviewer made that observation and another interviewer said
Issues are about choices. What do you want to accomplish and how
should you go about it? He leans toward the model of taking
important things as they pop up and not trying to stay too long on a
single topic. A function of the Civic Caucus is to identify those
issues, to shape the agenda. Articulate the issues and get people in
public life to talk about them. One concern is losing people who are
not interested if we stay on a topic for too long.
The Civic Caucus interview group members
have a wealth of experience in public policy. An interviewer said
what attracted him to the Caucus was the collective experience of
the interview group. The Civic Caucus has a purpose in gathering
information. Very important, too, is to share what we have around
the table, a "zillion" years of wisdom and collective experience.
Another interviewer mentioned that our
speakers often remark after an interview how much they have learned
from the interview group.
We should look back to the purpose of the
Citizens League: (1) to help the community understand its
problems and (2) to determine what to do about them--that is, to
deepen understanding of problems or issues. The interviewer who made
that remark noted a continuing underlying feeling or belief that the
Civic Caucus ought to be making proposals and a frustration that it
does not do so. He stated he does not think it is a bad thing to
Another interviewer pointed out the
reports the Caucus has produced that have contained
proposals--for example, on human capital and on the policy process.
A third interviewer asked if it's that we don't have the capacity to
make proposals or that our proposals are not being accepted.
An interviewer asked whether there is even
such a thing today as a nonpartisan policy proposal. That is a huge
change from the past. Could that be the Civic Caucus's sweet spot?
We are not about the result, but about the process, about deepening
the public-policy process. He mentioned the example of calling for
the return of the State Planning Agency.
Another interviewer asked how the Citizens
League got the leverage it had. What is different now?
Community engagement was part of this. Also, the Citizens League had
key policymakers' attention. How realistic is such a model today?
The Civic Caucus does not have to do what
the Citizens League used to do. An interviewer made that
statement and said so much has changed that he doesn't think we can
replicate what the Citizens League did. There are people around who
do have ideas. An important function is to find these people and
give attention to those who do have proposals.
As an example, the interviewer said that
Bob Wedl of Education|Evolving and Tom Melcher of the Minnesota
Department of Education have been examining how the Minneapolis
schools are changing the flow of state compensatory aid money as it
relates to the students those funds were attracted to serve. The
Civic Caucus could be one of the only organizations bringing this to
light. It is good to be more topical. Jump on the opportunity when
we hear about something.
It is very attractive to take on the
issues no one else wants to discuss, another interviewer said. This
could appeal to donors.
What are some issues no one else wants to
address? The interviewers briefly named some of those issues:
The difficulty people have
getting to work in 30 minutes or less. This is a great obstacle to
employers and to people who can't make more money by taking other
Cost control and productivity of
faculty members in higher education.
True criminal justice reform. We
send too many people to jail and pay too little attention to how to
prepare people to re-enter society. Instead, we put up barriers to
voting, employment and housing. This is an issue of collateral
Lawmaking prompted by and named
for victims of horrendous events.
Intelligent conversation about
choices and issues in health care. It is such a huge portion of the
budget. Medical error is a big cause of death. Put focus on quality
and cost. Possible speakers would be Minnesota Commissioner of
Health Jan Malcolm and Bryan Dowd at the U of M's School of Public
Two immigration topics: (1)
The black immigrant experience in Minnesota. There are many Somali
and Liberian immigrants, for example, but there is so little focus
on their experience. Temporary Protected Status is expiring. (2) The
teacher shortage coming through the pipeline, especially for
teachers of color, and how to invest resources into that pipeline.
What are we facing from a state
budget standpoint? No one has a clue.
K-12 compensatory funding: where
it goes and who benefits.
If the Civic Caucus wants people to give
their time and their money, it must be clear as to what it is going
to do. An interviewer made that statement and said one function
is to carry on the discussion of problems and objectives that has so
largely disappeared these days. Public affairs is a combination of
government and non-government. He believes things have deteriorated
because the civic sector has deteriorated, which allows politics to
show its worst features. He noted that the League of Women Voters,
the Citizens League and the Minnesota Meeting are either gone or are
not as effective as they once were.
Politics is often about avoiding choices
and governing is about making choices. An interviewer made that
statement and said an interesting aspect of the Civic Caucus's
gubernatorial interviews is what things the candidates agreed on and
also what they were unwilling to talk about.
Regarding the need to strengthen and
restore the civic sector, an interviewer noted that many people now
don't have a clue about how organizations function, such as human
services, higher education, K-12 education, transportation,
workforce development and housing. The culture is self-centered and
self-oriented. Many people--students and others--have no idea, for
example, where cities get their money. There is a real market for
asking good questions.
There is an educational function to
perform. An interviewer made that statement and said that in his
discussions with Lori Sturdevant, editorial writer and columnist for
the Star Tribune, she has noted that the paper will have one
story when a controversy appears and one about the conclusion. There
is no coverage about the process in-between. Is this a function for
the Civic Caucus?
It's tempting to turn our attention to
Washington, D.C., but we must remind ourselves to stay
Minnesota-focused. An interviewer closed the discussion with
The Civic Caucus
is a nonpartisan,
tax-exempt educational organization. The Interview Group
includes persons of varying political persuasions,
reflecting years of leadership in politics, public policy,
business, nonprofits and government.
to see a short personal background of each.
S. Adams, David Broden, Audrey Clay, Janis Clay (executive director), Pat Davies, Paul Gilje,
Rob Jacobs, Dwight Johnson, Randy Johnson, Sallie
Kemper, Ted Kolderie,
Dan Loritz, Marina Lyon, Tim McDonald, Bruce Mooty, Jim Olson, Paul Ostrow
Popham, Dana Schroeder, Clarence Shallbetter, and Fred Zimmerman