out-of school program; and investment to try to bring prosperity to
every corner of the city, such as the construction of the Arlington
Hills Community Center on the East Side, which is both a library and
a recreation center.
He said he has provided good stewardship
of the city's public resources during his time in office, trying to
"steer through the challenges we have faced, such as the Great
Recession." Saint Paul has an annual budget of over $500 million and
there have been financial challenges, such as trying to have enough
police officers and making sure the streets get plowed correctly.
Coleman quipped that inadequate snowplowing can be "the death of
"We've looked toward the future and the
needs of the community," he said. "We've tried to understand the
challenges we face in the 21st century in Minnesota. I think we've
made some progress, although we still have a long way to go in terms
of solving all the challenges we face."
Coleman said he's passionate about
Minnesota because of what we've built up over generations. He
spoke of leaders like longtime DFL State Senator Jack Davies from
Minneapolis, who served from 1959 to 1982, and Coleman's late
father, longtime DFL State Senator Nick Coleman from Saint Paul, who
served from 1963 to 1980. "They made Minnesota a national model for
how states can work," he said. Coleman said Minnesota is very
different today from what it was in the early 1970s, when
then-Governor Wendell Anderson appeared on the cover of Time
magazine with the heading "Minnesota: The State That Works." "It's
an example of how Minnesota can be a leader again, facing and
confronting a community that's very different from what it was 40 or
50 years ago," Coleman said.
Every one of the 860 large and small
communities in Minnesota has its own opportunities and faces its own
challenges. Coleman made that remark and said we must figure out
how to unleash some of those opportunities. "How can the state be a
catalyst in some of the work we're doing in helping communities
grow?" he asked.
What will it take for Minnesota to
continue to be a leader? Coleman asked that question and said
the criteria that Amazon has put out for cities as it looks for a
second headquarters location can be a roadmap for what we need to do
as a state. "They're the qualities that any company will be looking
for," he said. "They're looking for a first-class, educated
workforce; a vibrant community; communities that have invested in
transportation; a place where they can thrive, largely because
they'll be able to attract the talent they need."
"Communities investing in their
transportation networks, like Denver, are thriving, while the ones
that aren't are dying," Coleman said. "We're doing very well in this
region, but we need to continue to invest in order to be able to
grow and prosper. We're not going to be great because we disinvest
ourselves in education or in infrastructure. We're going to be great
because we made smart, strategic investments that have propelled the
We need to increase the gas tax.
Coleman gave that response to an interviewer's question about how to
fund roads and bridges at the state, township, city and county
levels. Coleman said his theme over the years has been, "Don't tell
me what want, unless you tell me how you're going to pay for it or
what you're going to do without in order to achieve that. We can't
say we want a first-class transportation system and a first-class
transit system and first-class infrastructure without being willing
to pay for that."
Coleman said the gas tax needs to be
increased and also indexed to keep pace with inflation. "That's not
necessarily very popular," he said, "but people are beginning to
understand the complexities of the problem we face and that we do
need to pay for it somehow. The challenge is, as vehicles become
more efficient and we travel less, the gas tax alone is not going to
be able to do that." He said perhaps we could use miles traveled and
track that somehow. Trucks cause tremendous wear and tear on our
roads, so we could look at an increase in license and vehicle fees.
We must consider the option of paying for
transit projects locally, rather than seeking federal funding.
Coleman made that remark and noted that some metro counties have a
sales tax to help pay for transit. Coleman said we need to expand
the authority, particularly for Ramsey and Hennepin Counties, to
increase the transit sales tax to maybe a full one percent, instead
of the half of one percent that it is currently in those two
He said Denver has decided not to seek
federal funding for new-start transit projects, because those
federal funds are basically drying up. Also, he said, by the time
you jump through all the hoops to seek federal funding, the
inflation on the projects has increased and that offsets a
significant portion of what you get in federal funds. If we can
figure out how to get these projects done more quickly, using local
sources of revenue, they're going to be cheaper.
"By the time you've gone through all the
hoops to get federal funding, the project is 50 percent higher than
it was to begin with," Coleman said. "So, the nominal costs of going
it alone, if you can get those projects in the ground more quickly,
are probably not as dramatic as they might seem." He said we must
look at the option of building transit projects on our own. "We
can't spend a decade trying to build each LRT [light-rail transit]
line," he said.
"We need a statewide transportation plan
and then we must implement the plan," he continued. "Local transit
projects are the railroads of the 1850s and the freeways of the
1950s. We must get out of the idea that dollars from Worthington are
coming to fund transit projects in the Twin Cities, which is not
true. But that's the mythology."
We have lost companies that were
considering coming to Minnesota because we don't have a way to get
people to jobs in the suburbs. Coleman made that remark in
response to an interviewer's comment that not all jobs are in
downtown Minneapolis or Saint Paul, but most of our transit system
is focused on getting people downtown. He said the number-one issue
for companies is whether we have the workforce to fill, for example,
5,000 jobs at a distribution center. That also includes getting
people to those jobs.
Coleman said many companies are looking
for large, single-floor facilities, which leads them to the more
distant suburbs. A number of the people who need those jobs live in
Minneapolis or Saint Paul. "How do we get people from where they
live to Shakopee?" he asked. He suggested that bus rapid transit (BRT)
or special-service buses might offer a solution. "We must build out
the transit networks," he said. "We can't just build spokes into
The education governance model is broken.
Coleman made that remark in response to an interviewer's
comments and questions about K-12 education. The interviewer said
that until the late 1980s, the state had the public education system
acting as a public utility. "It gave good service, but it never
changed much," the interviewer said. Then, in the late 1980s, the
state authorized the Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO)
program, allowing 11th- and 12th-grade public school students to
attend classes at any postsecondary institution in Minnesota for
free. That was followed by state authorization of area learning
centers, open enrollment, graduation incentives and, in 1991,
"The state changed life fundamentally for
the school districts," the interviewer said. "But the state has
never given the district system the opportunity to compete
successfully in this new world that's been created for them. It's a
huge problem. It tends to push school districts to try to get rid of
the competition. The state needs to start thinking about how you
give the districts the flexibility and incentives to change the
system. Doesn't the state, in fairness, need to give public school
districts an opportunity to compete successfully in this
Coleman responded that the governance
system in public education is broken. "School boards feel they can't
make a change because a handful of parents don't want it," he said.
"They can't close schools."
People don't know that school board
elections exist, he said. "It's a completely unaccountable level of
governance," he said. School board members respond to parents who
say, 'Don't make changes that affect my family.' We must
change the governance model."
Mayoral control of schools in cities like
Chicago and Boston allows people to know which elected official is
responsible for the school system. Coleman made that remark and
noted that mayoral control of the schools wouldn't work in smaller
communities or multi-jurisdictional school districts. But it might
work in Minneapolis and Saint Paul. "It's not that mayoral control
in other cities has eliminated all the disparities," he said. "But
at least people could say, 'You are my elected official who is
responsible for this.'"
Mayoral control wouldn't have to be more
than appointing the school board, Coleman said. "If [as mayor] I had
the authority to appoint the school board, or at least appoint
certain members of the school board, [they] would have a broader
perspective on governance and might actually have some knowledge of
how you govern a $700 million to $800 million enterprise. Then we
might have some authority to make some changes."
We need more people in the front of the
classroom who are representative of the entire classroom of
students. Coleman made that remark in response to an
interviewer's question about what we can do as a state to attract
more people of color into teaching. "How do we recruit, how do we
incentivize, how do we support teachers of color?" Coleman asked.
"There are too many teachers who are afraid of the kids they're
teaching and don't know how to relate to them. How do you teach
someone you're afraid of?"
An interviewer commented that it's one
thing to recruit people of color into a school or a system. But it's
another thing to be willing to have those people you bring in
influence how the system works. The interviewer pointed to a school
in Washington, D.C., which has all students of color and an all-male
staff, predominately African American and Latino. The teachers at
the school have been given the opportunity to affect how they
operate and how they teach.
"We can't have one part of society where
the vast majority of people are failing and then a few people at the
top who are succeeding," the interviewer said.
"We have never confronted in this country
and this state the issue of race and the terrible disparities,"
Coleman responded. In the 1980s, Saint Paul schools were 85 percent
white, he said. Now the schools are 80 percent kids of color. He
said the school system still reflects the days when white students
made up a large majority of the district's enrollment. "Our systems
have to change," he said.
During Coleman's time as mayor, all 2,900
Saint Paul city employees completed racial bias and equity training.
The overall message to employees, he said, is that they must work on
behalf of all people in Saint Paul. All departments were asked to
complete a racial equity plan. For example, employees were asked to
look at the question of how decisions we make around street
maintenance disproportionately impact people of color. He noted that
an audit of the Saint Paul Fire Department showed that all parts of
the city were getting equal services.
Coleman said the city's Human Rights
Department was revamped into the Department of
Human Rights and Equal Economic Opportunity Department. The city is
exceeding compliance by aiming to award 30 percent (rather than 10
percent) of contracts for projects like the Saint Paul Saints' CHS
Field to women-owned or minority-owned businesses.
The state agencies must have a similar
equal-opportunities lens, he said. The State Department of
Transportation must have a racial equity plan. "The only person who
can lead that effort is the governor," he said.
We must confront how the University of
Minnesota (U of M) and Minnesota State become relevant to the state
of Minnesota. Coleman gave that response to an interviewer's
comment that governors in Minnesota have been invisible in
challenging higher education institutions to help the state. He
asked Coleman how he sees the U of M and Minnesota State serving the
Coleman said he has looked at how we can
connect the Minnesota State system to meeting the state's needs.
"The system will have to undergo changes," he said. "We need someone
willing to make disruptive change. We need to make changes in the
"The 'U' is one of the more critical
aspects of the state," Coleman said. He suggested the University,
through its Extension programs, could play a dramatic role in
breaking the divide on the water issue and the buffer-zone issue.
There should be programs out of the U of M showing farmers how to
reduce the chemical load on the Minnesota River, while also
increasing their own efficiency. And he asked what the U of M could
do to revitalize Virginia, Minnesota.
The U of M must be more integrated
into the community. Coleman gave that response to an
interviewer's comments that the U of M and Minnesota State have no
plan for connecting with the state's K-12 education system in their
academic and facilities planning. "We're planning for the same
population," the interviewer said. "When will there be questions
about how we can do this together?"
While saying that the U of M must be more
integrated into the community, Coleman said he believes U of M
President Eric Kaler is doing more work directly in Minneapolis and
Saint Paul. "I'm seeing the 'U' having a more direct role in the
outcomes of the K-12 system," Coleman said, such as trying to make
sure students are ready for the PSEO program. He's not sure how
joint facilities planning between the two systems would work.
4. The Public Policymaking Process in
We have a robust civic infrastructure in
Minnesota. Coleman gave that response to an interviewer's
question about how well the public-policy process in the state works
today. The interviewer commented that Minnesota's public-policy
process has, at least in the past, been one of the things making the
state competitive with other states. She asked whether the
Legislature and the governor are getting enough good public-policy
ideas from individuals, organizations and institutions in the state.
Coleman said the state's robust civic
infrastructure has kept good ideas floating in the public sector.
"But that's difficult to do when things are so partisan," he said.
"My Dad (longtime State Senator Nick Coleman) would no longer
recognize the Legislature, because it's become so partisan. The
Legislature has become a blood sport. They have to figure out how to
move forward after coming to an agreement."
Coleman criticized the rush at the end of
recent legislative sessions, when big Omnibus bills are presented at
the last minute and legislators are meeting well after midnight for
days in a row. "You shouldn't make policy for 5 million people when
you haven't slept for three or four days," he said.
"Nothing happening has become a victory
for one side," Coleman continued. "It's hard to get good public
policy enacted. We need to find enough people to run for the
Legislature who put the state first."
Does the governor have a role in pushing
the Legislature to abide by the single-subject bill requirement in
the Minnesota Constitution? An interviewer asked that question
and noted that the