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These comments are responses to the Civic Caucus interview with

Civic Caucus Interview Group - Internal Discussion
March 18, 2016

A Progress Report: Minnesota’s public policy process reflects changes in state’s culture

Overview

Civic organizations in Minnesota today are functioning in a more individualistic, less community-oriented environment today than in the past. Members of the Civic Caucus interview group make that assertion in an internal discussion reviewing a very preliminary draft of findings from the Caucus's exploration so far of the public-policy process in the state.

Members of the group observe that people sitting around the table dealing with issues as generalist citizens, not special interest groups, came from a culture that said you need to be worried about making things better in the community. Certain civic organizations empowered citizens to make a difference in that way. As businesses in the community became more nationally owned than locally owned, the interest of those businesses in the local community seemed to diminish. That weakened the earlier culture and the civic organizations that helped put the culture into practice. It's important to worry about it if that culture is no longer here, members of the Civic Caucus group say.

Participants in the discussion note that all of the great public-policy ideas in the world won't succeed unless we change the underlying environment. They question what role the Civic Caucus or other organizations could take in moving the needle culturally and socially. The group says we must remember that there are pluses, as well as negatives, in some changes in the environment, such as the ability to communicate readily and easily.

The group wonders whether legislators are unduly influenced today by special-interest groups and whether there generally is less attention now to larger, underlying issues than to immediate concerns. They discuss the importance of determining what would motivate more people, especially the younger generation, to get involved and pay attention to significant policy issues.

During the discussion, the interview group agrees that the Civic Caucus's challenge over the next few months is, after completing the findings, to develop conclusions and recommendations (that is, specific, actionable proposals) on strengthening Minnesota's institutions of public policy.

For the complete interview summary see: 3/18/16 Internal Discussion

Individual Responses:

Judith Healey
I love what the Civic Caucus is doing. My hope is that the kind of civic vitality that permeated our community and discussions when the Citizens League was at its best could be revived. Can CC do that? With a broad range of constituents and some of the newer-comers? Would corporate Minnesota support it? Hard to tell. This is a good list for a start.

John Adams
That was an excellent summary of our discussion and the main points made.

Dale Schmid
I enjoy reading the reports. As an outsider, a couple items stuck out in your progress report. Here are my reactions:

"We should not ignore the cultural foundations after World War II that made it possible for civic institutions to form and flourish in the Twin Cities: (1) the relatively homogeneous cultural environment and (2) the relative absence of troubled/challenged populations. This was a different environment from that of the large Northeastern industrial metropolises, with their cultural heterogeneity, that led to more present-oriented rancor and stalemate, rather than future-oriented cooperative activity."

If there is a consensus in the CC about the above, then it should pervade the entire process. It says that previously successful approaches to policy are largely "out the window." A fresh start may be needed to identify approaches that work in the new cultural environment. Also, something that might be added to the above paragraph are differences developing between metro Minnesota and the rest of the state.


"During the discussion, the interview group agreed that the Civic Caucus's challenge over the next few months is, after completing the findings, to develop conclusions and recommendations (that is, specific, actionable proposals) on strengthening Minnesota's institutions of public policy."

The number of issues identified are so numerous, identifying actionable proposals for each may be beyond the reach of the CC. That suggests a need to develop a short list of priority issues on which CC can make a contribution.

David Durenberger
Nice work, nice summary.

I concluded that our "community" has changed enough in the last 40 years that it is difficult to come up with the "secret sauce" that makes it possible for the community to reclaim from the individualists and their "special interests"and their "paid influencers" our once vaunted ability to inform and to inspire our elected representatives to seek out public policy that responds to consensus systemic problems with a P-I-E. This despite the fact we have available to us an increasingly vast array of communications skills, technology, and systems with which to do it.

I would probably come to that conclusion myself, but I’m too old to change. So I must try some suggestions for courses of action to consider. And you’ve suggested "States are becoming more important" in overcoming "failure to understand the system that turns resources into results."

I want to begin with some high-cost systems problems that can best be dealt with at the state level and to assume that Minnesota still has the capacity to take these on.

Health and health care: We are a non-profit health care delivery state that tolerates poor health and over-priced technology and ineffective therapies because all the "experts" and "job creators" are the ones running the dysfunctional system and
financing our re-elections. But wait, our state legislators need as much help as possible to understand what they, not a bureaucracy with a trillion dollars of our money in Washington, tells them is the solution. That help can come from people in MN.

Education: For how many years have we been the champions of elementary and secondary education reform? Longer than any other state, longer than Washington, DC, and, as in health care, a lot longer than the professional associations who make
public policy. The vaunted voice of the community no longer determines the quality and effectiveness and value of education because our taxes are only the tail trying to wag a much bigger dog. Read Ted Kolderie yesterday for starters.

Higher Education: Who doesn’t know that it will never reform itself? So . . . . .?

Housing: We live in a community of housing providers for low and moderate income and aging who’ve performed incredibly well in a national tax subsidy environment which has been so inflationary and regressive as to drive anyone else crazy. Devolution: Return the entire housing subsidy system to the states from the national government and watch us operate.

Transportation. I love Jim Oberstar and all the rest of the appropriators, but in 1982 I held up the national Highway Bill re-authorization with an amendment to return all but a core amount of the federal fuel tax to the states, leaving just enough to do desperately needed research, development, and safety standards that are more effectively done by one entity than 50. I gave in because my right wing colleagues agreed to pass the bill over Reagan’s objection "to all that spending" if only I didn’t do my devolution amendment. John Kasich in Minneapolis last month promised to do it now.

MN Association of Counties: If any elected Minnesotans know what it is that states can do better and less expensively than the feds, it’s county commissioners. I’d spend time listening to them.

Then theirs is the job of helping our congressional representatives better understand how MN is being taken to the cleaners by states which use their tax capacity to steal business and citizens from us, by passing the buck on health, education,
and social services to the feds.

Colleagues of the Civic Caucus Interview Group: I cannot adequately express my gratitude to you for the incredible gifts you are to all the rest of us. And how much I want you and us to succeed in persuading younger generations that civic action
and community pride is alive and well in the communities of our state.

I recognize how much our MN environment and culture has changed. But I also see both political parties and what passes for political "leadership" being at best well-intentioned, and at worst, expensively ineffective as change agents. Yes, the special
interests exist and the lobbyists are too numerous to count, and campaign financing comes from some god-awful sources and all the other culture change you point out is real.

Ted Kolderie is a lot older than I but yesterday he stirred something in me with his little piece on motivation. If it works for the teachers in the really tough classrooms he referenced, it can work for the rest of us. I started hanging out with a bunch
of old DFL and retired business agent DFLers in St. Paul after my retirement and watched in amazement last fall when they began to speak out against the too strong mayoral government of St. Paul, helped stop parking meters and a few other things
until the citizenry could be involved and now they meet every Sunday noon in a coffee shop somewhere in the city and call themselves St. Paul STRONG. Motivation!

David Detert
1. The situation of Minnesota civic life represents the disappearance of the Northern European, Protestant, white, male dominated culture of the past. It can be argued from the points of how that was bad or good, but there is no longer a uniting culture commonly held by a large majority that could produce agreement and action. This is what a society that is multicultural looks like and the question is, can it survive?

2. The issues facing Minnesota in general do not have the same immediacy as they did years ago. At that time much of the infrastructure and institutions had to be built where nothing existed before. It meant that people could see that for their future to be better they had to deny themselves much in order to build the infrastructure that would allow them to prosper. Once that infrastructure is built the pressure is off. The repair of the roads, emphasis on education and all the rest does not become a crisis if not addressed immediately. Because the repairs on the bridge are not done even though we know they should be, the bridge does not fall down in a month. Instead we can use that money for our vacation, second home, entertainment and life style in general and we can do it for a long time before the crisis occurs.


3. I know this is the ultimate heresy at this particular time in history but what if the framework that supports a civilization arises from the relationship among men? When you talk of the civic institutions of the past you are talking about groups of men almost exclusively. In their civic organizations -VFW, Rotary, Lions, Eagles, Country clubs they met, socialized, established their networks and maintained their relationships and a common culture. All of this would be derided today and in fact probably against the law. An example I would offer of the deleterious effects of destroying that male structure is what has happened in the black community. Any successful black male leaves the community. A significant portion of the mature male population is incarcerated or has been incarcerated and cannot find employment adequate to maintain a family. The result is that there isn’t a black male structure for the rest of the community to be built on. Can the problems of the black community be resolved if attention is not first given to developing a means for black males to be successful? Would this have same implications for society in general? If the male structure is destroyed, can the community survive? As I mentioned I know that this is heresy, but the same has been true about many ideas through out history. Just because it is heresy to the common culture of the day doesn’t mean it is wrong, it just means it doesn’t conform to how the world wishes it to be. I am not suggesting a male-only power structure or a return to 70 years ago but I am asking people to think about what provides structure to a civilization.

Thanks for letting me express my opinion.

Tom Spitznagle
Another factor to consider that adds to the complexity of citizen’s civic engagement is the proliferation of laws, regulations, ordinances and accompanying government influence at the local, state and national levels over most all aspects of our society. When citizens, say sixty years ago, recognized a problem or opportunity, the expectation was that the solution or plan most often was theirs to develop and implement at the local level. Today, citizens have to consider an increasingly complex legal and regulatory environment affecting most important issues – even relatively simple ones. In addition, there may be numerous government agencies that have to weigh in and exercise some level of control over any new program or initiative. This complexity is overwhelming for most people and they will simply disengage.

A side effect of citizen disengagement is that solutions or plans are then more likely to come from a government function, which is usually more remote from the issue and usually less motivated to develop a timely and optimal solution at a reasonable cost.

In my experience, it takes considerable time and motivation today to become involved in even the simplest of public issues. For example, about ten years ago it was discovered that a short snowmobile trail used for decades to access two good ice fishing lakes near the Canadian border passed through a portion of the BWCA and was not in compliance with the BWCA Act. Local citizens, working with the US Forest Service, developed a workable alternate trail route which could have been easily constructed and the matter would have been over. But the USFS trail reroute plan did not meet with the approval of some outside groups. The matter ended up in U.S. District Court and went on for over ten years at a cost to the USFS and citizen legal fees of well over $300,000. In addition, the financially strapped USFS had to pay for scientific analyses of the impacts of moving the trail. In the end, the court ruled that the USFS could proceed with its originally proposed solution and local citizens, working with USFS and Minnesota DNR staff constructed the trail reroute.

Bob Carney, Jr.
The dominance of lobbyists and special interests at the Capitol is overwhelming today. Over $60 million is spent annually on this, including over $8 million that was characterized in a recent Star Tribune article as "government lobbying government."

One major piece missing from the discussion is the apparent decline of the Political Contribution Refund program at the state level. I did a 2006 videotaped interview with then House Speaker Steve Sviggum, which included this topic. Sviggum told me that every member of his caucus was participating in the program, and that he strongly supported it (I think Matt Entenza was the only DFLer not participating.) When Gov. Pawlenty unalloted the PCR program I was the first person to file an "unallotment lawsuit" – challenging that as illegal (my case was dismissed in District Court; another case proceeded based on a Constitutional argument I did not advance, but the Minnesota Supreme Court’s final decision that the unallotments were illegal was based on the same statutory argument I made in District Court. With ten days to go before the end of session, and a $3 billion budget gap caused by the Supreme Court’s ruling, the DFL controlled legislature then "caved", retroactively ratifying Pawlenty’s unallotments).

By the way, in the "for what it’s worth" category, it is abundantly clear that the 2009 PCR unalotment literally caused the Republican Party’s bankruptcy – when the PCR program was running before Pawlenty’s action, the state GOP was the single biggest recipient of contributions – about $2 million a year, from (as I recall from memory) about 25,000 to 35,000 people. In the first year after the unallotment, the state GOP received a TOTAL of 60 contributions – averaging about $40,000 each.

The PCR program is currently suspended for this election cycle, but is scheduled to resume in 2017, in time for the 2018 off-year cycle. Of course the fact it’s scheduled to come back is good – but we’re headed for another cycle where Legislators will be totally dependent on "non grass roots" contributions, including of course from Lobbyists (who are paid $60 million – how much they "pass on" as contributions is easily tracked by their employers).

The PCR program should both be continued at the State level and also expanded to all elections at all levels except Federal (I’m simply not sure what the legal implications would be of expanding it to Federal elections, but I’m not opposed in principle to doing that).

In addition, I think it would help to add some required disclosure elements – which you can think of as "branding".

Candidates who do accept contributions from Lobbyists should be required to disclose that fact prominently on all campaign materials – kind of like the Surgeon General’s "don’t smoke" warning.

Because participation in the PCR program is voluntary, it might be a good idea to exclude participants from accepting contributions from Lobbyists.

Scott Halstead
Very good work as usual.

I would disagree with Business being classified as a General Purpose Organization. They make the financial donations, hire the lobbyists and have the Chamber of Commerce running interference.

Media: Journalists far too often publish the information that the PR Department provides without looking any deeper.

The Citizens League including a former Metropolitan Council Director on their team for providing the legislature with another method of selecting council members appears to be a poor decision, but may be fine depending upon the role played.

P.S. As a leader of an organization that is active at the State Legislature and wishing to make legislative reforms, I often see organizations that focus on only what is good for them. I try to make a broader appeal on our issues and utilize an Advocacy Plan that is in the best interests of all Minnesotans.

Our elected leaders have failed to address major issues: Subjecting constituents to higher costs defending proposed constitutional amendments and just wasting everyone's time on issues that have zero chance of passing. The Legislative Auditor identified deficiencies in the Metropolitatn Council leadership in a 2011 report. There aren't performance standards for high-cost transit projects. The state is still looking at high-speed rail projects that don't make any economic sense. Non-partisan redistricting, judicial selection.

 

To receive these interview summaries as they occur, email civiccaucus@comcast.net         Follow us on Twitter

 

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.

  John S. Adams, David Broden, Audrey Clay, Janis Clay, Pat Davies, Bill Frenzel, Paul Gilje (Executive Director), Randy Johnson, Sallie Kemper, Ted Kolderie,
Dan Loritz (Chair), Tim McDonald, Bruce Mooty, John Mooty, Jim Olson, Paul Ostrow, Wayne Popham, Dana Schroeder, Clarence Shallbetter, and Fred Zimmerman

 

 

 


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The Civic Caucus, 01-01-2008
2104 Girard Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55405.  civiccaucus@comcast.net
Dan Loritz, chair, 612-791-1919   ~   Paul A. Gilje, coordinator, 952-890-5220.
 

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