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These comments are responses to the Civic Caucus interview with

Civic Caucus Interview Group Ė Internal Discussion
February 26, 2016

A progress report: What have we learned and where do we go from here?

Overview

There have been dramatic changes in civic life in Minnesota over the last 50 years, the Civic Caucus interview group has found in its review so far of the state's public-policy process. In an internal discussion of preliminary findings of that review, the group observed that these changes have led to a loss of the generalist citizen point of view and a failure to look at the deeper causes of community problems. Findings suggest that there were more actionable, coherent public-policy proposals being developed and implemented during the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s.

The group questioned whether there is a way today for citizens to gain the knowledge and skills to counter the ever-growing multitude of special interest organizations, with their well-financed staffs and lobbyists. Participants noted that some public-policy institutions used to empower citizens to gain the deep knowledge needed for such direct policy involvement through participation in study committees. Fortified with that knowledge, citizens were able to present public-policy reports and recommendations and testify at the Legislature. The Civic Caucus group questioned whether any community organization is engaged today in the kind of citizen-empowerment needed to effectively respond to special interest groups.

The Caucus group noted that historically there have been a wide array of institutions of public policy: general-interest civic organizations, state agencies and local governments, political parties, academic institutions and the media. It questioned whether these institutions are fulfilling their responsibility today for researching and defining issues and offering recommendations for resolving community problems. It said institutions receiving large amounts of public funds ought to be able to do more to attack state problems, with better ideas and proposals coming forth than there are now.

The Civic Caucus group believes there is receptivity at the Legislature and in the state's executive branch to improving Minnesota, but these institutions are not getting the kind of help they need. They need good proposals with definable things to do, but the state no longer has a system producing such proposals.

The group will continue to explore the public-policy process with further interviews and plans to produce a final list of findings, conclusions and recommendations over the next six to 12 months.

For the complete interview summary see: Internal Discussion 2-26-16

Individual Responses:

Mark Daleiden
I found your discussion very interesting. Iím not sure you are looking in the correct places for some of your answers. Iím a County Commissioner for Wright County, MN which is the next county west of Hennepin. I also sit on the Wright County Community Action Board, which does Head Start and a number of other programs. I can assure you that the board is very involved in discussion on how we can better do things, but you are right in that getting people involved, especially those that we are there to help can be very difficult, which is one thing I scratch my head over all of the time. The counties meet a few times a year and are broken up into 5 different groups. There we try and focus on improving or solving problems. I do know that compared to other States the software that we have to deal with at the County level is far behind a number of other states and difficult to be able to pull info out to see what is working and what is not. Some things have not changed for 20 to 30 years and needs to be. Currently there are a number of Human Services software programs that our employees need to use that are based on the old green screens (I think they called it dos back when I first started using computers.)

Minnesota Association of Counties might be a good contact for you if your group has not reached out to them yet. The counties as a group have recommend some changes that have either a tendency to fall on deaf ears. Not sure if itís because the two parties canít (or wonít) get along or if the issue is the bureaucracy at the stateís different departments that people are afraid of change.

Speaking from experience at Wright County when I took office it was very difficult for those that had been there awhile to accept changes and it took so damn long to get simple things accomplished. Example was something as simple as letting employees wear jeans on Friday.

I know one of the items when I first took office, was AMC was trying to accomplish something called the MAGIC ACT. In a nutshell it was a program to allow the Counties flexibility to get to a final outcome, which was the best way for that County to do. I can assure you that what works for Hennepin County isnít going to work very well for some of the Counties with a total of 5000 people or even Wright County with a population of 130,000. That item which we tried to advance in the Legislature was meet with quite a bit of resistance. Having outcome-based programs makes a lot of sense and is easier to track and can be much more cost effective.

Scott Halstead
I am very concerned about state government. Several years ago, all branches of Minnesota averaged a B+ in all phases. I read a PEW report that we are [now] D-. State governments in general have declined, but Minnesota took a major fall. Many reasons: Gerrymandered districts with little competition; deeply divided citizens; [money] in politics; metro/rural divide; lobbying, especially by politicians; research and analysis in the legislature [that] is often shallow and reflects only cost to the state; part time legislators with minimal care or concern of their constituents; disregard of Legislative Auditor findings; negative happenings [that are] held against [people] politically forever;

terrible planning; poor [or] inconsistent federal policy; [the belief that] Washington dollars are free; long delays in taking action [making ]cost of action much more expensive; [no] tracking and publication of voting record.

I'm personally very disappointed in the boomer generation. [There are] very few in community organizations. [There is a] disengaged general public.

I believe that regular public policy [discussion] on statewide public television [and in] print and new media would be of great value.

I attached a few of the documents that I prepared for the Minnesota Federation of National Active and Retired Federal Employees Assoc. (NARFE). The Comprehensive plan is the long-term plan and contains many "better government ideas". This year we are concentrating on exemption of retirement income and exemption of "Seniorsí health insurance premiums. The last is some of our talking points when we testify and meet individually with legislators. I emailed my Democrat state legislators, chair of the House Aging and Long Term Care Policy [committee] and a committee member, House Tax Chair and Senator David Senjem (former Senate Majority Leader) with our request. No response from my state legislators. What a surprise.

Our biggest problem is getting members (we have a lot of 70 - 90 year old members) to communicate with their legislators and urge their support and action. Donald Trump was in Minnesota and he is financing building a wall around Minnesota so our residents including seniors can't migrate to lower tax states. The migration is picking up steam [and] was a topic on WCCO radio this morning.

Minnesota has a lot of major Government problems and doesn't have leaders to legislate and manage for the overall good of the state. I am concerned that there is a lack of migration data through the State Demographer. Is there a deliberate non-analysis or publication of migration data for political purposes? I wouldn't trust this administration.

Marina Lyon
I appreciated this summary. One thing I'd add is understanding the sharing/movement of money between different levels of government. Its resulting effects and limitations need to be studied and well understood prior to making recommendations for many big issue areas.

Feels like exciting times are coming. Thanks for all you and Civic Caucus members are doing.

Tom Abeles
It is a serious issue in that the "public forums" as discussed here are being populated more and more with various interested parties and not the lay public. The current Citizens League study of the Met Council is so populated where "citizen members" are able to "observe" a study group largely composed of political and professionals related to or affected by the Met Council.

There is a real question as to where the "citizen" or informed "lay" person has the ability and time to commit to the type of involvement outside of where they have joined an advocacy group, such as in the climate change area. One can look at the publications, "brick" or "click", and in the various types of discussions in the blog space to see shifts occurring. The current presidential race probably says a lot about the public's sentiments to being able to be heard in an effective manner at both ends of the political spectrum. Here public engagement is rising to the surface but not necessarily in the most constructive manner.

Perhaps new vehicles for such need to be thought about.

If one follows what Scott Walker and the right are doing to education in general and the tenure issue in the flagship UW one can see what one might label very intelligent postings in "click and brick" space but the level of rising rhetoric is matched by the fall in activism. The most forceful today appears to be the "Black Lives Matter" movement which seems to have some staying power as the Wall Street angst has precipitously dissipated.

One can see this in the age of attendants at the DFL's "Think Again Minnesota", many of whom are channeling their interests via sustainer support of MPR.

I keep seeing Anthony Quinn in Zorba the Greek: (Responding to Film: A Text Guide for Students of Cinema Art; https://books.google.rw/books?isbn=0830415807
Constantine Santas - 2002 - ‎Performing Arts) "Zorba," Royko said, "had fire in his belly. Dukakis has vanilla yogurt in his. . . ." This is a tribute to the type Zorba personifies. To many, he has become mythic.

The Citizens League created the "Policy and a Pint" series that, in many ways got coopted by MPR's The Current and made it a lightweight "meet-up". Also, if one looks back over the last few years the Citizens League has started a number of initiatives on various interesting but complicated issues that never made it to the end as a policy paper. Dane's Growth & Justice does have some "fire in the belly", in a large part due to Dane's commitment but one needs to look at it more closely.

Dennis Carlson
These seem more like random thoughts than a series of focused directions that you are proposing. I am not sure what to react to, nor am I sure you have reached any consensus on the issues or potential solutions. I would like to wait to comment until you have reached a consensus among your Civic Caucus members as to what the next steps are. This list seems like an early draft to me.

Vici Oshiro
Many interesting comments. I'll restrict mine to a couple of points.

1. Focus on issues [that] can be substantially resolved by the state (or smaller jurisdiction). Prison populations and mental health treatment probably fit this category. Might take some federal action, but we might be able to get the appropriate legislation passed and signed.

2. Many of the problems are aspects of poverty and inequitable distribution of income and wealth. These problems might be ameliorated by state or local actions, but can only be solved at the international level. Think Piketty's Capitalism in the 21st Century and others I could name. Transfer payments are not enough. Need better wages and broader ownership of means of production among other things. Is there something we can do to promote appropriate changes at national and international levels? What about a public letter to Congress and President the theme of which is "we've studied this problem and we can't solve it in Minnesota unless and until you do your part"?

Expect no progress on national/international issues in 2016.

Phil Kinnunen
Special interest groups have bullied and forced their agendas for the last thirty years to the point that people who care about our society have just given up hope for the future.

Lyall Schwarzkopf
This was a good review of what the Civic Caucus has heard from many people. In the future, I agree with someone who said "take two or three interviews and then the Civic Caucus group discuss what they had just learned."

There was some, but little mention to the family responsibility in the minority gap. Until we frankly and openly discuss the breakdown of the family in especially the African American and the American Indian family, we will never really get to the core of the problem of the minority gap. If children grow up in a family where education [is] not very important, they will carry much of those ideas into school and they will believe that education is not very important. Families need to encourage children and help them get a good education. That is not happening in many African American and American Indian families today. Many times there is no father figure in the home, frequently there is a grand parent trying to raise a child. That needs to be addressed along with housing, poverty and economic income of the family.

As we have established limits of giving to political campaigns and taken away the power of political parties, special interest groups have moved in to fill the vacuum. In the 1960s people and organized groups gave money to political parties and the money was co-mingled and given to candidates. Today, political parties are limited on what they can give to a candidate, so the special interest groups fill that vacuum. We have built a system to advance special interest groups and kill off political parties.

We also need to bring the teaching of civics back to high schools. Students graduating today do not understand the three parts of national and state government, checks and balances, the purpose of a Constitution. It is hard to involve younger people in a civic discussion if they do not understand how government works.

 

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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