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These comments are responses to the Civic Caucus interview with

Former U.S. Senator David Durenberger
October 9, 2015

Restore value that an effective civic infrastructure once offered Minnesota

Overview

According to former U.S. Senator Dave Durenberger, the most important strength of the Twin Cities metropolitan area and of Minnesota as a whole has been the community's ability to take collective action to resolve major problems. He says that during his time in the Senate (1978 to 1995), he took many Minnesota public policy ideas-such as chartered schools-to Washington. There they became critical to bipartisan policy reform in the areas of health, education, welfare, environment, transportation and federalism.

Comparing the community today to that of the 1970s, Durenberger says there have been changes in corporate leadership and huge growth in the number of nonprofit organizations competing for money. He notes changes in the foundation community and in the media and said many people are getting their news from seven-second sound bites. He laments that the University of Minnesota is no longer the important community resource it once was.

In the past, he says, elected leaders and leaders of the corporate civic culture left a significant mark on our civic infrastructure and our national reputation for good governance. But the interests of the forces that shape public policy in Minnesota and shape our current contribution, or lack thereof, to national policy have changed, he says. Durenberger sees little evidence now of a market in Minnesota for rebuilding civic infrastructure and the development of creative policy ideas. But he suggests there is a legacy in the community that we can draw on and shares ideas on what the community could reflect on and do to restore a broad-based civic infrastructure.

For the complete interview summary see: Durenberger interview

Response Summary: Readers rated these statements about the topic and about points discussed during the meeting, on a scale of 0 (strongly disagree) to 5 (neutral) to 10 (strongly agree): 

1. Topic is of value. The interview summarized today provides valuable information or insight.

2. Further study warranted. It would be helpful to schedule additional interviews on this topic.

3. Collective action key to success. Minnesota’s most important strength has been the community’s ability to take collective action to resolve major problems.

4. Corporate leaders need to re-commit. The goals of Minnesota's corporate leadership should once again include supporting collective action to resolve important public problems, as many business leaders did in the past.

5. Increase of nonprofits diluted common effort. The proliferation of nonprofit organizations, competing with each other for money, has diluted our ability to take collective action to resolve civic problems.

6. Parties should focus on state agenda. State Republicans and Democrats should disengage both from national agendas and from dependence on national funding and instead work toward creating a more state-focused citizen legislature.

7. Media should do serious research, education. Minnesota media should redirect their resources to focus less on refereeing political fights and more on serious research and education about important civic problems.

8. U research should spur effective civic action. The leadership of the University of Minnesota should recommit its resources to research that anticipates the future and contributes to effective, forward-thinking civic action by the larger Minnesota community.

Response Distribution:

Strongly disagree

Moderately disagree

Neutral

Moderately agree

Strongly agree

Total Responses

1. Topic is of value.

0%

7%

0%

27%

67%

15

2. Further study warranted.

0%

0%

0%

47%

53%

15

3. Collective action key to success.

0%

0%

0%

60%

40%

15

4. Corporate leaders need to re-commit

0%

0%

13%

53%

33%

15

5. Increase of nonprofits diluted common effort.

0%

13%

27%

40%

20%

15

6. Parties should focus on state agenda.

0%

0%

7%

33%

60%

15

7. Media should do serious research, education.

0%

0%

0%

47%

53%

15

8. U research should spur effective civic action.

0%

7%

7%

40%

47%

15

Individual Responses:

Dennis Carlson (10) (7.5) (10) (10) (5) (10) (10) (10)
2. Further study warranted. I think it is difficult to find people of this high quality. Walter Mondale, maybe?

7. Media should do serious research, education. I think his 7-second sound bite comment on today's media was right on the mark. On the education beat, we lost Norm Draper from the Star Tribune, we just lost Beth Hawkins to Chicago from MN Post, and the Pioneer Press has practically zero content. In depth stories are in the NY Times and little else.

8. U research should spur effective civic action. Steve Kelley, U of M Humphrey school of Public Affairs, should probably comment on this topic.

Bruce A. Lundeen (10) (10) (7.5) (5) (10) (5) (10) (2.5)
5. Increase of nonprofits diluted common effort. Favorable tax policy for nonprofits has created a industry in itself. Individuals faced in the pursuit of employment can find a rewarding career by only polishing fund-raising skills.

7. Media should do serious research, education. I found the comments on media reporters interesting. A suggestion was made that journalists do not have the expertise they once did. I have observed that there can be excellent in-depth reporting from sources other than Public Radio, and I am sure making known the challenge to increase skill and quality in reporting issues interviewers will rise to it.

Scott Halstead (10) (10) (10) (10) (7.5) (10) (10) (10)

5. Increase of nonprofits diluted common effort. There needs to be a reduction in nonprofit organizations and broadening of their roles without duplication.

6. Parties should focus on state agenda. We also need to reduce the state legislature to around 100 legislators, make them full time [with] 4-year terms [and] 3-term limits, [have] nonpartisan redistricting and improve/reform the legislative process.

8. U research should spur effective civic action. The legislature needs to dramatically increase the U of M funding. U of M staff needs to conduct community forums perhaps through public television. Civic Caucus and public television need to expand their public policy discussions statewide following the Civic Caucus format, citizen input and legislative effort.

Bob Brown (10) (10) (10) (10) (10) (10) (10) (10)
1. Topic is of value. Senator Durenberger did an excellent job and should stimulate more discussion.

2. Further study warranted. It would be important to bring others who could complement or even disagree with Durenberger's ideas.

4. Corporate leaders need to re-commit. One of the problems is that historically our major corporations were led by local people who grew up here and had a sense of commitment to the community. The culture has changed with several of our top corporations moving out of Minnesota and many who have stayed here have brought in outside CEOs who do not know or appreciate the values of this community. Some of us tried to develop a program to get people in high level positions in corporations, nonprofits, government, media, and religious organization to work together in seminars, internships, and mentorships to rebuild the historic Minnesota culture. Unfortunately, even though we had many people interested, a couple of college professors undermined our efforts by convincing some college administrators that they could solve everything by just offering another of their traditional classes.

5. Increase of nonprofits diluted common effort. 1. Too many of the nonprofits are just vehicles for some people to serve the needs of their egos instead of serving their clients and thus it is difficult to get the consolidation and coordination need to provide a more efficient delivery of service. 2. There are poverty pimps who are more interested in their own income and benefits than in serving the needs of the low income and minority communities.

6. Parties should focus on state agenda. With special interest groups controlling the bulk of the money spent on campaigns, the parties have become much weaker and apparently unnecessary in the minds of many in the political process. If the parties are to function they must regain control of the campaign process.

7. Media should do serious research, education. Unfortunately the traditional media are losing dollars and viewership, so they cut the quantity and some cases the quality of their staff. There are not the numbers of editorial writers and reporters doing in depth stories. Despite these problems, the traditional media could play a more constructive role if they did something other than give enormous free publicity to the wealthiest guy running for president and not actually cover substantive discussion among the many candidates.

8. U research should spur effective civic action. The university needs more competent leadership and needs to show an interest in something other than spending money on athletic facilities. As an alumnus of the U. and a big sports fan I am extremely disappointed in what is going on there.

Vici Oshiro (10) (10) (10) (10) (5) (10) (10) (10)
1. Topic is of value. Focus first on items 1, 2 and 3 in list - leadership, goal and purpose.

4. Corporate leaders need to re-commit. If corporate leaders won't lead, find someone else who has, or can develop, clout.

5. Increase of nonprofits diluted common effort. Don’t' know enough to make an intelligent judgment. Proliferation does, presumably, give us diversity.

6. Parties should focus on state agenda. Focus on state for starters, but don't stop there.

7. Media should do serious research, education. Yes, but this is likely to happen only by example. When serious media manages to gather an audience, others will follow.

Fred Senn (10) (10) (10) (10) (5) (7.5) (10) (7.5)

Eric Premack (10) (7.5) (7.5) (7.5) (5) (7.5) (7.5) (5)
5. Increase of nonprofits diluted common effort. Minnesota has always had a huge nonprofit sector. What has made it distinctive is the contribution of a very small number of very forward-looking nonprofits that combined long-range vision with shrewd policy and practice. A few such organizations, and the individual who lead them, seem to make the difference.

6. Parties should focus on state agenda. In some cases, we have little choice in the matter if the federal government pre-empts state and local policy (e.g., recent federal "creep" into K-12 education policy).

7. Media should do serious research, education. The summary of Durenberger's comments doesn't mention MinnPost and other "new media" outlets. Rather than rely on traditional media to fill the gap, perhaps modest investments in either expanding the like of MinnPost or new efforts could make a difference. Perhaps some of the old geezers at Civic Caucus could lead the way since some of them were part of the "good old days."

8. U research should spur effective civic action. My sense is that the U of M never played that strong a role in Minnesota's civic culture, with a few notable exceptions of professors who took the personal initiative to engage (e.g., John Adams, etc.).

Ed Dirkswager (10) (10) (7.5) (5) (2.5) (10) (10) (10)
1. Topic is of value. Quite good.

2. Further study warranted. I for one think that the loss of the old Citizen's League process is a major cause of the lack of balanced research, collective ownership of the problem and solutions that while not perfect were seen as non-political. The beauty of the process included a broad array of persons studying a problem followed by a broad spectrum of knowledgeable persons providing the committees with testimony.

4. Corporate leaders need to re-commit. Probably won't happen. I know that the conventional wisdom is that in the future this is essential. I think that we need strategies that assume only moderate improvement in this.

5. Increase of nonprofits diluted common effort. A bit of a red herring. If the community has a strong "yes" it would be easier to see the priorities and say "no."

7. Media should do serious research, education. The media can't do the research. Need civic institutions that come forward with non-partisan research and recommendations.

John S. Adams (10) (10) (7.5) (7.5) (7.5) (10) (7.5) (10)
2. Further study warranted. Durenberger re-states some of the ideas that have been circulated by the Civic Caucus for some time now, but his version is more succinct and vivid than many accounts. His comments on the U of M were especially apt if the Civic Caucus were to begin crafting proposals for solutions rather than to continue to describe how changes over the past 3 or 4 decades have placed us where we are today.

3. Collective action key to success. Outstate has had other strengths as well. But on the governance front, I fully agree.

4. Corporate leaders need to re-commit. I'm unsure whether the largest companies can be expected to do this given their many national and international agendas and constituencies—something far different from the 1950s. But smaller companies may be prime candidates to support this set of agendas although they may not know how to think and act constructively on these matters.

5. Increase of nonprofits diluted common effort. Good intentions and political agendas get mixed up with careerism on the part of program officers with results often less focused and less effective than we need.

6. Parties should focus on state agenda. Agreed, although just as when each U.S. senator looks in the mirror in the morning he/she sees a future president of the U.S., too many state legislatures either are too locally focused, or too nationally focused. Moreover, most members of the legislature are not as well informed about how the state works as they should be.

7. Media should do serious research, education. Most commercial media lack the resources to do more than they do, and supported as they are by advertising, they focus on the fun/sensational/interesting rather than the important because they need the audiences to get their advertising dollars. Public radio in Minnesota does an outstanding job, but only a minority of the state [is] listening.

8. U research should spur effective civic action. The question is: how to bring that about? And let's not forget the other colleges and universities in Minnesota. They are underused resources in this effort.

Dave Langes (na) (na) (na) (na) (na) (na) (na) (na)
Dave was the best man Minnesota ever sent to Washington

Terry Stone (8) (6) (8) (8) (6) (10) (7) (6)

Chuck Lutz (9) (10) (8) (9) (7) (8) (8) (9)

Tom Spitznagle (8) (8) (6) (8) (9) (10) (9) (10)

Wayne Jennings (4) (7) (8) (7) (4) (8) (9) (8)
I don’t remember the old days as being so wonderful as Durenberger recalls (racism, sexism, classism, ignoring poverty and health needs) though he’s right about Minnesota having initiated good innovations. The call for civic leadership always sounds good and has value—for example Glen Taylor and the Pohlads with sports—but times have changed and people expect more inclusive decision making, democracy if you will. Durenberger is right that we face enormous problems, e.g., infrastructure. I suspect we’ll have to take each of the problems we face one by one, develop a constituency, and press for progress mostly through legislation. I do look to the news sources for highlighting issues and civic efforts.

Chuck Slocum (na) (na) (na) (na) (na) (na) (na) (na)
A wonderful summary. Dave has introduced an interesting notion, perhaps a Civic Caucus mission, that there is no longer evidence that there is a "market" in Minnesota for rebuilding civic infrastructure, as once was the case. In addition to tapping into the brightest minds available to collectively think through the future on the important stuff, a strategic way to nurture leaders in the public arena is very important...let's call it long term development of a "civic mentoring" action plan.

Dennis Carlson (na) (na) (na) (na) (na) (na) (na) (na)
I really wonder what happened to the value of elders in this society. What an impressive individual—wise, experienced, with a gift for finding solutions to our major issues. Maybe Civic Caucus could lead the effort to create a Minnesota Elders Council? Goodness knows our current leaders could use the advice.

Paul Hauge (10) (9) (10) (9) (7) (10) (10) (9)
Dave has always been concerned about finding the middle ground where progress can be made, e.g., health care, which has been his forte.

Lyall Schwarzkopf (7) (7) (7) (9) (10) (8) (9) (9)
Today nearly every issue has one group for it and one group against it. This does not build civic leadership, or discussion. All of these special interest groups result in not honestly discussing issues, looking at the long range, or trying to find answers to problems. Each group is pushing its own answers. And if you disagree with any one group, you are ostracized for not thinking correctly, sometimes very publicly. Unfortunately the foundations and the University have fallen into this same trap. Foundation leaders bring their own ideas into what the foundation should be doing. The teachers at the Humphrey School bring their own ideas into how to solve problems. We must get out of this thinking and began to work together will all kinds of ideas to think about the future of Minnesota.

 

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

 

 

 


©
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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