Thissen Interview Please take one minute to evaluate our website. Click here to take the survey.
General interest groups outside the Legislature have played a critical role in developing a number of important public-policy innovations in Minnesota, according to Minnesota Rep. Paul Thissen. For example, he notes the Citizens League's important part in creating the Minnesota Miracle, groundbreaking 1971 legislation that increased state funding for local school districts.
He believes that some groups that used to play a role in making public-policy proposals have become more partisan. There is a middle-ground space, he says, to be occupied by groups not pursuing ideological agendas. He laments the move to bringing to the table all the special interests, which tend to take over the conversation, leading groups to come up with already-compromised proposals. Better, he says, is to allow general-interest groups to bring good ideas forward and let the Legislature make the compromises.
Thissen advocates for having general-interest, third-party groups work on governance issues in the Legislature, helping to put new governance structures in place, including, perhaps, changes to the legislative committee structure.
He says what makes proposals from outside groups to the Legislature of high quality is that they be unique and say something new, that they include a commitment to do the follow-through to get the proposals enacted, that they be in areas where other people are not working and that they be fully formed-on a "silver platter"-so the Legislature can consider them right away.
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I think the whole interview points out how important these discussions are and how the Civic Caucus may be one of the very few entities that could play a pivotal role in improving public policy development and ultimately improving the quality of life for Minnesotans of all ages. I agree with Representative Thissen that mental health and other health services (dental, health screening and other medical services, food shelves, and general supplies for the homeless - school supplies, hygiene supplies, blankets, etc.) could, and should, be provided within our public school system - using the Community Education program and services model.
I know the conservative right will disagree and scream about the overreach of government but I have personally seen how important the school's role is in each of these areas and how students who are challenged beyond belief survive, and even thrive, with support from their community school staff, good legislation, non-profits, and the faith community. With mental health service provided in the schools, direct referrals to mental health professionals can go from a very few to a vast majority of the student referrals actually receiving needed services. Dental services from groups like Operation Grace can serve high school students that have never seen a dentist in their lifetime. Some of these students were in severe pain - how can they learn in that situation? I have seen medical screening at high schools save lives by early identification of significant health issues. I have seen homeless students stay in their "home" school because they get food and blankets to survive the Minnesota weather.
I also agree with the interviewer who accurately identified the lack of leadership at all levels of government and public service. I have often thought that the Native American culture had it right with their use of, and guidance provided by, their elders. Wise, experienced community leaders seem to be hard to come by in this partisan - take no prisoners - political atmosphere. I keep hoping that the Minnesota Business Partnership, the Chamber of Commerce, the Wilder Foundation and Itasca Projects, Growth and Justice, and other major Minnesota players would come together to find possible solutions to these very challenging issues we face - crumbling infrastructure including transportation, accessible and affordable health care, the education achievement gap and other significant racial disparities, and ultimately, the roles of the public and private sectors in addressing these immediate needs.
There clearly is a role for the Civic Caucus in the development of the public policy approach you are exploring. I suspect it is as an identifier of critical issues, a convener of the major players in that specific arena, and the developer of a process that would yield positive results over time. Those results would likely provide a clear path for improvement and indicate roles for the private sector, the faith community, units of government (schools, cities, counties, and state) and include proposed legislation, resource development, innovative exploratory solutions, along with evaluation and further study (possibly an ongoing role for higher ed).
I wish you well in this important effort!!
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The Civic Caucus is a non-partisan,
tax-exempt educational organization. The Interview Group
includes persons of varying political persuasions,
S. Adams, David Broden, Audrey Clay, Janis Clay, Pat Davies, Bill
Frenzel, Paul Gilje (Executive Director), Randy Johnson, Sallie Kemper, Ted
© The Civic Caucus, 01-01-2008
2104 Girard Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55405. firstname.lastname@example.org
Dan Loritz, chair, 612-791-1919 ~  Paul A. Gilje, coordinator, 952-890-5220.