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These comments are responses to the Civic Caucus interview with

Charlie Weaver, executive director, Minnesota Business Partnership
June 10, 2016

Legislative polarization stalls action on good public policy proposals

Overview

Civic organizations that exist to change public policy and their future are relevant, says Charlie Weaver of the Minnesota Business Partnership. But if they want legislators to embrace public-policy change, he says the organizations must deal with politics, have some involvement with advocacy and form coalitions with like-minded groups. And they must pay attention to two things that affect legislators: how their constituents feel about an issue and whether taking a position on an issue will affect their re-election chances.

Weaver discusses the importance of marketing to get the public to support policy change, giving examples of how groups marketed the Fiscal Disparities concept and the Minnesota Legacy Amendment and how they worked to defeat the 2012 Minnesota Marriage Amendment. He says, though, that even if individuals or groups do everything right in dealing with a topic, coming up with a proposal, and getting public support, they still might fail because of a strong lobbying presence at the Legislature. He gives examples of issue positions most people support, saying that lobbyists for various interests are able to keep those proposals from making it through the Legislature.

Weaver asserts that polarization at the Legislature is the main reason good proposals are not being enacted today. He says today's Legislature offers a very different environment from that of the 1970s and 1980s, when legislators could think about things and discuss compromise positions without immediate retribution. Now the environment is such that ideas can't form, percolate and be discussed without people pounding on legislators.

And lastly, Weaver sharply criticizes the Minneapolis School District for its lack of progress in improving outcomes for students.

For the complete interview summary see: link to interview

Individual Responses:

Wy Spano--Thanks for continuing the Caucus’ interest in good policy and the reports.

I teach Political Process and Public Policy in the Masters in Advocacy and Political Leadership (MAPL) program at Metro State.  Your ongoing series of interviews is most helpful background.  (FYI MAPL takes up to 15 post-baccalaureate students a semester who wish to learn about how to make the system do what they think it should do.)

Charlie Weaver’s interview brings to the mind of this very long time observer how different things are than when he served.  He was an accomplisher, and was rewarded for it with position and esteem.  In Minnesota—less so here than elsewhere but still here—the political incentive system has changed so that accomplishers, especially on the Republican side, are not encouraged or rewarded.  Jonathan Rausch’ brilliant piece in the Atlantic, "How American Politics Went Insane," describes well, it seems to me, the national view.  It fits Minnesota some, but not completely.  Our own fixes will be different, but they’re no less necessary.  Good policy, especially traditional governmental policy like transportation, is nearly impossible to do given the current political structure.  Rep. Tim Kelly’s comeuppance in the last session demonstrates what can happen to those seeking accomplishment.

Dennis Carlson--I think Charlie Weaver is probably the smartest person today involved in Minnesota politics.  He is also a very wise counsel to many important state leaders in the public and private sector.  For the Civic Caucus he offers specific examples in several areas and his insight is spot on as usual.

I do want to comment on the lack of significant progress with student graduation and overall performance in the Minneapolis public schools.  Clearly leadership matters and the school board needs to be held accountable for the revolving door of their top administration.  Hopefully, the new superintendent can stay for more than five years and make some significant improvements both in central leadership and student performance in narrowing the achievement gap.

That being said, urban education is very different than suburban and rural education in Minnesota.  In suburbia and in rural Minnesota, school districts can do a lot to overcome poverty and educate students with a great deal of success.  The environment is very different in an urban setting and much more complicated. 

An entire community - the City of Minneapolis, Hennepin County, non-profits, and the faith community - along with the school district, need to be aligned with their programs and services.   Affordable housing, food shelves, mental health services, other health services (including dental), a strong neighborhood police presence, active church congregations, in addition to a strong core of quality teachers, are all needed in order to get at the complexity of education in an urban environment.  The schools alone are just not able to provide all that is needed to break the cycle of poverty and adequately educate all students.  It is just not possible without all entities working together in a very sophisticated way.  How can kids learn if they are afraid, hungry, in physical pain, have zero self esteem and lack any semblance of confidence? 

The same kind of coalition that created MinniMinds is needed in Minneapolis to specifically address the achievement gap.  I am hoping that R. T. Rybak at the Minneapolis Foundation, Michael Goar at Big Brothers Big Sisters, Generation Next, Art Rolnick and Steve Kelley at the U of M Humphrey School, MDE Commissioner Brenda Cassellius, and other past and present community leaders can put their hearts and minds together and strategically align a community/school partnership that addresses the complexity of narrowing an achievement gap in an urban setting.  I would also like to see Charlie Weaver or Jim Bartholomew be in this group as they will ultimately need the support and resources from the Minnesota Business Partnership as well.  These people are good enough to do it.

Tom Spitznagle--Good interview. Some thoughts:

Perhaps a role for the Civic Caucus is to publicly call out the individuals, groups, laws (and a variety of other factors) that are preventing solutions to the state's most important issues. As an independent, non-partisan group having credibility, the Caucus is in a good position to help break deadlocks.

This would be a much more visible and controversial role for the Caucus. But something needs to be done by citizens to prevent many elected officials from acting in such a dysfunctional, partisan fashion.

An example of this type of activism is the billboard that Devin Foley's Intellectual Takeout put up outside of the Mpls public school offices challenging them to do better.

Another example is the Washington Post Fact Checker that publicly calls out lies and dysfunction in the political world.

The Civic Caucus is comprised of very intelligent and engaged folks who have the public interest at heart. It needs to find a way to put its expertise to good use.

It's not ok for important issues to go on for years without any solutions other than faulty partisan solutions that support party ideologies but not the public interest. Unfortunately, too many of our elected officials seem comfortable operating in this way.

Terry Stone--This is a great interview chock-full of insights for the attentive. Nice work.

Rosemary Schultz--It is too bad our legislators don't follow your advice,  Mr. Weaver!!!

 

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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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