November 01, 2006

Marching Together Toward The Bright Future

If it weren't for Doug Grow, Lori Sturdevant would be the most tried-and-true DFL flak in the Strib's band of columnists.

If you're from out of state, or if you haven't been following Minnesota politics for long, you have to realize something; Minnesota missed the Reagan Revolution by a solid twenty years. After the defeats in 1958, 1964 and 1974, the Republican party - eviscerated at the polls - raced to the center like a whipped dog (just as Bill Clinton, who spent most of 1993 and 1994 swinging leftward, ran to the right after his drubbing in the Gingrich Revolt). As a result, in 1960, 1968 and 1976 the GOP fielded candidates and platforms that were functionally indistinguishable from "moderate" Democrats. It took serious leadership - Ronald Reagan - for the party's lesser minds and hearts to coalesce around a vision that pushed the party and the nation forward.

In Minnesota, of course, it was far worse. From the fifties through the nineties, as tax revenues from the cha-cha growth in the Minnesota economy floated incredible tax revenues and Minnesota's combination of Scandinavian communitarianism, urban unionism and white guilt led to a system of pseudo-Swedish neo-socialism that, as long as the economy was booming, kept paying out the swag. Minnesotans, addicted to the swag, kept returning DFLers to office - and creating Republicans who weren't much better. Arne Carlson was indistinguishable from a center-left DFLer; he taxed and spent with the worst of them.

It wasn't until the nineties that Minnesotans, groaning under the weight of a tax burden far out of proportion to what we got; booming crime rates in the cities and outstate (the late eighties and early nineties were even worse than today in Minneapolis), schools that achieved less and less but paid their unions more and more, a welfare state that was ballooning out of control. And they started looking at - and voting for - conservatives.

And the left and media (pardon the redundancy) reacted like stuck cats - as if having competition in the marketplace of ideas was a bigger crime to liberals than competition in the real marketplace. As if the notion of having to defend what they'd done unopposed for forty years were a crushing burden.

Because to the DFL/Media, the "good old days" was when they never had to defend their ideas.

Lori Sturdevant, superannuated old-school DFL flak that she is, pines for the placid old days when the DFL was ruler for life, in today's column:

I've junked "Minnesota's Eroding Middle Ground." That's the title of the service club speech about Minnesota politics that I've used for about four years. I'm seeing signs that Minnesota's political middle may be adding acreage this fall -- and in a way that might outlast this year's campaign.
On behalf of Minnesota's service clubs, thank you.
What signs? Take two young Minnesota House candidates, Ryan Winkler and John Berns, who coincidentally appeared for back-to-back interviews with the editorial staff a few weeks back. Both are attorneys. Winkler, 30, is a DFLer running in a DFL-tilting seat in St. Louis Park and Golden Valley. Berns, 34, is a Republican running for a Lake Minnetonka area seat that's been in Republican hands since, roughly, the Civil War.

Since both have reason to play to their partisan bases, I figured I'd hear the usual run of polar-opposite positions from each of them.

Winkler, I thought, would push for more spending up and down the budget, and hint at tax increases for businesses or the rich to pay for it. I guessed that Berns, who works for Gov. Tim Pawlenty, would come across as a clone of the GOP governor, and toss the word "accountability" into every other sentence, as Pawlenty did in 2002.

Not so. Winkler was the accountability guy. "That's not a Republican word," he said. "I'm most interested in rebuilding the public's trust that government can provide services efficiently and well." He says he'll push for more accurate and standardized measurement of the effectiveness of the things government does, and be a hawk on junking those things that aren't cost-effective.

Berns was ushered into our conference room right afterward, sat down, and immediately began talking about his desire to increase education spending.

"Everybody agrees the schools need more money," he said. That's not only true in his suburban district, where class sizes are swelling. Berns said it's also true in the inner city, where lagging student achievement is an urgent state concern. That was his word -- "urgency."

This reminds me of Nick Coleman's classic "The Suburbs are Burning" column, where he cherrypicked the one house on Lake Minnetonka with an anti-Bush sign on the lawn, and extrapolated from their talking points a a booming brushfire revolt against the GOP in the affluent western subs.

So a couple of candidates in the suburbs are running toward the middle? Um, yeah - that's what suburbs are designed for. While the 'burbs are GOP strongholds, they are also a manifestation of Minnesota's old, communitarian past; where Minneapolis used to achieve a uniform quality of life, schools and assuaged guilt by government pressure and hectoring, the 'burbs do it by social pressure and pseudogovernmental legalism. The 'burbs are a safe middle - including, in many cases, politically.

And let's face it - this is a metro full of middle-level bureaucrats, professors, social service apparatchiks, mid-level lawyers, teachers - and they are as likely to live in places like Minnetonka as anyone else, and more likely to vote DFL, or to drag a good republican to the middle.

Which is where things like...:

Where will the money come from? "I'm not taking any option off the table," Berns said. "I haven't made any promises or signed any pledges."

That would be a reference to the now-infamous "no new taxes" pledge foisted into Minnesota politics by the Taxpayers League of Minnesota and its national umbrella, Americans for Tax Reform. When Pawlenty took the pledge and boxed himself in with it in 2002, he was far from alone. The league lists 44 incumbent legislators, some of them DFLers, as oath-takers sometime in the not-so-distant past.

The list of brand-new signers is much shorter this year than four years ago. And, though you'd never know it from the Americans for Tax Reform website, a number of Minnesota's previous signers want off the list now.

Um, yeah.

Lots of Republicans - George Will included - distanced themselves from Reagan while he was in office. Were they right?


Most politicians are whores on the battlefield and generals in the bedroom. It's the rare leader that actually takes a stance on principle and makes it stick; Ronald Reagan, Paul Wellstone, Michele Bachmann, Rod Grams, Newt Gingrich, Jesse Jackson - whatever you think of their policies and beliefs, there's no mistaking them, and you'll never see any of them muffling or backing and filling around them.

It's people like them that make the difference, for better (Reagan, Grams, Bachmann) or worse. And it's people like Arne Carlson, or for that matter Messrs. Winkler and Burns, who run for the comfy, mushy center rather than take the big risks in service of the big principle.

Which suits Sturdevant just fine:

What's encouraging is that the move to the middle I'm detecting is coming from both sides. That means that no matter which party controls the Capitol in January, or how the two parties divvy up the chambers, chances are better than they've been in the last four years that Minnesotans can celebrate a productive, on-time finish to the legislative session come May 21.
Oh, yeah. That's important. Better government through more laws.

When everyone "agrees", it makes government "efficient" - and "efficient" government is the worst thing in the world. It is the peace of death; without disagreement, without a lively scrum in the marketplace of ideas boxing ring of political ideology, the status quo - crappy schools, arrogant sinecurist public sector apparatchiks, geometrically-booming entitlements, boundless taxes - will go unchallenged.

Which, again, suits Lori Sturdevant just fine, too.

Meanwhile, I need a new speech title. How about "The 2006 Election: Reclaiming Minnesota's Middle Ground?" I'll keep the question mark attached -- for now.

Because if I - and any Minnesotan who cares about Minnesota - have my way, it'll be back.

Competition is not a dirty word. Making people - especially people like Sturdevant, who seem to believe that the DFL and their ideas have a divine right to rule this state - actually defend their ideas to the people - is a good thing.

Someone tell Sturdevant.

Posted by Mitch at November 1, 2006 07:20 AM | TrackBack
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