As TakeAction Minnesota's Dan McGrath observed, many of the bills passed in the 2013 legislative session represent the culmination of years of organizing on issues that inspired real grassroots passion. While the groups that built political will to pass bills like the MN Dream Act, Ban the Box, the Homeowner’s Bill of Rights, and the Health Insurance Exchange take a well-deserved rest to celebrate and regroup, now’s a great time to anticipate what could happen in next year’s session, and the potential for today’s grassroots organizing to grow into tomorrow’s legislation.
First, let’s think about the context in which this all happened. Just two years ago, Minnesota progressives looked across our eastern border and stared into the abyss as Wisconsin government devolved into Ayn Randian dystopia. Our own economy was shaken, and the Occupy movement added fuel and a focus on Wall Street’s excesses to an already energized activist base. Conservatives here made a miscalculation of historic proportions, putting two amendments on the ballot that motivated volunteers and donors to build grassroots power with unusual urgency and purpose. This perfect storm created a lot of pull to draw ordinary Minnesotans out into the streets, and eventually to the capitol.
Which raises the question: Will this be remembered as the “year of the organizer” or will this be remembered as the beginning of a long-term shift in the role of grassroots power in shaping Minnesota’s legislative agenda? There remains plenty of work to be done, where dedicated activists and emerging new contexts might make significant victories possible in the next session. For example:
Low-wage worker issues. Recently, fast food workers in Seattle walked off the job. This follows similar actions among low-wage workers in New York City, Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, and elsewhere around the country. Here in Minnesota, Centro Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha (CTUL) overnight retail cleaning workers are on strike demanding better wages and working conditions. Could the momentum generated by CTUL and other low-wage worker organizing efforts spur a stronger push on minimum wage, paid sick days, or other worker protections?
Voting Rights. Just as opposition to the marriage amendment assembled a grassroots base that could move an affirmative marriage agenda, the “No on Voter ID” campaign identified voting rights supporters who could be mobilized to move affirmative voting rights legislation, including early in-person voting and restoration of voting rights for individuals with criminal records. The activists who won “ban the box” have shown their power. Could this be their next move?
Education. This year’s education bill had some great things, but more needs to be done before education policy truly addresses our state’s embarrassing equity gap in schools. Parents, students, and teachers, if they can work together, could bring energy to proposals for state-level policy changes (for example, bills to address bullying and racially disparate discipline policies) and targeted investments aimed at erasing the gap.
What could grassroots organizing win next? What are you working on? Will we see you at the capitol next year?
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In all of my environmental policy courses, we always talked about California. Some applauded their ‘forward-thinking’ environmental regulations, from their emission standards on cars to water use restrictions, because they are setting the bar high for other states. What has always irked me however, is that no one stops to think about WHY California has taken such laudable steps forward. It is because they were running backwards for so long.
Decades of ever-increasing population paired with lax sustainability measures meant dangerous degradation to California’s environmental health. Now standards are being set in place to try and correct the atrocious damage already done. The low bar is now being raised not out of the pure ‘west coast, hippie’ conscious, but rather out of necessity.
Minnesota faces many of the problems California has already suffered, if not immediately. From changing climates to shifting demographics, Minnesota needs to prepare itself for the environmental battles of the future. We are a state well-situated to tackle problems and we can lead the nation if we wanted to. Here are some things I would like to see Minnesota do:
Take Climate Change Seriously
While some communities have taken proactive steps to combat climate change, on the whole, it seems Minnesota policymakers are stalling on the issue. Yes, we have a ‘climate plan’ and climate advisory group but some policymakers still pretend the problem doesn’t exist. I am here to tell you that it does. Climate change is real, and it is going to change our state if we’re not ready. Minnesota needs to take climate change seriously and provide plans and legislation to make us a front-runner on this national and global issue.
Expand Public Transportation
Having travelled all over the U.S., there are so many cities that have invested into far-reaching transit options. And although Americans are the least frequent riders of public transit, I believe impending environmental problems will push Minnesotans to utilize public transportation more often. I love that we have the light rail, but we’re still not leading the pack in this arena. Minnesota is expanding at an exciting rate, and transit options will make us a more attractive and accessible state if we embrace it.
Create Better Incentives for Electric Vehicles
At the Minnesota Goes Green event a few weeks ago, I was happy to see a few different hybrid cars. But I was beyond excited to check out a Tesla. Man, these things are cool. They run on ZERO gasoline, add little to your electric bill (the owner said his went up just $35 a month), and charging stations are now being proposed nationwide. These incredible cars cost a pretty penny upfront but their benefits are unparalleled. There is a current $7,500 federal rebate for electric vehicles, but only a handful of states of additional incentives. Minnesota is not one of them. We need to provide better incentives for cleaner vehicles to protect the air we breathe before we turn into another California.
These are just a few. As the saying goes “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. As an individual operating on the precautionary principle, I think Minnesota should make strides toward progress rather than trying to sustain an unsustainable status quo.
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Minnesota 2020 is taking our weekly Tuesday Talk segment in a new direction allowing you to directly engage with policy fellows and associates.
On Tuesday mornings, Minnesota 2020 will have an expert standing by to answer your questions on the policy debate topic of the day. Our researchers have spent years, in many cases decades, digging into the state's most complex public policy issues, and posses a vast wealth of knowledge for readers to tap. For example, progressives and conservatives recognize Jeff Van Wychen as one of the state's leading tax policy experts. He can tell you how the latest budget will impact you and your family.
Lee Egerstrom has researched and written about rural economic development since Karl Rolvaag was governor. Over his career, he's cultivated relationships with Minnesota's leading food industry executives, farmers, and other rural development leaders. While at Knight Ridder newspapers, Egerstrom covered overseas economic development, including the 70s oil embargo. Egerstrom has also studied Europe's cooperative business development system and its relation to Minnesota, a subject on which he's written or contributed to several books.
Michael Diedrich taught in the metro area's most challenging classrooms before becoming an education policy analyst. As a former StarTribune reporter, Conrad deFiebre covered the policy debates that produced much of today's transportation infrastructure. Executive Director John Van Hecke is former state director for the late Congressman Bruce Vento and longtime policy insider.
We're offering readers the opportunity to ask these and other research fellows the complex questions and engage in them in policy debates.
We'll kick off this new format next Tuesday, June 4th with an in-depth discussion around the recently enacted education funding law. Graduate Research Fellow Michael Diedrich will help facilitate this first discussion.
Posted in News & Notes
After the legislature approved the Same Sex Marriage bill, some districts tried to recall their legislators. It reminds me of Wisconsin's recall elections a couple of years ago after the collective bargaining dispute. Fortunately the requirements for recall in Minnesota are more stringent. Here a recall requires “A state officer other than a judge may be subject to recall for serious malfeasance or nonfeasance during the term of office in the performance of the duties of the office or conviction during the term of office for a serious crime.” (Section 211C.02 2012 Minn. State Statues). Meaning our elected officials can only be recalled for committing a crime, or failure to perform their duties, not for voting the wrong way on an issue.
Demanding the recall of an elected official because they voted contrary to will of the majority gets to the roots of representative government. The great Irish statesman Edmund Burke said “Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”
I do not expect or want my elected officials to take a poll on contentious issues to decide which way they should vote. I also do not expect them to fall in lock step with their party. I want them to study the issue and make a decision based on what they believe is best. Part of that study should be listening to constituent input, but that is only part of the process.
When I served on the Carver’s City Council and as Mayor, we would often study a major proposal for months and maybe as long as a year before finally voting on it. Today as a resident I spend little time studying the details of an issue. I expect the Mayor and other members of the Council to do the heavy lifting studying the specifics of a question and making the right decision. Yes, I may express my views, but in the end these officials need to move forward based on what they feel is best for the community.
We as voters have the duty and responsibility to choose the best people in the voting booth, and to provide our input during the decision process. In the end though we must depend on our representatives to make the best decision. We cannot expect those we elect to agree with us on everything, but if our views differ too much then we can choose to vote differently in the next election.
With the devastating tornado that recently hit Oklahoma, fear has started to spread about the possible connections to climate change. The scientific jury is still out on whether climate change really impacted this tornado, but they are in agreement that climate change is indeed happening. And with CO2 levels passing a historic 400 ppm benchmark, the world is looking at an unsure environmental future. So what does climate change mean for the U.S. and more importantly, what does it mean for Minnesota?
The effects of climate change on a land-locked state are different than on a state on or near a coast. Minnesota faces a few threats from climate change, including, but not limited to, more severe weather. The term ‘global warming’ is sometimes used interchangeably with climate change, but they are far from synonyms. While higher heat indices, droughts, and extreme heat incidents are definitely on the docket, we can also expect to see increased heavy precipitation which can cause flash floods.
We can also expect to see changes in the way Minnesota looks. One of the most beautiful parts of our state is the diverse vegetation. However, as the temperature increases over the next few decades, the types of plants that can survive starts to dwindle. Not all of our endemic trees can handle the project 5 degree temperature raise we are expecting to see by 2050. We are looking at a fundamental shift in what vegetation exists, where they live, and even whether they are actually native. Climate change means invasive species better adapted to higher temperatures could begin their slow but steady decent into our soils.
Our waters suffer as well. Increased temperatures and run-off after floods will forever change water chemistry and biodiversity. It is projected that lakes will take longer to freeze and will be quicker to thaw out. The winter months are essential to lake and river chemistry, especially when it comes to natural water filtration and turnover. Aquatic flora and fauna alike are at risk of no longer being able to survive in their ecosystems.
There are minimal benefits to a warmer climate, such as the possibility of an extended growing season. But the overall cost to our environment, and subsequently our economy, is too big to ignore. Minnesota has taken steps toward climate change mitigation, but more state and federal policy will be needed to really overcome the hurdles we will face in the future.
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In the final hours of this year’s Legislative session, the Minnesota House approved a measure that gave in-home child-care providers and personal care attendants the right to vote for organizing. The victory drew applause from union members in the House gallery prompting Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington to angrily denounce the group, “We’re not in charge — let them applaud. They own the place!”
This might make you wonder, if not working Minnesotans, who would conservatives prefer “own the place!”? Don’t worry, here’s a top 10 list to answer that question.
1) ALEC – American Legislative Exchange Council
While in control of the state Legislature, conservatives got much of their worst legislation directly from this D.C. based group. Sure, it doesn’t represent Minnesotans but that never stopped conservatives from using ALEC bills verbatim to push extreme anti-immigration and anti-labor legislation during the 2011 session.
2) Big Corporations
They are people, too? Right? At a time when most middle class Americans are struggling to rebuild after the recession, conservatives took aggressive lengths to support big corporations instead of working Minnesotans. In fact, one conservative admitted, "When it comes to the corporate taxes, that's a very big concern for us too.”
3) Members of the National Organization for Marriage and Minnesota Family Council
Sure they skirted campaign finance laws, but these groups who go about their public accounting in non-traditional ways while supporting “traditional marriage” are friends with a lot of conservative Minnesota policy makers. Luckily, now they are on the wrong side of history and the wrong side of Minnesota law.
4) Bob Davis
Speaking about the families of the victims of the Newtown shooting, the ultra-conservative radio personality said, “I would stand in front of them and tell them, 'Go to hell.’” While most, you know, decent people would find the comment disturbing, that hasn't stopped conservative members of the Minnesota Legislature from being frequent guests on his show.
I really wish I was joking on this one.
During their short time in control of the Legislature, conservatives fought tirelessly to end job creating clean energy laws. Arguing that, "The climate changed before we were here; the climate will change long after we're gone." Conservatives continue to back carbon heavy forms of energy production over new, cleaner, forms of production that create more stable high-wage jobs for Minnesotans.
7) Wayne LaPierre of the NRA
Even after terrible national tragedies, conservatives successfully fought against common sense reforms that would have protected Minnesotans’ second amendment rights while making our communities safer.
8) #2 Pencil Producers
While progressives were busy passing a bold education bill that included all-day kindergarten for every Minnesota child, conservatives pushed the failed high-stakes-test policies of the past.
9) The 1%
Progressives created a 4th tier income tax rate so families making over $250,000 will pay their fair share. Minnesota conservatives, ignoring our history of economic success, argued that the new taxes would “threaten Minnesota’s competitiveness.”
Minnesota leads the country when it comes to tax revenue lost because of tax havens in other countries. Ending those loopholes will mean losing our #1 spot but it will also mean better funded schools. Conservatives fought to keep the loopholes but progressives won the fight. This one time, I think I’m happy that Minnesota will no longer be a national leader on an issue.
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I have a lot of favorite things that come with summer weather, and one of them is browsing a farmers market in sunglasses and sandals. The St. Paul Farmers' Market is great on a Saturday morning and tomorrow morning (May 18th) is going to be one of the best all year. This is because they (along with a lot of other really great partners) are sponsoring MN Goes Green from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the St. Paul Union Depot, just one block away from the market.
MN Goes Green is a FREE event to promote sustainability and green living in Minnesota. In one day you can see green fashion, bring in damanged items to flex your Fix-It muscles, hear informative speakers, and learn the best ways to source local groceries. I have been involved in the environmental movement for over 10 years and I can tell you, there is always something new to learn to improve your life and the health of the planet.
With so many environmental stressors facing our earth, it is important for Minnesotans to do our part to effectively use and conserve common pool resources. Our air, water, and land need to continue supporting future generations as they have supported us. This will only happen if we take sustainability by the reigns and make environmentally conscious decisions. So come on down to MN Goes Green tomorrow morning and take your steps to becoming a responsible enviro-citizen!
I remember saying the Pledge of Allegiance almost every day during my K-12 tenure. The part that always stuck with me was ‘…liberty and justice for all.” The part I always took for granted was ‘…the United States of America.” When you think of America you think of 50 states and DC. Yet scattered throughout the U.S. are dozens of sovereign Native American Nations. So where does state and federal power stop and tribal jurisdiction begin?
As my interest in the environment grew, I began researching how Minnesota and our many Tribal Nations interact on federal and state environmental policies. What I discovered was a tangled set of policies. Minnesota and 5 other states have been given civil and criminal jurisdiction over tribal lands (minus the Red Lake Nation in Minnesota) through Public Law 280. This transfer of federal power to state power means that state environmental policies are seen more as ways to prohibit certain actions rather than to regulate a way of life.
The remaining Federal environmental policies mandate certain protection and remediation efforts on tribal lands to protect the livelihood of Tribal Nations who choose to exercise their subsistence rights (such as fishing and gathering). Some Tribal nations have applied for the ‘Treatment-as-a-State” designation in Minnesota to allow them to enact federal policies on their own land instead of state implementation. Different Tribes have gained ‘Treatment-as-a-State’ status for different federal policies.
What makes all of this so interesting to me is that Tribal lands are supposed to be sovereign. So why does the federal government and the state of Minnesota have any say on environmental issues at all? From what I can tell, it is more a product of habit than actually following written law. With pipelines being run through Tribal lands, when the majority of people on that land don't want them, I think more can be done to protect Tribal lands. The tangled web of policies is not easy, but it is a start. To uphold 'Liberty and (Environmental) Justice for all' in the environmental realm, Tribal nations need their voices to be heard.
Posted in News & Notes
The Great American Think-Off in New York Mills has selected its participants to debate this year's question, “Which is more ethical: sticking to your principles or being willing to compromise?”
Arguing the case for compromise are David Lapakko, an associate professor in communication studies and the Master of Arts in Leadership faculty at Augsburg College; and Paul Terry, chief executive officer at StayWell Health Management in Waconia.
Lapakko, a Twin Cities native, has a bachelor’s degree from Macalester College and master’s and Ph.D. form the University of Minnesota. Fittingly, among his published works is the Argumentation: Critical Thinking in Action textbook.
Terry has a master’s from Minnesota State University at Mankato and a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota. He's a former Senior Fulbright Scholar and a past president of the Minnesota Public Health Association. He serves as an editor for the American Journal of Health Promotion.
They face a mighty challenge from Caroline Zarlengo Sposto, a retired business owner from Memphis, TN, and David Eckel, a Clayton, NC computer scientist and writer.
This year’s question goes to the heart of debates in government and points out humanity’s shortcomings in the process. For instance, how does anyone define “principles” when “principals”—through campaign contributions from special interests—negate too many lawmakers’ ability to compromise for the good of the country or state?
Furthermore, looking back, some would call compromises that prolonged slavery, segregation and class warfare as failures. Others would argue without such compromises, progress on these issues would have been even slower.
For the good of all of us, let’s hope the New York Mills thinkers can round off the rough edges and bring some perspective to a key philosophical question of our times. We salute this community and others like it on the edge of lakes, forests and farms for holding such vibrant festivals that add to rural Minnesota’s quality of life.
April may have suffered slightly from a lack of sunshine and an abundance of snow, but here at Hindsight the policy discussions were varied and vibrant. Readers appreciated the return of insightful education blogger Michael Diedrich, dug into jobs and economy-related policies and thought critically about fiscal policy.
- The Scandal That Wouldn’t Die (April 18)
- Conservatives Oppose Minimum Wage Increase. Wow. Really? (April 8)
- United for Baloney (April 16)
- Why Youngsters Aren’t Driving (April 23)
- Moving Past the GRAD Tests (April 24)
- We’re The Best in Voting…But Not Good Enough (March 28)
- Entry Level Jobs Nearing Extinction (April 17)
Graph of the Day: More Bang For Your Buck in Minnesota
It Improves Education and Lowers Crime? Sign Me Up!
- New LGA Plan Being Debated (April 2)
Posted in News & Notes