[If not for fond memories of Dayton's, in 5 years Minnesota would have all the public policies of Texas. Img. MNHS.]
Make no mistake, last night Minnesota lefty politics just barely missed being irreparably destroyed. Had they been nominated, either Kelliher or Rybak would have lost the governor's race by large margins. The only thing that kept Mark Dayton from losing to Tom Emmer was some foggily nostalgic name recognition for the olden days when the name "Dayton's" actually meant something.
The Minnesota Republican Party came within two microns of ending the DFL's 40-year reign as relevant policymakers in Minnesota, whisker-close to getting control of both State houses with an über-right Governor Emmer leading the way. This is what's known in policy circles as "The Trifecta", and basically means that (unless you're a DC Democrat) you can pass just about any legislation you damn well please.
If 8,000 votes flip Emmer's way:
- Big tax cuts for the rich, with income tax levels reaching near-Texan lows
- The maximum amount of redistricting, ensuring that district boundaries give Republicans maximum clout
- State election law requires an up-to-date photo ID, disenfranchising people of color, poor people, and old people
- Abolishing state health care programs for the poor
- An Arizona-style immigration law
- Abolishing, permanently, Local Government Aid to cities (i.e. poor people)
- Deep University of Minnesota budget cuts, especially to non-commodifiable departments
- Deep cuts to state funding for public radio and the arts
- Deep cuts to transit funding, tax-base sharing, and most regional planning
- The abandonment of pretty much any 'lefty' 'government program' that's survived this long; for example, the Department of Education
- God knows what else... (Emmer's extremism shouldn't be understated.)
- (Hell, a lot of these things might happen anyway.)
If you're shocked by this, chances are you're a Minnesota Democrat.
[The 1973 Time Magazine cover of Governor Wendell Anderson is the iconic image of the Minnesota policy world.]
Here in this state, especially among my Twin Cities politics and policy friends, there's a belief in a kind of Minnesotan exceptionalism. It's a little current that runs through the DFL-MPR-Humphrey Institute nexus, the idea that somehow, in Minnesota, we're just a bit different than everywhere else. Somehow, we're just a bit smarter or more communal or care more about each other or something. It's the idea that politics here is somehow a little better, less partisan, less extreme, or less insane than other states.
It's the idea that, at least since the 70s, we've supposedly had a "common sense" coalition between organized labor and farmers and urban leftys and policy wonks and agriculture and miners up north and "the inner city" and, most especially, "benevolent corporations" like Dayton's and 3M that somehow aren't just out for pure profits but also care about the common good. The idea that somehow Minnesotans come together around ideas like 'a sound economy' and 'opportunity for all' and 'hot dish' and 'love of fishing' and 'fair taxation' and 'health care'.
There's even this quasi-religious birth story, ("the Minnesota Miracle"), patron saints (Hubert Humphrey, Water Mondale), and martyrs (Paul Wellstone). There's the idea that somehow here in Minnesota, we're immune from the rabid anti-intellectualism of the rest of "the heartland", and that somehow here in Minnesota we all, deep down, agree about a certain set of values, and in particular, the idea that at least at a local level, government is there for the common good.
This attitude is sincere and a little smug and probably a myth. In fact, there's not a universal and collective set of Minnesotan values. We are just as politically messed up as anywhere else, fraught with all the paradoxes and problems that lie at the heart of liberal democratic capitalism.
In fact, to my mind, all the contradictory promise of the DFL-MPR-Humphrey Institute nexus can be summed up within the single person: (future-ex-)State Senate Majority Leader Lawrence J. "Larry" Pogemiller, who has been jousting with Republicans at the state capital since the early 80s. Pogemiller is both wonky and aloof, "progressive" and "elitist". More than any other state politician, Pogemiller can't help but appear condescending, which is why he gradually learned to let others take his microphone away at press conferences (usually Taryl Clark or Margaret Kelliher). (For example, after so many DFL losses last night, Pogemiller stated, "We were not able to bring an exemplary group of legislators across the finish line". OK, but doesn't this imply that Republicans who were elected are somehow objectively inferior? That DFL'ers are necessarily "exemplary"? This kind of sums up the Pogemiller's attitude.) At the same time, Pogemiller has fought admirably for health care programs and progressive taxation and all the things that make up the DFL platform, and, more than any other person, has led the fight against BridgeFAIL Pawlenty* for all these years.
The Star Tribune's "Stunner" headline story captures what was surely a shocking evening for Pogemiller. I can only imagine how his life flashed before his eyes:
You can taste the schadenfreude dripping from GOP tongues.
Last night's election means that Minnesota really isn't that special. Our set of progressive public policies are based on a series of delicate accidents, such as democratic voting laws or the existence of a regional governmental institution. But for a few twists of fate, Minnesota's lefty policy politics could easily disappear, or might never have happened. But for Mark Dayton's name recognition, we would have woken up today to the total and complete demise of Minnesotan exceptionalism. There would be no telling what sorts of destructive looting a Governor Emmer would unleash.
But, at least for now, old-school 'liberal values' Minnesota hangs on by the slimmest of recounted threads. DFL policy folks can rest easy that, somehow, the state didn't join the ranks of the completely dysfunctional. Instead, you're likely to get another compromised budget plan, drafted by gleefully dishonest state Republicans, and vetoed by a harried-looking Governor Dayton, who will likely have to pull every political trick in the book to keep the state government from "shutting down" or self-destructing. Hell, even getting through the recount unscathed is likely to be a Herculean labor.
It won't be pretty, and I'm not quite sure Dayton's up to the task. Like Obama, he seems to fit really well within the traditional liberal public policy mold. I'm not sure he'll make a good fighter. He seems prone to media gaffes, and he certainly didn't respond well to the institutional clusterf**k that is the US Senate. I never thought I'd be relying on Mark Dayton to keep Minnesota liberalism alive.
In another way, though, he's perfect. Just as Pogemiller seems to embody the DFL's paternalistic wonky policy wing, Dayton personifies the myth of the benevolent corporation (as if every corporation in the state, including Target and 3M, isn't pushing hard as hard as it can to the Right). Even though days of 1960s job security and guaranteed pensions are long gone, even though Dayton's-the-consumerist-paradise is long gone, even though the era of sensible credit and rising wages and the Keynesian welfare state is long gone, we still have Mark Dayton, the benign businessman, the gentle father, the philanthropic aristocrat, who is desperately trying to fix the unfixable, to untangle the political-economic American mess. Today, Mark Dayton is the only thing standing between Minnesota and a neoliberal, libertarian, right-wing paradise.
Good luck, Mark. You're certainly going to need it.