A happy view from the political biosphere

Politics hasn’t passed Minneapolis by… we’re the trend-setters

To live in Southwest Minneapolis during election season is to live with a certain level of disconnect between political lawn signs and state or national polls.

Coleman and Wellstone neck and neck? Governor’s race in a three-way dead heat? Two-thirds of the citizens supporting a U.S. invasion of Iraq?

Get out. Not in my neighborhood. Where, according to lawn signs, bumper stickers and conversations, Wellstone is overwhelming Coleman; Moe has a lead; and no one is itching to take on Saddam.

Okay, okay, we’re talking Linden Hills. We’re talking Minneapolis. Where, according to conservative Republicans, we live in our own weird, little biosphere and do outlandish things like pass school referendums, elect gay people to office and support mass transit.

Of course, I love my biosphere. Living in various cities over the years, I’ve been the lone Democrat in a sea of Republicans, and a DFLer in a Democrat sea. And I’m here to tell you the latter is a lot more fun and seems to happen in places that are a lot more livable.

But for all of the above reasons and more, we seemed to have earned the wrath of right-wingers who insist Minneapolis is hopelessly behind the times. Over at the state legislature, conservative House Republicans have gone after the city with all the subtlety of Nikita Khrushchev banging his shoe screaming, "We will bury you."

If a piece of legislation would benefit Minneapolis, House Republicans have been against it, be it school funding, mass transit, healthcare, whatever. Last session they were joined by a few DFL sourpusses from St. Paul like the retiring Rep. Tom Osthoff, who announced that putting the screws to Minneapolis was his "greatest night in the legislature."

Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, pal.

These attacks from the right, plus the polls, plus the looming war in Iraq have left many of my friends in the biosphere feeling morose and worried. I’m Scandinavian, raised by Baptists, so I can go gloomily apocalyptic in a heartbeat.

But this fall, I’m actually approaching the elections as an optimist. Because I believe the political pendulum is starting to swing in Minneapolis’ direction. And if not in this election, then in the election cycles to come. The conservatives have it backwards. Minneapolis is not behind the times. We’re just to the left and ahead of the curve.

I called up my current state legislators — retiring Senator Myron Orfield and Rep. Scott Dibble (who is running for Orfield’s seat) — and asked them if I was crazy. They said, nope, they were feeling optimistic too. Here are some of my reasons and theirs:

Demographics. I urge moping progressives to read the hot new book, "The Emerging Democratic Majority," by John B. Judis and Rudy Teixeira. California, say the authors, is the wave of the future — a predominantly Republican state that became solidly Democrat in the last 15 years, in large part due to the surging population of Hispanics and professionals. The more racially and economically diverse a region becomes, they say with convincing hard data, the more it leans left. This trend is especially noticeable in "ideopolises" — thriving urban areas where production of ideas and services have replaced manufacturing, a la Silicon Valley, Atlanta…and the Twin Cities.

Orfield said the book is less applicable to Minnesota, which, while becoming more diverse, is still overwhelmingly white. "But Florida and Texas are following the same demographic trends as California," Orfield said. "And if they align the same way…we’ll have a liberal president in the next ten years."

Meanwhile, closer to home, Orfield says the political coalitions between Minneapolis and fully-developed suburbs like St. Louis Park, Richfield and Roseville grow stronger by the year because they share similar needs.

Rage’s diminishing returns. The GOP takeover of the state House was an echo of the 1994 Gingrich Revolution, said Dibble. "It was a movement of angry white guys. But after awhile, anger and negativity lose their emotional resonance. It’s just not politically sustainable," Dibble said. "I saw this myself with HIV-AIDS protests in the ’80s. And we see it now with the House Republicans at the state legislature. They can’t seem to govern or offer anything positive. They’re just angry. They’ve over-played their hand. And the average voter seems to be getting it."

Transportation and education. The huge "Social Engineering Ahead" billboards placed by the conservative Taxpayers League near the LRT line seem to have backfired. "The people reading those signs are often sitting in clogged freeways, starting at 2 p.m.," said Dibble. "And they say, bring it on. People in the suburbs want the option of taking a train or express bus, too. So this ‘social engineering’ rhetoric from the hard-right is really out-of-step with the times…On the House floor, these same guys make sneering references to government-run schools. I mean, what’s that about? Most average voters see them as our schools, and they’re worried about all the budget cuts."

All these factors, plus others, favor a swing to the left. Dibble admits he’s a "congenital optimist." Orfield said (smiling) that he’s simply "a realist." I’m the apocalyptic pessimist. Yet we all agree: the political tide is turning.

Of course, we could all be flat wrong. But looking to the future, this gloomy Scandinavian is feeling strangely hopeful.

Lynnell Mickelsen is a Linden Hills writer who can be reached at [email protected] or c/o the Southwest Journal, 3225 Lyndale Ave., 55408.