We were looking for someone to comment on the role of the swing voter in Minnesota politics and felt that former Representative Pam Neary would have a number of things to offer on that score. She is currently attending graduate school at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.

The DFL Pup Tent

The tent of the Minnesota DFL party is shrinking year by year. Oh, their lip-service would have you believe otherwise, but the truth is becoming more and more clear. If you believe that past fiscal policies have to lead to irresponsible spending patterns; if you support creating more rational budgets for the future; if you’re willing to open your mind to new ideas and new systems for governance, then you just can’t be a DFLer. The tent is just too small.

In fact, if you insinuate that higher taxes are not necessarily the magic ingredients to a better social recipe, you probably were never a DFLer, to begin with. Oh, but I was… I am. But I also believe that we are overdue for an overhaul. Solutions created for the problems of two or three decades ago just aren’t working all that well today. Progressive observers of government will admit as much. Unfortunately, many of our policy-makers will not. They refuse to recognize the vast middle ground.

“But,” you may ask, “if we embrace fiscal restraint, how are DFLers any different than those conservative Republicans?” The answer is easy. Middle-ground DFLers would approach fiscal reforms with an underlying set of principles that recognize the problems of working families, the persistently poor, and environmental fragility. They believe there is an appropriate role for the government in improving the opportunities and living conditions for those in need, yet understand that the role must change. The status quo is no longer adequate; innovation and creativity must be the core of a new DFL agenda.

The voters expect (and deserve) no less. To offer less is to condemn Minnesota to the destructive processes now being played out in the national arena. If the DFL is unwilling to seek the middle ground in public policy, we will be forcing voters to choose between two extreme opposites.

Although many voters now seem to dislike the skewed priorities of the Republican Contract for America, those same voters also know the alternative of continuing down the same old path won’t be any better. Faced with the certainty of failure, embedded in the tired old policies of yesterday’s DFL, or the uncertainty of making a switch to Republican innovations, the DFL has left voters no choice. Certain failure or a dim hope for improvement–not a great choice for voters. Nor is it a great way to formulate public policy.

The Republican agenda, with no responsible principles for dealing with the pressing social and environmental problems of today, should be easily rejected by the voters of tomorrow. But it won’t be rejected unless the Democrats offer a viable, creative alternative. Will it be easy? No. Will we make some mistakes as we innovate? Yes. Will there be difficult trade-offs? Definitely. But what is the alternative?

This vast middle ground is crying out for representation. The 1994 election revealed an unhealthy willingness of the Minnesota DFL party to sacrifice suburban districts to the age-old alliance of the traditional DFL. We can’t afford that sacrifice. Suburban voters–notoriously fickle in their party allegiance–are the engineers of the new political reality.

Suburban voters make up the fastest-growing segment of the voting public. Suburban voters show up to vote in higher numbers than other regions of the state. Suburban voters vote for issues and candidates, not for political parties. Suburban voters reflect the growing concerns of voters everywhere…a quality education for their kids; affordability of their homes; the safety of their communities; and the health of their environment. In short, suburban voters will determine the future of public policy. They represent the middle ground.

If the DFL cannot respond with innovation and courage to create viable policies for a better future, we are doomed to failure at the polls. Adversity is always a great opportunity for those who are visionary enough to seize it. Let’s hope the middle-ground voters’ ideals of fiscal restraint, policy innovation, and social conscience become the lifeblood of a reinvigorated Minnesota DFL, not the dying gasp of an outmoded political has-been.