Thursday, September 4, 2008

"Radical Moderates" in Minnesota

Progressive Republicans
Yesterday morning I went to an event sponsored by Growth and Justice, a think tank in Minnesota that takes a more moderate pro-business view than other conservative groups. The event highlighted former Minnesota Governors Al Quie and Arnie Carlson, as well as retiring Congressman Jim Ramstead. The idea was to highlight how these were Republicans who were committed to social justice as well as promoting business growth.

The group's president, Dane Smith, opened the event by saying, "It's good to see so many fire-breathing radical moderates in one room." He noted that Minnesota was among the top ten states in economic growth at the same time it was one of the top ten most heavily taxed states--that is, "until recently." He talked of the state's tradition in investing in education and health care. Of the speakers, many are known for being moderate Republicans, and each has a crowning social justice achievement.

Ramstead has co-sponsored the Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act, something that Paul Wellstone pushed for during his time in the Senate. Ramstead said he expects the bill to be passed and signed into law this September.

Quie inherited a budget crisis while governor, and is often hailed for his fiscal responsibility. Lately, he has devoted himself to social justice causes such as the prison crisis and education for children with disabilities.

Much like Quie, Arnie Carlson's role as governor was highlighted by tackling a budgetary crisis. He established what's now known as Minnesota Care, a program that provides health insurance to low-income families. He also pushed for the anti-discrimination laws in Minnesota to include gays and lesbians--a move so controversial that Republicans didn't endorse him for his re-election campaign in 1994, when he won the majority of the vote, something that hasn't happened in a gubernatorial election since.

The significant thing about this event is that the moderate Republicans on the panel criticized the "no new taxes" and caps on tax increases that have been common with conservatives in recent years. These moderates favored a balanced budget and social programs for the poor over voting "no" on tax increases at every opportunity. Smith pointed out that in 2006, during Governor Tim Pawlenty's re-election campaign, 200 of Minnesota's wealthiest individuals took out a full-page ad in Star Tribune to declare that they could afford to pay more in taxes.

But looking around the room of "radical moderates," many of them fell on the later side of life. Fewer than half a dozen people in the room were under 30, and of those many were reporters or staffing the event. Whether that means that young people today are more extreme than in the past or that moderates are having a harder time reaching out to young people it's hard to say. But it's interesting how such moderate voices are rarely reflected in the political debate today.

Cross posted at Pushback.

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