Tuesday, December 19, 2006


I said I would talk about politics. It's a difficult topic, (a) because it's complex and (b) because I have strong opinions.

I suppose I should begin by talking about the Democratic Farmer Labor Party or DFL. It was formed in the 1940s by a merger of the Minnesota Democratic Party with Farmer-Labor, a local third party which dominated state politics in the 1930s. I hunted around on the Internet and found this description at Answers.Com:
The Farmer-Labor party of Minnesota was the most successful third party in American history. It drew its strength from and enlarged upon the state's sturdy Populist tradition...Its foremost standard-bearer, (Floyd B.)Olson, was unquestionably one of the great leaders of radical political movements in the nation's history, holding together a tenuous coalition of political groups that together formed the Farmer-Labor party. The party brought about widespread citizen participation in political affairs and increased the public's commitment to social justice. Its legacy includes not only the name of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party but also the strong orientation of Minnesota voters toward social concerns, progressive reforms, high taxation for a high level of public services, and, above all, the state's issue-oriented and independent political tradition.

The late US Senator Paul Wellstone can be seen as an example of the Farmer-Labor tradition within the DFL. He compromised some after he got to Washington, but as U.S. senators go he was not so bad.

(Note that I am speaking Minnesotan here. The spoken emotional range in Minnesota goes from "not so good" to "not so bad." "Not so good" can mean a little bit bad, pretty darn bad or very bad, and "not so bad" can mean a little bit good, pretty darn good or very good.)(You get to figure out where on the "not so bad" range I put Wellstone.)

The DFL is not a pristine progressive organization. There are plenty of boring party regulars and people who want to play it safe, which (in recent years) has meant edging to the right. There are even people who want to drop Farmer-Labor from the party's name. I guess you could say the Farmer-Laborites are still fighting it out with the Dems within the DFL.

Minnesota is a strong union state, though it's not alway easy to remember this in an era when America is deindustrializing and unions are shrinking. But most of the people who get elected to office in the core Twin Cities have lawn signs that say "Labor Endorsed." That endorsement matters in the Minneapolis and St. Paul and up north in Duluth and on the Iron Range.

It has more co-ops than any other state and leads the country in the volume of business done by co-ops, as I just found out by Googling. When you drive around the state, you notice that every small town seems to have at least one farmers' co-op. There are co-op creameries, co-op grain elevators, co-op power companies and co-op gas stations. The cities and larger towns have food co-ops, founded in the 1970s mostly; and there are also co-op credit unions.

This (to me) is the light side of Minnesota: labor unions, farmers' co-ops, all kinds of local organizations formed for all kinds of purposes, and the Democratic Farmer Labor Party.

There is a dark side to Minnesota, which I will discuss later.