Democrats Ignore Rural Republicans At Their Peril

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By Reed Anfinson

PublisherIn our years of covering state politics from western Minnesota, we have reliably seen a steady stream of candidates for statewide office come by to talk about their campaigns. They came to talk about what they would do to help rural residents and businesses prosper.

However, in the last few election years, it seems as if the Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) Party’s statewide candidates have written us off along with many of the state’s rural counties. 

The far more significant population concentration of the Twin Cities metro area, and its left-leaning electorate, make us an afterthought for the DFL these days. It will worsen as the seven-county metropolitan area expands and rural Minnesota lags in population growth.

What we fear is that the DFL will write us off not just in their campaigns but also in legislation essential to strengthening our rural communities, counties, schools, agriculture, and businesses.

District 12 Republican State Sen. Torrey Westrom and District 12A Rep. Paul Anderson have goals that are in line with many in the DFL Party – improving the lives of Minnesotans by finding employees for our businesses and affordable housing for our employees, providing affordable daycare for families, improving our schools, providing tax relief, fixing our roads vital to rural agriculture and commerce, and addressing the aging infrastructure challenges of city sewer and water systems.

DFl’ers listen to Westrom. Listen to Anderson. Take the needs of rural Minnesota seriously. 

Representative Anderson says it is important to complete the state’s Border to Border broadband effort so Twin Cities residents and businesses looking to relocate in rural Minnesota have this critical technology. Westrom agrees, and so do we. Grants to counties and companies taking on the broadband expansion will be needed.

Westrom says he would like to revise the prevailing wage laws “so that any projects receiving some state grant dollars do not have their project cost go up by 25 to 50%.” We agree. We’ve witnessed numerous projects see their costs increase outrageously and unnecessarily because of this requirement.

Minnesota’s surplus is over $9 billion and could approach $12 billion by some estimates. Taxpayers, both businesses and individuals, deserve a good share of this money back. The Minnesota tax on Social Security taxes should be eliminated. Both Anderson and Westrom agree. 

Some of the surplus should also be invested in rural programs to help develop workforce housing and support daycare programs, both private and in our schools.

Westrom and Anderson want to see a reduction in the bureaucratic regulations that create unnecessary expense and headaches for people trying to build homes and run daycares. We agree.

They both want to see more funds go to improving rural roads and infrastructure. Rural mayors, city councils, and county boards agree, as do we.

We’ve seen headlines that say DFL can “flex its power” now that it controls both houses at the state Capitol and there is a DFL governor.  Democrats better not overreach. They won a narrow election, not a resounding victory. The vast majority of Minnesotans are moderates with some right-leaning and some left-leaning in their politics. Represent the middle, not the fringes.

Democrats have only a one-vote majority in the state Senate – 34 of 67 seats. Perhaps rural Minnesota will find its own U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin. Though a Democrat, the West Virginian has frustrated many of his party’s efforts in Washington because he thought they went too far or were too financially irresponsible. Democrats need a moderating force like Manchin to temper their overreaches.

Some special interest groups are claiming the DFL has a “mandate” from voters. They imply it can ignore working with Republicans and simply push through their agenda – that would be a mistake. Walz only won 13 of Minnesota’s 87 counties. Democrats can’t expect to continue to hold statewide power if they consistently alienate and ignore rural Minnesota’s needs.

Walz says he has tried to work collaboratively in the past to get things done. He says he will work with anyone willing to make things better for Minnesotans in the coming legislative session. He wants to reduce inflation, make communities safer, lower property taxes, create jobs, and support families. We all agree with those goals. The challenge is how those representing us in St. Paul work together to pass legislation accomplishing these goals.

To be true to his word, Walz must represent rural Minnesota against a powerful coalition of Twin Cities legislators. All the key leadership positions in the House and Senate are going to metropolitan legislators. Our rural voice is muted.

Minneapolis DFL Sen. Kari Dziedzic will be the next Senate majority leader and Sen. Bobby Joe Champion of Minneapolis will be the next Senate president. Sen. Ann Rest of New Hope will lead the Tax Committee and Sen. John Marty of Roseville will be chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

The House DFL caucus reelected Rep. Melissa Hortman of St. Paul to be the Speaker of the House. Rep. Jamie Long of Minneapolis is the next majority leader, and Rep. Athena Hollins of St. Paul is the next House majority whip.

Walz and Democrats must work with the Republican Party on issues with broad consensus among those in the middle and not the fringes. 

We urge these metropolitan legislative leaders to make some trips to rural Minnesota. Too many state leaders consider a stop in a regional population center like Marshall, Mankato, or Moorhead as a stop in rural Minnesota – they are not. Stop in small towns where our challenges are far more pressing than those in regional centers -  get to know us better. 

2023 souldn’t be an election year where the two parties position themselves for campaigns; that should make it easier to get important things done for Minnesotans. In the coming months, the DFL must work to ease the growing divide between rural and urban Minnesota by reaching out, not deepen it.