We have this week a confluence of events that ought to lift our hopes and sharpen our resolve to reduce racial and economic inequality in our state and nation, and to build a more inclusive prosperity.
The hope comes from the momentous coincidence today of Martin Luther King’s official birthday observance and a re-inauguration, after a convincing re-election, of the first African-American president of the United States. Michelle Obama, a descendant of slaves, is the First Lady of a White House that once was occupied by white slave-holders, and actually built by slaves. This is a remarkable country, capable of extraordinary self-correction, powerful and wealthy because it is governed by its own people, and stronger yet when ALL its people are empowered. We can expect President Obama will build on the theme in his inauguration speech that we all do better when we ALL do better. While the Obamas have succeeded spectacularly, far too many people of color are still left behind, and economic disparities continue to grow between top incomes and families of all races in the middle-income brackets.
In Minnesota, attention swivels on Tuesday to the release of both a two-year state budget proposal and a major tax system overhual from Gov. Mark Dayton. Minnesota’s prosperity rests on an innovative business leadership, to be sure, but also on a foundation of public investment, in the form of high-quality public education, physical public works infrastructure, public health and natural resource protection. We need to invest more and more effectively in those things, including early childhood education and post-secondary training, and Gov. Dayton can be expected to emphasize that this broader prosperity and better government is the end we seek, while taxes merely are one of the means. Minnesotans understand these fundamentals and have long been distinguished by a commitment to public good, as well as private gain. Let’s try to keep this in our heads as we all get ready to argue over the details.