Governor Arne Carlson: Hubert Humphrey, Ronald Reagan and Minnesota politics today

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“If you look today at the Minnesota stalemate that has occurred–the two most important people in that contest are the governor of the state of Minnesota Mark Dayton and Tony Sutton. And the big difference is, we the people elected one of those.”–Arne Carlson.

On May 27th in Minneapolis City Hall, hundreds met to celebrate the birthday centennial of Hubert Humphrey. Arguably one of the most effective legislators of our time, he is known for authoring countless iconic bills, and producing them with the help of senators on the other side of the isle. Famous relationships developed between Humphrey and Republicans Everett Dirksen, Barry Goldwater and others. Humphrey is also credited with breaking the longest running filibuster in Senate history. How did he do this? How did he perfect the “art of the compromise?”

Minnesota, can look to Humphrey for solutions to today’s problems, and that includes the current budget impasse. Former Governor Arne Carlson spoke strongly against the “no-compromise” strategy of the current Republican Party and its Chairman Tony Sutton here at the Humphrey Centennial celebration. Here are three clips assembled from an afternoon panel on “Civility in 21st Century Politics.” Carlson was part of the panel, which was moderated by federal Judge John R. Tunheim, along with Hubert (Skip) Humphrey III, former Vice President Walter Mondale.

Transcript of Arne Carlson’s remarks:

Nowadays it’s sit down, be quiet pass the bill, the flow of moneyed interests etcetera… Now we have in the state legislature is something that bothers me enormously, and that is the brazen attitude of the chairman of the Republican Party bringing legislators in  and if you will “persuading them” of the virtues of no compromise. What bothers me about that kind of position is you cannot govern in a democratic society if you’re not willing to give and take–there is no governance.

Now I realize I’ve got a bit of a partisan audience here, but my point is simply this :  All these jobs, be it the governor, be it a member of the legislature, all of these people get tugged in different directions by different interests for different purposes. Their job is to broker the concerns, but much more importantly it’s to broker the concerns within the confines of what you and I understand the role of government to do. Government in this particular instance brokers between the concerns of those who have power and those who do not. That requires a sense of judiciousness, a sense of fairness, a sense of decency.

The good senator [Hubert Humphrey] usually came down on the side of those who lacked power. But the system as a whole be it Democrat, Republican, liberal, conservative by and large has been protective of things like growing the middle class, making sure that there’s opportunities for those who lack opportunity. Those are the normal struggles that will take place in a democratic society. And what we see here is increasingly the influence of money coming into politics to buy more power for those who have power at the expense of those who do not have power and do not have access to power.

And nothing symbolizes that battle more, than what’s happening in Minnesota and nationally on the issue of health care. Over 80 some odd thousand people, will be off of Minnesota Care, which is a modest health program, a kind of program we should be expanding year after year, that should be our discussion point, not how you whittle it back.

But here they want to voucher-ize the system, but at the same time when I ask that they place themselves in that same system, and they become the experimentees of that system, and then report back to us in two years about how well the system worked, and how they enjoyed the high deductibles that they’re willing to impose on poor people, then if it works for them, it stands to reason it’s probably a pretty good program. But instead we have “Oh no”; let me promulgate a goody for you, but it’s not sufficiently good for me. And that to me violates all concepts and all parameters of decency in public service.

The only way we’re going to change the lack of civility in our political discourse, is frankly by wining elections. It’s not going to happen by having forums like this. As much as this is an enjoyable experience, we are not going to change the world because we agree that lack of civility has no place in American politics. But the moment the lack of civility becomes a political detriment, that element in the Republican party that has adopted as its mantra will immediately drop it. And so it compels in this case the Democratic party to realize that its best will not come out until such time as the Republican can match them in talent.

When the two political parties compete for ideas, as they did in the Humphrey days, as they did in the Mondale days, as they did in the days of Skip Humphrey, if they can compete and have a collision of ideas, we the public win. But when one party questions the truthfulness, the patriotism and the person carrying the message and demonizes the person over the message, and that works and becomes part of the stream of media, we the public lose. We lose big. And so if we want decency, we the broad we, and I would ask you as Democrats to reach out to moderate Republicans, to all those of us who have been excommunicated if you will, and to independents, and build a positive agenda that actually wins elections, and allow this minority to assume a smaller minority status in our society. And with that I think we can bring back civility, during the process of this discussion.

I’ll be happy to put more meat on that proposal. But I do want us to start to think about: Can we build a broad coalition as Humphrey did with the farmer labor group and the democratic group, can we build an informal kind of a coalition that focuses on the Constitutional Amendments that are coming before the people, and build the bridges necessary to coalesce support from all disaffected wings, and make sure the majority of Minnesotans and that their voices are truly felt?”

6:30 Clip 2:

“But I’ll end if I may on this political note, and it’s critical of the Democratic Party: I would argue that when one party significantly over-reaches, it can only over-reach with the permission of the other party. The other party has an obligation to fully participate to the fullest extent of its capacity. If there’s anything that we can remember of Senator Hubert Humphrey it’s not one single human being on this planet ever accused him of not participating in debate. Even when it was on a topic when he was not sufficiently expert. And I won’t digress, but there was delightful debate over botany and particularly as it affected the capitol grounds, and little did the good senator know that Everett Dirksen was an expert botantist. It was a long tough debate for the good senator. But suffice it to say, he taught us to participate.

When a political party sits back, protects its own individual self-interests, the other party will over-reach as the Republican Party has. And it’s up to the moderates, those of us who are moderate in the Republican Party to fight back, and to fight back publicly. It’s up to Independents to fight, because if we’re going to have a two party system, we want to make sure that both political parties are producing the best and the brightest. And it’s up to the Democratic Party to fight, and I think in the last several weeks we finally have seen some life on that side. That’s good–and I hope it continues–but the way it can continue is coalescing this kind of a group, bring together these kinds of leaders, and say : “O.K.; we will go out and campaign throughout all of Minnesota; we will define what is in the best long term interests of the people of this state, and at the same time, defines our quality of life.” And I think when we coalesce behind these kinds of issues, I think we the public win. And then both political parties are invigorated.

If you go back to the hallmark years of Minnesota, it was the years when the Republican party woke up and started to compete finally in the 60’s and the 70’s. And you look at those days, those were hallmark days. They truly were. It was a competition of ideas.

I remember when we came in the legislature together, all four caucuses worked day and night to be the first to complete their policy initiatives and then rushed to the cameras to announce what they were for, and then beat the other team. Now there’s no rush. No, I want to see every single 201 members of the legislature remember that they represent the well being and the long term good of their constituents. And the idea that a political party can pull them in for an internal threatening session, I find offensive. And it’s not something that any of us, in any way shape or form, allow to occur.

Let me close on this final note : If you look today at the Minnesota stalemate that has occurred–the two most important people in that contest are the governor of the state of Minnesota Mark Dayton and Tony Sutton. And the big difference is, we the people elected one of those. And I would strongly urge Republican legislators to remember who it is that they represent. And once that recognition occurs then they begin to realize that any proposition involving the governor, also involves compromise, and compromise contrary to the Chair of the Republican Party is not an evil, it’s an essential positive ingredient of a democratic society. Thank you.”

11:00 Clip 3:

And we’ve always joked about never watch the legislature in process because it’s sort of like watching sausage being made, and there’s truth to that. It never was a smooth process. But the sad part is, it has gotten increasingly worse, and a large part of the reason is the nominating process. The traditional politeness says well the left is skewed to the left, the right is skewed to the right, it’s kind of like two bad boys got together and had a fight, you know that’s kind of American. But the reality is–that it’s not.

When you look at the Republican side, and you wonder why so many capable candidates have dropped out? And I thought today’s cartoon in the Star Tribune depicted it very well, and that is there is no-way a moderate or a traditionally conservative Republican make it through the nominating process. Look back and ask yourself the question: Could Robert Taft who was the conscience of the conservative movement for decades in the United States Senate, and for the United States, could he be a Republican today and the answer is “no”. Could Barry Goldwater? Clearly Mr. Republican, could he, no and as a matter of fact in his declining days it was known, he was not and could not be. Could Dwight Eisenhower, the last Republican to balance the federal budget, could he succeed in today’s environment? Probably not.

The last piece of irony is Ronald Reagan. Who on one hand is the god, or held up as the god of the movement but his record would make certain that he could not get through the process. Let’s suppose his name were John Johnson, and he instituted eleven tax increases. Appointed a pro-choice female to the Supreme Court of the United States, strongly opposed proposition 6 in California, which was an anti-gay proposition sponsored by the Republican Party. Could he be nominated today–or would he be demonized? I would argue he would be open to a lot of demonization. And so what has happened is that not just the moderate wing of the Republican Party, but anybody who disagrees with the agenda that’s set forth by people who have never run for dog-catcher, will be rigidly applied. And so competence is one of the first things to go along with truthfulness.

Now forget about our individual biases, but when you look at the array of candidates that are now before us, can you honestly truly as an American say that they represent our best and our brightest? When you look at the survey by a national legislative group on finances, two of the worst financial records go to the states of Alaska and Minnesota, both of whom may have horses in the race. I’m not going to pick up on that one.

Now the question that you may raise is–well why should we Democrats care? The answer is, why you should care, is because you are first Americans. Secondly, none of us today can predict what will transpire a year and a half from now. Thirdly, any person who is on the ballot could be elected. And we in Minnesota have some history on that. (Why are they looking at me!)

But suffice it to say, as Skip [Humphrey] has pointed out, we continue to take our best and our brightest and our most competent and put political theater ahead of political substance… One, we as a nation will not continue to be a first rate international power; two, we will not grow those kinds of quality employment opportunities that we like to think are part of our heritage; and thirdly we will find ourselves being dictated to rather than as Walter Mondale has said being a government of the people, by the people and for the people. We have a splinter wing in the Republican Party, that I believe comes across as wanting to create a theocracy. That is frightening.

As a person who minored in religion, I never realized that Jesus was for greed, that Jesus was for the well-to-do and the powerful and had disdain for those who were sick or impoverished. But what’s sad about that is we the people have allowed others to define religion, to define their mission in the context of a higher power, blessing that mission and we do it without proper fight back. We have to learn as the good senator taught us, we have an obligation to participate, to speak out, to be truthful, and when need be, to throw the rascals out, and frankly I think the time has come for that.