For lovers of Minnesota, for history buffs and for students and practitioners of public policy, I highly recommend two outstanding books released this week.
One is “Zero Chance of Passage: The Pioneering Charter School Story,” by former state Sen. Ember Reichgott Junge, a key state leader in education, human services, and governmental redesign and a primary champion of the school-choice and charter school movement of the 1980s and 1990s. Reichgott Junge skillfully weaves the story of emerging education innovation in Minnesota, from the influence of union leader Albert Shanker, through Gov. Rudy Perpich’s bold effort to push through public-school choice, to her own championing of the fights for post-secondary options and finally, Minnesota’s emergence as the leading model state in the charter school movement. Controversy still surrounds charter schools, but they are here to stay, and I’m personally glad that this option was available when my own daughter sought an alternative to her big public high school a few years ago. (If you buy the book online between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m.on May 9, Ember tells me, there’s a chance amazon.com will help with promotion.)
The other is “For the Good of the Order: Nick Coleman and the High Tide of Liberal Politics in Minnesota, 1971-81,” by former state Sen. John Watson Milton, and who served with Majority Leader Coleman in a heyday of progressive reform. This golden decade, in which Coleman arguably had more influence than any other leader, stretched from the Minnesota Miracle and greater state responsibility for education funding and quality, to putting teeth in civil rights legislation and expanding the rights of women and minorities and gays and lesbians, to campaign finance reform, to environmental cleanups, to progressive tax overhauls. As former vice-president Walter F. Mondale writes in the foreword: “In many ways, (Coleman) and Roger Moe, his successor as Senate majority leader, were more important than many governors we’ve had _ lasting longer, creating a revolution, and elevating the legislative branch to an equal footing with the executive…Nick Coleman was one of the brightest and most effective people in public office I’ve ever known.”
Both books will serve as reference works for years to come. And they are a reminder of what’s possible in our political process, and an inspiration for future stewards of our state government.