Like Minnesota State House of Representatives Speaker-in-Waiting Kurt Zellers, I, too, grew up on a farm. That experience deeply informs and guides my life. And, according to a St Paul Pioneer Press profile story, Zeller’s farm upbringing does the same for him. But that’s where the similarities end.
Zellers, a smart and affable politician, clearly understands the importance of a strong, simple story. His profile story testifies to that insight. Zellers’ personal narrative creates a trajectory that deftly reinforces his conservative, “no new taxes” public policy commitments.
As Zellers tells it, his family’s farm life sources his conservative policy goals and values. Their story is individual triumph in adversity’s face, leading him to conclude that government, more than growing conditions, climate, rainfall, global competition, monopolistic market forces, and access to financial capital, was the farmer’s greatest foe. It’s a compelling tale, particularly the part about a two-acre low-spot “stolen” from his grandfather with a wetlands’ designation.
The truth, however, is a trickier thing.
In his story, Zellers neatly skips over the considerable public investments that created the opportunity to leave North Dakota farm life and work in Minnesota Republican politics. Zellers’ family didn’t live “off the grid” in isolation. He received a fine Devils Lake, ND, public school education. He graduated from the University of North Dakota, another publicly funded facility. He lives in and represents Maple Grove, MN, a community that has benefitted enormously from public infrastructure investments. In short, Zellers pretends not to see the structural elements that create community prosperity.
Zellers, like conservative policy leaders before him, is working to create a Minnesota policy environment that directs public investment’s outcomes to a smaller, more select group of wealthy Minnesotans. He’s compromising Minnesota’s strong schools, affordable healthcare systems, transportation infrastructure and job-creating economic development investments for a narrower public policy vision that impoverishes our state.
Minnesotans need, in short, public policy that expands opportunity. Zellers continues the Pawlenty policy tradition. His rhetoric and actions make that entirely clear.