Minnesota, according to a 2017 study, is the best-run state in the nation.
One wonders what second place looks like.
Because this week Minnesota didn’t look well-run, but run aground, as a perfect storm of partisan paralysis resulted in a legislative session summed up by Gov. Mark Dayton thusly: “It is a failure of government. It’s a failure of me. And a failure of the Legislature.”
This failure isn’t isolated to the State Capitol. It affects several aspects of state life, potentially including other attributes highlighted on Dayton’s official website. Like “best state for women.” Or “#2 best state for families,” “#2 strongest state” and “#2 best state,” as well as the “#3 best state for business.” All these, and more, depend on a functioning — if not, in fact, “best-run” — state government as well.
So, too, do the superlatives listed in “Amazing Minnesota.” The book, by author Lee Lynch, is a compelling compendium of more than 500 facts and figures that give data-driven objectivity to the subjective sense so many Minnesotans have that this is, well, an amazing place.
“With less than 2 percent of the nation’s population, Minnesota is a model for prosperity, creativity and quality of life,” writes Lynch, the co-founder of Carmichael Lynch advertising.
In an interview, Lynch said that regarding good governance’s impact on the state’s attributes, “I can’t think of one that doesn’t — even the water.”
And in fact, Minnesota’s signature natural resource depends on signed legislation to protect it. But divisions even on this foundational issue are deepening.
“I can’t tell you the number of people from other states that have written to me about this book [asking] ‘how do you people govern to do all of this?’ ” Lynch said.
Whether they will keep asking is uncertain. Because acrimonious actions increasingly defining the state’s politics have damaged Minnesota’s brand, which could make it harder to market the region to employers and workers alike.
“With any one of those institutional groups — the private sector, the public sector or the institutional nonprofit sector — if any of those groups are not performing at a high level, it’s a huge drag on our comparison,” said Michael Langley, CEO of Greater MSP, the Minneapolis-St. Paul region’s development partnership.
Langley is quick to contextualize competitive regions’ own challenges. “I think at the core we know that this is basically a well-managed state,” Langley said.
And that’s important for Minnesota’s image since good governance is not only important in its own right, but “a central element of the Minnesota brand,” said Steve Wehrenberg, a teaching professor of strategic communications at the University of Minnesota’s Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
Wehrenberg, a former CEO of Campbell Mithun advertising, added that Minnesota’s overall brand is like a three-legged stool, with “our great natural resources” and “our strong economy” on still-sturdy legs.
But “how government always worked, and how it’s worked with businesses to create a bigger community here, is kind of the third leg of the stool. And that leg, it seems, just got sawed off a little shorter.”
So now would be an ideal time for idealism, or at least a more earnest approach to governance.
“We can’t allow the extreme partisanship and people moving to different corners to become the norm,” Langley said. “It’s just not healthy for any level of government, it’s not healthy for any level of society, that we can’t get things done. But unfortunately, at a national and even global level, it’s not as abnormal as it used to be. It seems that there is a lot more acrimony and partisanship than it seems like most businesspeople and government people would admit that they would like to deal with.”
Nowadays, said Wehrenberg, “we have a self-serving government vs. a people-serving government.” And one, he added, that’s “stale and stalemated.”
Regarding branding, Wehrenberg said that it’s “more about what you do these days in terms of building an authentic brand than what you say.”
It’s not too late for legislators and the governor to say less and do more to deliver the good governance Minnesotans need — and deserve.
And yet it’s difficult to picture that scenario when lines have been drawn so sharply.
So others can help try to change the narrative.
“I think we need to ask ourselves: ‘What can we do as business leaders, as civic leaders, as community leaders, to break the cycle and find a way going forward to get more done in an efficient and effective way?’ ” Langley said.
That kind of citizen initiative would be fitting in Minnesota, a state with an amazing legacy — and future — that must not be squandered.
John Rash is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist. The Rash Report can be heard at 8:10 a.m. Fridays on WCCO Radio, 830-AM. On Twitter: @rashreport.