Dave Durenberger

Dave Durenberger


David Durenberger: 'I would like to see us do a few things really well."

  • Article by: DAVID F. DURENBERGER
  • January 2, 2011 - 6:21 PM


'I would like to see us do a few things really well."

Thus, in a Star Tribune profile ("Koch: A 'laser focus' on deficit," Dec. 24), did the new Minnesota Senate majority leader, Amy Koch of Buffalo, set the tone for all of us in 2011.

It takes years of experience to get to this point in life, but Koch is a young wife, mother and businessperson with five years in the Senate and the confidence of her colleagues. Already.

Sen. Koch makes it clear to DFL Gov.-elect Mark Dayton that elections have consequences, and that she is eager for her colleagues to do their part in working with him to define what "few things" best meet the goals of most Minnesotans.

Just so a tax increase is not one of them.

As a recently defrocked member of Koch's party, I hesitate only slightly to give advice. Since my policy and my political interest remain hers, however, I will.

First, avoid distractions. Get your DFL colleagues to agree to the appointment of an independent commission of experienced but uninvolved Minnesotans to come up with a proposal for redistricting legislative and congressional districts after you give them the standards for doing it. Do the same for electing regents to the University of Minnesota board. Set higher standards than we have for a commission that's truly independent of politics and seeks regents with real-life experience in business and the professions.

Second, don't tie your Republican policy agenda to our retiring governor's quest for the GOP endorsement for president. There is much to admire in Tim Pawlenty. He has not, however, set the only Republican standard for fiscal conservativism with his "no tax/no spend/no major policy redesign" conservatism. But you do have models. Gov. Al Quie served only one term, from 1979-83, but accomplished a great deal. Plus, he never, ever blamed anyone for what he couldn't get done, including President Ronald Reagan and his national economy. We had 11 percent unemployment on election day 1982, when Quie's GOP successor was defeated by former Gov. Rudy Perpich.

Or consider Gov. Harold LeVander, who served a historic single term from 1967-70. With a two-thirds majority of Conservatives in both the state Senate and House, he fought Republican business efforts to impose a sales tax over his veto because the Legislature had not reduced off-setting spending. He disagreed with most LBJ Great Society programs and got the Legislature to take responsibility here in Minnesota for civil rights, worker rights, pollution control and metropolitan planning through new Minnesota agencies. He championed federal revenue sharing with the states without spending mandates.

Third, national Republicans love to cut spending until it reaches a favored constituency. Be different. Start out by agreeing with the governor that government spending includes every tax break designed to encourage some once-upon-a-time desirable individual or corporate activity. This is "spending" by persons motivated solely by "tax breaks," couched in purposes like "job creation" and never put to the test of accounting for its value.

For starters, try the recommendations of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility. They include some political dynamite, like limits on deductibility for mortgage interest and charitable contributions. But why not add courage to your definition of doing things "really well?" Several Republicans on that commission did it.

Take a close look at what your GOP colleagues call Obamacare and at what's in it fiscally for the people of Minnesota. Not only the chance to expand coverage with federal tax subsidies, rather than taxes on Minnesotans and their doctors and hospitals, but financial rewards for insurance and delivery system reform that reward Minnesotans for raising the national bar on health care quality and value. If you look closely enough, you'll find billions of dollars in savings for Minnesotans in the implementation of the law.

Fourth, before you set out to emulate the conservative politics of President Reagan, ask some of us who worked with him -- for eight years in my case. A principled conservative, without question, but even with a Republican Senate for six of his eight years, he accepted a big difference between the politics he preached and the governance he practiced to get things done.

We loved his leadership qualities. We'll learn to love yours as well -- as a Minnesota Republican leader.

Dave Durenberger, a Republican, is a former U.S. senator from Minnesota.

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