The Good Life in Minnesota?
- Blog Post by: Kevin Winge
- April 11, 2010 - 8:12 AM
It has been nearly 37 years since a beaming Governor Wendell Anderson, holding a fish, landed on the cover of Time magazine’s August 13, 1973 edition that proclaimed, “The Good Life in Minnesota.” The title of the cover story itself was, “Minnesota: A State That Works.” That article has become a touchstone, worthy of an occasional Google search, to check in on how we are doing as a state.
Recent transplants to Minnesota might wonder what Univac, the North Stars and Dayton Hudson were. Everyone would be amused that Wendell Anderson’s gubernatorial campaign “cost more than $100,000.” Current governor, Tim Pawlenty, should pay attention to Time’s prediction that Wendell Anderson “could become a serious contender for Vice President.” And young people, upon reading the article, might scratch their heads in bewilderment over what a hifi is.
More than a sentimental walk down memory lane, however, there are reminders of what Minnesota does well in this aged document, and cautions about how that “good life” has slipped in the past four decades.
Demographics and statistics are good indicators of both improvement and neglect. Minnesota’s population has grown from four million people in 1973 to nearly 5,250,000 today. Although we are still one of the whitest states in the nation, racial diversity has increased from the 2% figure cited in the cover story. Not knowing the source for statistics in the article, it’s not fair to compare some of the data from 40 years ago with today. However, we know that today Minnesota has a much higher high school dropout rate than 7.6%. We also know that the crime rate in the state is no longer the third lowest in the nation. And traffic has increased, putting an end to 25 mile commutes that took only 30 or 40 minutes.
Civic engagement, part of “Minnesota’s secret” for success, is as true today as it was in the days when the IDS tower was considered a “new” building. The article applauds fundraising efforts to raise a “staggering $300 million” for the arts and social services. Some of the cultural centers mentioned then, including the Guthrie Theater, Orchestra Hall, the Institute of Arts, among others, have recently launched or completed capital campaigns that raised upwards of a billion dollars. Minnesota continues to rank at the top of philanthropy and volunteerism lists.
Politics may still be, as the article states, “an honorable profession” in Minnesota, but long gone are the days when a candidate can wage a wining campaign on a platform of raising taxes as Wendell Anderson did. Anderson settled on a $588 million tax increase that included increases in “sin” and sales tax, as well as personal income and corporate taxes. (That’s approximately $3 billion in today’s dollars.) With the increased revenue, state support of education increased from 43% to 70% and real estate taxes decreased by 11.5%. And, here is the really surprising part. Not only did no one spit on the tax-increasing governor, the worst name he was called was “Spendy Wendy” and his popularity remained at 50%. One has to wonder if Minnesota’s high school dropout rate in the early 70s – the lowest in the nation – might have had something to do with this kind of commitment to education.
Minnesotans, 40 years ago, “were willing to elect a man who promised to raise some of their taxes in return for larger overall gains.” Is that just a quaint, outdated notion today, or was it a central reason – along with other societal traits and geographic location – why Minnesota ended up on the cover of Time magazine in 1973 as “A State That Works?” And why we haven’t been back on the cover since.
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