A family reunion of sorts appears to be in the works for two valuable nonpartisan Minnesota public policy groups. The two: the Citizens League -- organizationally older, but now in the hands of a younger generation that values hip-sounding meet-and-greet events like "Policy and a Pint"; and the Civic Caucus -- newer, but populated by elders (some of whom once ran the Citizens League) more inclined to issue a briefing paper than down a pint.

The two organizations' talks about joint efforts have led to an invitation to Civic Caucus members to join the Citizens League, and an opportunity for Citizens League members to receive Civic Caucus policy summaries and reports. Talks continue about other shared ventures. These two groups were made for each other -- and, one could claim, by each other. They would enlarge their impact if they would join forces.

A change in poll methods could boost IRV

Speaking of the Civic Caucus: It's come up with some clever suggestions for bringing some of the benefits of instant runoff voting to Minnesota's political process, without changing state election laws.

Instant runoff or "ranked order" voting gives voters a chance to indicate their second choices, and allows those second choices to count if the voter's first-choice candidate comes in last in a multi-candidate field. Under such a system, it's alleged, candidates would be less likely to attack their opponents, lest in so doing they offend voters who might otherwise consider them a second choice.

But if it's a change in candidate behavior that's sought, a change in public opinion polls might do the trick, the Civic Caucus suggests. It urges pollsters to ask poll respondents to rank candidates in order of preference and report those results.

The caucus also suggests that political parties use rank-order balloting at their endorsing conventions and at precinct caucuses on Feb. 5. Those steps would allow Minnesotans to experiment with instant runoff voting before taking the larger step of legally changing the way Minnesotans cast their general election ballots.

Honoring McCarthy

St. John's University in Collegeville has put a very good name on its new Center for Public Policy and Civic Engagement. It will bear the name of the late Sen. Eugene J. McCarthy, the 1935 St. John's honors graduate who made his mark on the nation's history when he launched an anti-Vietnam War presidential bid 40 years ago this month.

The center, a joint enterprise of St. John's and its sister school, the College of St. Benedict, promises to bring Benedictine values of hospitality and stewardship to public policy work. That's an activity that could use more of those gentle graces.