I appreciate the comments of a Jan. 8 letter writer ("Dual purpose in our republic") in response to the opening remarks by Rep. Kevin McCarthy in the U.S. House following Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's speech. He said, "There is one core principle upon which we will not compromise: Republicans will always choose personal freedom over government control." I would add one caveat: Republicans will always choose personal freedom (especially for men) over government control — except for women, their bodies, their choices, their reproductive rights. In the case of women's bodies, choices and reproductive rights, Republicans always seem to want more government control.

Sarah J. Cox, Golden Valley
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It is scary to realize that second in line to succeed the president is Nancy Pelosi. But it is even more frightening for the country to hear her agenda priorities. The top of her list is not our mounting national debt, nor the out-of-control border issue. Speaker Pelosi states that her top priorities are disparities of wages, climate issues and raising minimum wages. I am certain she will direct the efforts of Congress to oppose everything supported by the opposite party. What happened to doing what is best for our country by people of character?

Mike Gerkin, Apple Valley
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According to a Jan. 4 article ("Minnesota's lawmakers pledge to get to work"), newly seated Republican U.S. Reps. Jim Hagedorn and Pete Stauber "are sticking close to the president on immigration and his demand for a wall." Hagedorn notes that the president is "in charge of the government." The Republicans in Congress have failed in their responsibility to rein in a dangerous, incompetent executive, and Hagedorn and Stauber do not offer much hope that things will change in their party. When a 3-year-old has an assault rifle, the adults in the room need to safely take it away, not pretend that the situation is normal.

Thom Haines, Eden Prairie

The writer is an assistant Carver County Attorney.

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I am so very tired of hearing Republican politicians (such as state Rep. Jim Nash, quoted in a Jan. 4 article, "Dems plan bills to increase voter turnout") justify their opposition to efforts to increase voter turnout by invoking the tired canard of "voter fraud," especially in light of the fact that whenever we hear about actual fraud, it always seems to be the Republicans who are doing it (see North Carolina's Ninth Congressional District), and that their efforts are invariably aimed at suppressing, not encouraging, the exercise of the franchise by eligible voters.

With regard to automatic voter registration, already in effect in 15 states, Nash spoke against "enroll[ing] somebody who may not want to actually vote." Well, if they don't want to, they don't have to — but maybe they'll decide they want to. Either way, what's the harm? Here's the only thing I worry about: If we have automatic voter registration, the GOP can be counted on to put forward a "voter purge" proposal such as those seen in Ohio and elsewhere, where people who don't make it to the polls often enough are summarily removed from the rolls.

Minnesotans, stay vigilant. We now rank No. 1 in voter turnout nationally — but not all of our politicians seem to think that's a good thing.

Anne Hamre, Roseville
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The continuing government shutdown is just the most recent example of divisive, us-against- them politics. How have we gotten to this point? Both sides have contributed over the years; however, I would contend that it began with the 104th Congress (1995-97) when Newt Gingrich was elected as speaker of the House. An old memo published in 1996 sourced from Newt's GOPAC titled "Language: A Key Mechanism of Control" (http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article4443.htm) is an eye-opener. It's meant for fledgling Republican candidates to use if they wish to "speak Like Newt." He calls it "creating a clear and easily understood contrast" to apply words like pathetic, bizarre, incompetent and traitors to an opponent's record, proposals and party. It appears to me that while both parties contribute to the madness, for the most part with Democrats, it's reflexive, whereas for Republicans, it's strategic.

Connie Clabots, Brooklyn Center
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In our current political climate, people are often put in a conservative box or a liberal box.

What is the reality? Most people are both conservative and liberal — conservative on some issues and liberal on other issues.

People tend to be conservative about what works, but they may also want to learn more effective ways.

A healthy dynamic between the conservative and liberal tendencies can be described by looking at how to climb a tree. To successfully climb a tree takes two hands — one to firmly hold on while the other reaches for a higher branch. This two-handed dynamic enables a successful climb.

The two-handed dynamic of climbing a tree is a useful analogy to understand a healthy interactive dynamic between those who tend to be more conservative and those who tend to be more liberal. Conservatives tend to hold on, and liberals tend to reach higher.

With mutual respect and open dialogue, conservatives and liberals can climb higher — conservatives holding on to life-giving values and liberals reaching for new ways for everyone to live life more fully.

Both liberals and conservatives have to guard against making a deadly mistake while climbing. Liberals can reach for a branch that is not yet strong enough, and conservatives can hold on to dead wood. And both can err by failing to embrace mutual respect or open dialogue.

Our country always needs good conservatives and good liberals working cooperatively together. And at this time, America desperately needs such cooperation!

Brian Willette, Minneapolis
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Robert Moilanen ("It's time for another crack at restructuring state government," Opinion Exchange, Jan. 4) makes some excellent arguments for reforms in our state government. I am sure many of them would be useful to carefully consider. One in particular caught my eye — that the state retirement and trust funds are overseen by politicians/elected officials. Perhaps a conflict of interest could arise?

This immediately brought to mind another vital function of our government, overseen by politicians with a definitive conflict of interest: drawing new legislative and congressional district boundaries following the census. Politicians designing the maps, which would determine their future as representatives of a constituency, is clearly a fraught process. While the U.S. Constitution assigns the responsibility for this critical activity to the state legislatures, it should not preclude them from delegating this activity to a nonpartisan body and process.

There are extensive examples of how politicians design legislative and congressional districts to favor their political party. This is done by both Democrats (e.g., Maryland) and Republicans (multiple examples, including Pennsylvania and North Carolina). There is much recent activity in the courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, occurring as a result of partisan redistricting (gerrymandering) in the last round following the 2010 census.

Politicians can design the maps, using sophisticated computer software readily available, which allows them to pick the voters in the new districts with the objective of favoring their political party. This is not how democracy should work. Under current law in Minnesota, we are at risk for this to occur.

We need a new process for creating districts (legislative and congressional) in Minnesota that is nonpartisan and fair so that a real contest between qualified candidates can occur and voters can choose who they want to represent them, rather than the other way around.

This is a truly fundamental restructuring of state government that must happen this session of the Legislature. I would urge everyone to contact their state representative and senator and the governor, beginning Tuesday, and tell them that is what they want.

Gary Fifield, St. Paul