Missing a true nonpartisan voice

What would John Brandl do? Among friends and admirers of the Humphrey Institute professor/politician who died last year, that question has occurred often since the state budget fell into deep deficit. Some likely answers were shared Wednesday by a panel of five public policy mavens who knew Brandl well, and whose diversity represented his ideology-spanning ideas.

Brandl would seek to assist the needy and shore up community capital as the budget is balanced, said the Citizens League's Sean Kershaw. He would like Gov. Tim Pawlenty's move to tie new education spending to student and teacher performance, said Dane Smith of the progressive think tank Growth & Justice.

But he would have sought to bring competition to bear on improving school performance, by urging that families receive state-funded vouchers for use at either public or private schools, said Center of the American Experiment founder Mitch Pearlstein. Former state auditor Patricia Anderson of the Minnesota Free Market Institute added that Brandl didn't think government should have a monopoly on providing services like education.

Maybe so, said Matt Entenza, former House DFL minority leader and founder of the think tank Minnesota 2020. But Brandl was a DFLer who believed in adequately funding those services, especially education. Brandl decried the decline in curricular options, elimination of extracurricular programs and increasing class sizes of the past few decades. Entenza said.

I knew Brandl, too, and can attest: They're all right. Brandl had an uncommon ability to cull the best ideas from the right and left, analyze them as an empirical scholar would, and forge them into coherent policy. He'd be pleased to know that some Minnesotans are trying to emulate him.