Minnesota government works best when it's bipartisan, so it's good news to see both new Minnesota Senate caucus leaders reference the "Purple Caucus" in their introductory news conferences.
The little-known Purple Caucus is a group of Democrats and Republicans in the Senate who meet together to build relationships so important in getting things done in a bipartisan manner. Begun in 2011, it was fading away in 2017 when its founder, DFL Sen. Roger Reinert of Duluth, left office after one term, according to a report in MinnPost.
New Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, joined the caucus with Reinert about 12 years ago and says he sees it as a good way to build relationships but also respect. He sees it as a way to respectfully disagree with Democrats. New Senate Minority Leader Melisa Lopez Franzen, also mentioned the caucus saying it was a reason she can work well with Miller. She worried, however, if Miller's caucus would follow his lead.
Reinert says the "purple" he referred to in the caucus name was not the "red and blue" blend one would think of when thinking of party colors with Democrats (blue) and Republicans (red). Rather, it was taken from his Navy reservist days when different branches of the government would have to join forces for an intelligence mission. They were called Purple Units.
But the decadelong history of the caucus has very little to show, it seems, in terms of bipartisan legislation. That's not a reason to disband it. Any kind of reasonable discussion where party members are not preoccupied with grandstanding for political talking points must be encouraged.
The bigger issue for both sides is to realize most Minnesotans are not as partisan as the parties that are meant to represent them. We'd rather see compromises and things get done than hearing why we shouldn't vote for the other candidate. We suspect Miller's constituents in Winona and Lopez Franzen's constituents in Edina would feel the same.
And there will be plenty of chances to put this new spirit of bipartisanship to work. We need a bipartisan bonding bill with significant needs around the state from small-town wastewater treatment plants to aging university buildings that need new roofs or reconstruction.
A stable transportation funding stream would help us catch up on the backlog of outstate maintenance projects and expansion of highways where congestion is costing motorists and businesses time and money.
And now it looks like the Legislature will have to rework use-of-deadly-force laws after a court ruled the law doesn't pass constitutional muster. The emotional topic of policing and its use as a major campaign theme will be a challenging issue on which to forge a compromise, but it is one of the most important issues facing Minnesota.
Democrats and Republicans should look to Minnesota history to get a feel for how bipartisanship works. Up until the 1970s, Minnesota legislators didn't carry party labels behind their names. They could caucus as "liberals" or "conservatives" depending on the issues. This type of caucusing created a number of innovative public policy initiatives such as equalizing property taxes and K-12 education funding.
Minnesotans know most issues are not black and white. We urge the Senate leaders and all legislators to see more purple.