Monday, May 18, 2015

A Failing Grade for the 2015 Minnesota Legislative Session

The 2015 Minnesota legislative session was a failure.  An F grade for all in my line of work.  No one really got what they wanted and not because there was compromise.  Dayton did not get universal Pre-K, a transportation bill, a bonding bill, or really much of anything else.  The House GOP wanted $2 billion in tax cuts, and infrastructure money and more goodies for greater Minnesota, and they failed.  I have yet to figure out what the Senate Democrats wanted but they did not get it.
The governor and the legislature largely failed to deliver on anything.  The state failed to deal with passing a responsible budget in a timely fashion.  It is full of gimmicks.  They range anywhere from acting as if there was a real surplus and then squandering it to House Republicans passing a phony budget that robs money from one place and giving it to another and calling it an increase.   But think about pressing issues not addressed–transportation funding and infrastructure, civil commitment for sex offenders, and MNSURE–and it is hard to conclude that this was a good session.  Welcome to the new Minnesota normal.

A Crisis in Leadership
Poor time management and leadership defined this session. Back and Daudt did not enter into negotiations until very late in the session.  Back and the Democrats again proved horrible at messaging, while Daudt and the Republicans could not decide if they wanted to play pork barrel politics to get goodies for their constituents or simply cut taxes.  In the end they did neither.
For Dayton he was largely uninvolved in the legislative process and never really made it clear what he wanted.  Recall his state of the state address where he said he had lots of priorities?  If everything is a priority then nothing is.  Kurt Daudt is correct that if Dayton had wanted universal pre-K to be his main priority he should have said that months ago and worked to line up support for it.  He never did.  But Dayton also seemed to pout a lot.  Recall his earlier flare up with Bakk and then his actions in the closing days sounded more like I will take my bat and ball and go home if I do not get what I want.
What Dayton ignored is that you have to create  political incentives for legislators to act, especially  members of the opposite party, and he never did that.  He thought that he had a mandate and could simply push legislators in line.  That is why he did not get what he wanted and that is why he still might not get what he wants in a special session.  Memories of Senate Democrats and House Republicans teaming up to overturn Ventura’s vetoes loom on the horizon if Dayton is not careful.

The New Normal and Why
But this session seems less of an outlier when one keeps in mind that dating back to the Ventura era the repeated number of times the state has witnessed shutdowns, near shutdowns, failed unallotments, and special sessions that reach budget accords so late that it makes it difficult for schools and local governments to plan.  One should also not forget all the phony budgets, cost shifts, and kicking problems down the road that have been part of the new Minnesota Normal.
Partisanship and polarization too were factors this year and in the past explaining the New Normal, but they only exacerbated three underlying problems in Minnesota politics.  First, an archaic and broken budget process.  Second, the entrenched special interests that make it difficult for the two parties to compromise.  Third, the disparate electoral incentives of the governor, Senate, and the House.

Broken Budget Process
The budget process is broken.  Minnesota is trying to do a twenty-first century budget with  a horse and buggy process.  The process in place is one that perhaps once worked well 30 or 40 years ago when the budget was half of what it was and no where near as complex as it is now.   The constitutional mandate for the length of the session goes back to the nineteenth century when we still had this image of farmer-legislators who needed to adjourn in time to get their spring crops in.  A century ago  one did not need as much time as is presently required to pass a budget and debate legislation.  There was simply less to do.
The complexity of the budget process is now so great that even under the best of circumstances it is difficult to get it done in just a few months.  But add to that some additional problems.  First, the increased complexity of the budget and what the state does makes it harder and harder for legislators to master it in a short period of time.  We had elections in November producing  new legislators and  House majority.  How do we expect them from day one to understand how to govern and what Minnesota government does.  Few of us are ready to do our jobs well in the first few months.  There is a learning curve and for state legislators that curve is the budget session.   It would make far more sense to have the budget done in the second year of office, giving legislators ample time to adjust and learn.
Its also about timing.  The governor generally does not release a budget until late January, the final fiscal forecast which is the basis of the budget comes out late March, and then a revised governor’s budget based on the forecast is produced. At this point already two months have been wasted in the budget year.  The timing of when the legislature comes into session, the governor releases a budget, and the fiscal forecast occurs need to be changed because their present order simply encourages procrastination.

Special Interest Gridlock
But a second underlying problem is the way money and special interest influence have made it impossible for the two parties to reach agreement.  Both the Democrats and Republicans have interest groups supporting them, encouraging them to stick to their guns and not negotiate.  It’s not about the gift ban law making it impossible for legislators of different parties to swill together at the Kelly Inn that prevents them from working together, it is about them being unable to resist the pressures from their constituent groups to forge compromises.

Differing Political Incentives
Finally, as this session reveals, there are contrasting electoral incentives that driven the House, Senate, and governor in different directions.  Here the House and Senate both face 2016 elections and therefore have incentives to cooperate.  But in other years the four and two year terms  put the electoral interests of the two chambers in conflict.  This year, moreover, Dayton’s interests contrast with legislators–he is not up for election, perhaps ever again–and he can push for issues or that legislators cannot.
Overall, many factors explain why this session ended the way it did and why it deserves an F grade, and I am not even sure an A for effort is in order.


Three Final Thoughts
If the K-12 budget is vetoed does that mean there will be no funding and school?  No.  Remember that the State Constitution mandates the legislature to fund a “thorough and efficient system of public schools.”  If no agreement is reached the courts will settle this.

Maybe now the state will think about passing the automatic continuing resolution that requires the  state to continuing funding programs at the same level into the next budget year if no budget is agreement upon.

Finally, where will the legislature go for special session if the capitol is closed?  The session has to be in St. Paul.  The governor proposes tents for the front lawn.  I will make a pitch for them to move down the street to my school–Hamline.  Plenty of parking and space to meet, and food no worse than Ulcer Gulch at the Capitol!

Friday, May 8, 2015

Reflections on Race, Gender and Class in America

States are praised as laboratories of democracy.  But as the debates over same-sex marriage reveal, states often can also be crucibles of persecution and discrimination.  If as many expect the Supreme Court rules by the end of June that the Constitution protects the right of same-sex couples to marry that decision will not mean the end discrimination against gays and lesbians.  Instead, as both history and recent events reveal, it will take more than a Supreme Court decision and the passage of few laws to end discrimination.
Consider the matter of race. Sixty years after Brown v the Board of Education schools in the US remain as segregated as ever.  Fifty years after the adoption of the 1964 Civil Rights Act women still are only paid 77 cents on the dollar compared to men and boardrooms remain almost exclusively male (as does Congress and most state legislatures).  Police shootings of unarmed African-Americans paint a picture of continuing racism, and recent polls in the NY Times attest a public opinion that sees a worsening of racial attitudes in America.  Obama has not moved us into a post-racial era and mounting evidence suggests that Millennials are not our first color-blind generation.
Now think about the issue of GLBT rights.   We have traveled an eternity since Stonewall but one should not think that a Supreme Court decision protecting the right of same-sex couples to marry will end the issue.  Much in the same way that post-Brown states found ways to circumvent the Supreme Court, the same is happening with same-sex marriage and GLBT rights.  Indiana’s religious freedom restoration act originally would have sanctioned, under the guise of religion, bigotry in the sense of letting people refuse to provide services to same-sex couples.  Now we see the same bill surfacing in Minnesota with a Senate bill.
James Madison, one of the constitutional framers and author of the Bill of Rights, was skeptical of the power of majorities in small close-knit communities.  He sought to create a larger more diverse national country to offset the powerful pressures of conformity and discrimination often found in local communities.  Nationalizing rights was a say to overcome the type of behavior we see in laws now that try to create personal religious exemptions to laws enforcing civil rights.
But even if the Supreme Court does rule as expected and these laws do not pass or are brushed aside by the courts, one should not think that the last frontier of discrimination has ended.  In fact, the real battle has yet to start–the battle of discrimination against the poor.
Face it, the ultimate discrimination is based on money, wealth, or poverty.  Few see any problem with saying that housing, food, medical care, and even political power or influence being allocated on the basis of money or wealth. Back in the 1970s in San Antonio v. Rodriguez the Supreme Court refused to declare wealth a suspect classification necessitating that government classifications based on it were constitutionally suspect.  Governments are free to discrimination against the poor and they do so all the time.  But even if the Court had ruled opposite of what in did in Rodriguez it still would have left untouched all the non-governmental discrimination that is inflicted upon the poor.
In so many of my classes I discuss how race, class, and gender are often major point of discrimination and conflict in our society.  The law and social attitudes at least officially decree racism and sexism wrong, but we have done little to tackle class.  Instead, as I have written about so many times in columns and blogs, inequality in America is growing and it is clear that the poor have little political influence or power.  Ask who governs America? and the answer is simple–look to see who benefits and it is certainly not the poor.  Our economic stratification reflects our societal political power differentials.
Economics is what gives racism, sexism, and homophobia their power.  On one level I do not care what others think, but it is when they are able to enforce or impress their views upon me by allocating or withholding economic resources, that is what gives discrimination its punch. In many ways I think class is the most fundamental and powerful form of discrimination, it is the one that underlies all other forms of prejudice.

On Another Topic: With less than ten days to go before the end of the 2015 Minnesota Legislative  Session it is not looking good to finish on time. As I said in my last blog, political incentives, partisanship, and a broken budget process all are factors explaining why Minnesota repeatedly now cannot gets its work done on time.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Final Exam: Political Science 101, Introduction to Real World Politics


It’s May.  I am a political science and law professor and it is final exam time.  Here are the questions  and suggested answers to the final exam in my class Introduction to Real World Politics.   The final consists of three essay questions.


1.  Independent and self-described democratic socialist Senator Bernie Sanders has officially declared he is running for president as a Democrat.  The media has declared that he cannot win.  Are they correct?

Much in the same way after Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul declared they were running for president and the mainstream press declared they could not win either the general election or even secure the party nomination, they are saying the same about Bernie Sanders.  The media says that Sanders cannot raise enough money to challenge Hilary Clinton and that she is such a frontrunner and he has positions so liberal that he cannot possibly win and that even the very idea of running seems Quixotic at best.  However, the media and the establishment has been wrong in the past.  Just seven years ago Clinton too was declared the front runner and had a lock on the Democratic nomination and then something happened–It was called Barack Obama.  Both he and John Edwards beat Clinton in Iowa and the former went on to win the Democratic nomination and the presidency...twice.
Clinton has high name recognition and a strong media presence, but she also has huge negatives.  She is well-known and will have a hard time redefining her image.  She does not have a lot of room to recreate herself.  Additionally she has yet to craft a narrative and rational for her campaign.  In effect, she is repeating so many of the mistakes she made seven years ago when the arrogance of her campaign assumed she was inevitable.
True Sanders does not have a ton of money but he has a powerful narrative about economic justice and fairness.  Sanders also appeals the disenchanted left of the Democratic party which does not like Clinton. He will not vulnerable to the criticism that he is a tool of Wall Street and instead will be able to make that argument against Clinton.  Sanders is also good one-on-one talking to people, something really valuable in Iowa and he could pull off an upset there just like Obama did in 2008.  Moreover, while Clinton then recovered and won New Hampshire, Sanders may enjoy terrific name recognition in the Granite state because he is from Vermont.  Combine an Iowa win and a great New Hampshire showing, along with a good narrative and who knows.  Yet again the media could be wrong.  Remember, the media was not only wrong with Obama in 2008, it missed it with Bill Clinton in 1992 and Jimmy Carter in 1976, among many other examples.


2.  The 2015 Minnesota Legislative session ends on May 18.  Do you think they will reach an agreement on a budget by then?
There is barely two weeks left in the legislative session and it is looking less and less likely that there will be a budget by then.  While in January few thought that either not passing the budget by May 18, or by July 1, to avert a government shutdown was likely, what has been most interesting to watch is how the Republicans have hardened their political and policy positions over the last few weeks.  Kurt Daudt and the Republicans have learned how to move their agenda in a coherent fashion (they have learned how to be a majority), while the Senate Democrats and Governor Dayton still seem both unable to articulate a compelling narrative to support their agenda and unable to find the political ability to work together to counteract the GOP.  The governor’s political interests are different from Senate DFLers in that he is not running for reelection while they are and potentially  are vulnerable in 2016.  Thus, their political interests are moving in different directions, thereby preventing them from uniting to oppose the House Republicans.
Many contend that the Republicans are operating in a fantasy world.  They want to make $2 billion in tax cuts (give back all of the surplus) and also spend more on rural and greater Minnesota.  That explains why their recent higher education budget hammered the UMN Twin Cities.  One cannot give away $2 billion and also spend more on greater Minnesota at the same time if one is talking about using the surplus.  That is why the GOP us also proposing other cuts to human services.
But remember that the Republicans are not the only ones living in a different dimension.  The governor and the Senate Democrats too believe that we have a surplus.  The reality again is that there is no real surplus and that between inflation and money that should be placed into contingency, that $2 is already spent.
Perhaps partisan ideology and contrasting constituencies account for many of the reasons regarding why Minnesota this year is perhaps hurling toward another budget impasse.  Yet given all the recent problems with government shutdowns, special sessions, and botched unallotments, the bigger problem is that the budget process is broken.  There are many changes that could be made to improve budgeting.  One example of a good reform would be to adopt an idea from Wisconsin.  In that state, if there is no budget adopted by the due date the current ones continues in effect.  This automatic continuing resolution if adopted in Minnesota would prevent government shutdowns and  would be a good first step in reforming the budget process.  Another good reform would be eliminating the dumb idea that inflation is not calculated for the purposes of determining state budget obligations, even though inflation is considered for the purposes of determining revenue.

3.  Will the screening out of bad racist police officers solve the shooting problems such as what we just saw in Baltimore?  What are these killings occurring?
Police shootings such as in Ferguson and now most recently in Baltimore are not just the product of a good cop/bad cop dichotomy.  By that, the assumption is that only bad cops shot unarmed civilians or racial minorities.  Find a way to screen them out and the problem is solved.  Alas, this is a simplistic solution.
Yes there is individual racism that might motivate some of these shootings, but the problem is far larger than that.  The racism found here is rooted in something larger–the social injustices of American society.  It is about the huge income and wealth gap between Black and White in America.  It is about the educational achievement gap, and it is also about the gap in the demographics of the American population and who is actually elected to office.  The core problem here really is a political economic one.  African-Americans and Latinos, for example, have largely been excluded from the  political structure in the United States and one can argue that the excessive use of political force against them is really the most direct symbol or sign of how the government and society use its power to oppress them.
But even beyond the institutional racism that may be at play here, one needs to consider other factors that may influence why so many people–and not just people of color–are shot.  Unlike in England where there are no police shootings of civilians, this country has a lot of guns in private and personal possession.  England does not.  America is one of the most heavily armed countries in the world.  We are the fantasy world of the NRA where they seem to think if everyone is armed like in the good old wild west of yesterdays then everyone will be able to protect oneself or others.  Guns deter them seem to believe.  They have forgotten though that the old days of the west were violent, and that is what happens when you have guns–people use them, or at least there is a fear that they will be used.  I can appreciate the fear of police who approach people whom they do not know whether they are armed or not.
But yet another issue here is the nature of policing.  Policing is not about roughing up people–it is about interpersonal skills, communications, and problem solving.  Policing now requires  skills more closely approximating negotiator and not a solder.  Yet too often police are badly or ill-trained.  Minnesota has some of the most stringent educational and training requirements for police in the country. Elsewhere across the USA a simple high school degree lets any Barney Fife put on a badge and carry a gun.  The skill of policing is in learning how not to use force, yet that has been forgotten by politicians whose message and arming of police over the last 50 years has been one emphasizing a war mentality.
What all this means is that the political economic exclusion of people of color from the political process, along with a society with too many guns and often bad police training may better explain than individual racism why so many shootings occur.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Death of Political Reform and Innovation in Minnesota Politics

Whatever happened to the spirit of reform and innovation in Minnesota government and politics?
            At one time this state was a leader in reform of all types.  We were once at the forefront  of government ethics and campaign reform, a leader in education innovation, and an agent of change when it came to health care policy among other areas.  But for a generation or more the state seams stalled, devoid of serous reform and instead caught in the grips of either incremental, none, or a reversal of course.  Why and how it did happen?
            First, think of the innovation and progress that marked the state from the 1970s on.  The state was at the center of creative ideas for education reform.  Open enrollment, charter schools, and magnets, many of these ideas originated in Minnesota.  While yes, some of these reforms have turned  out to  be less successful than hoped, but they did represent bold experiments with education.  Similarly, Minnesota was at the center with the creation of managed health care and HMOs as ways to increase access and decrease health care costs.  The state was once also a leader with programs to extend health care to children and the poor.
            Another area where the state was a leader was in addressing fiscal imbalances across a rapidly growing metropolitan area.  We know that nationally and in Minnesota there are huge fiscal disparities across the cities and suburbs when it comes to funding many services, especially education, and there are also many problems regarding unplanned growth and the siting and placement of low income housing and the residential discrimination that comes with that.  Measures such as the Fiscal Disparities Act and the creation of the Met Council were supposed  to address these problems.
            And then there is the basic area of campaign finance, ethics, and political reform.  Yes recently the state did pass legislation expanding early voting, but with this notable exception, serious reform  ended a generation ago.
             The high point was 1994 when the Senator John Marty pushed through a package of reforms that placed Minnesota at the political forefront.  Minnesota had a first-in-the-nation ban on lobbyist gifts to legislators, limits on contributions from PACs, lobbyists, and big donors, spending caps tied to participation in public financing, a political contribution rebate system, and among the best disclosure laws in the country for political spending, lobbyist, and legislator conflict of interest.  The state attracted interest from across the country as a model for how to run clean government.  But then something funny happened–reform ended.
            Legislators, lobbyists, and special interests hated the Marty reforms.  They missed the lobbyist paid-for-parties and junkets, contributors did not like the disclosure of their activities, and legislators hated having to disclose all of their personal financial dealings and not being able to accept gifts in return for doing people favors.  It seemed all the politcos just did not like the idea of  a democracy where the voice of the people ruled and where public officials were accountable to voters.  So the legislature and the governors since then have simply ignored reform.
            It first started in the late 1990s when Democrats in the Senate fought hard to repeal or modify the gift ban law.  It began with “You really can’t buy a vote with a cup of coffee” statement and continues today with assertions that the lack of civility and increased partisanship at the Capitol is caused by the inability of legislators to get drunk together at lobbyist-sponsored soirees at the Kelly Inn.  It then came with refusals to act on other reforms being enacted in other states.  Proposals for  conduit fund disclosure, limits on contributions to parties and caucuses, increased lobbyist disclosure  both in terms of dollar amounts and regarding what specific legislation lobbyists were talking to legislators about.  The tobacco settlement and disclosure of their documents revealed a vast circumventing of ethics laws, showing how special interest money found its way into the private businesses and charities of legislators.
            Proposals to create a non-partisan redistricting commission were rejected, as were laws to declare it a conflict of interest for legislators to sponsor or vote on bills that favored parties they accepted contributions from.  Revolving door legislation to restrict  legislators from cashing in on their connections and friendships for a year after leaving office was also defeated in 1999, despite the fact that then Speaker Sviggum sponsored the legislation.  Later in 2005 then newly elected House member Tom Emmer introduced a package of campaign finance and ethics reform laws that I had drafted back when I was with Common Cause.  The Senate Democrats under Roger Moe refused to give any of the bills a hearing and in the House Republicans and Democrats worked together to kill them.  Consistently and in a bi-partisan fashion political reform was ground to halt.
            Not only has Minnesota refused to reform but it has moved backward.  At one point Governor Pawlenty killed the political contribution rebate fund and Republicans have consistently sought to abolish it permanently.  The gift ban law has been weakened, and in 2013 in a bill pushed by then legislator and now Secretary of State Steve Simon, campaign contributions to candidates were dramatically increased and disclosure laws weakened.  And there has been a bipartisan defunding and weakening of the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board, rendering it statutorily one of the weakest and arguably least effective in country, despite the best intentions of its staff. 
            Of course, we should not forget the fact that the House and Senate Ethics Committees are largely partisan and ineffective and have long since lacked the will or desire to police the behavior of their members.  And we should not forget that we have a state legislator who  is also chair of the Iron Range Resources and Recovery Board, taking a job with a group that lobbies the legislature.  The IRRRB is also being investigated for making partisan patronage decisions in making economic development loans.  Finally, we should not ignore, as the Pioneer Press reported, that since 2002 60 ex-legislators have served as lobbyists or that across the state of Minnesota many local governments do not have binding ethics laws that regulate the behavior of local officials.
            What is all of this result of this assault on political reform?  First, Minnesota has fallen to the back of the pack when it comes to reform and ethics.  The best accounting of the current sorry state of Minnesota’s political ethics laws comes from the non-partisan and well respected Center for Public Integrity.  In its 2009 study on legislative financial disclosure laws, Minnesota receives an F grade, coming in 40th among the 50 states.   In 1999 the same study ranked Minnesota 35th and in 2006 39th.  A steady fall.  Minnesota is deficient in the range of disclosure it asks of legislators and also in terms of them updating that information.  A second 2012 study by the Center measured political accountability and risk of corruption in the state.  Minnesota received a D+ grade, finishing 25th among states.  Notable in this study, Minnesota receives a D- when it comes to effective conflict of interest laws, a D on political financing, and an F on lobbyist disclosure.  Minnesota simply stinks when it comes to political reform. 
            The second result of this failure to reform is an entrenching of special interests in state politics.  Both the Republicans and Democrats have their donors and special interests that entrench political positions, exacerbate polarization, and make political compromise near impossible.  In 2014, $64,000,000 was spent by lobbyist principals to influence legislation at the Capitol.  Combine that with political contributions to candidates, parties, and caucuses, and independent expenditures, and in excess of $80,000,000 or nearly $400,000 per legislator was spent in 2014 to affect legislation or state elections.  No wonder nothing can get done at the Capitol, it is locked down by special interest money that makes it impossible to act.  This is why Minnesota has had two shut downs in the recent past and why it now appears possible that the state is hurling toward another.
            The collapse of political ethics and government reform in Minnesota is directly connected to its failures in governance and why it is no longer a reformer in other areas in the way it once was.  MNSure might be a success when it comes to the number of people who get insurance, but its rollout was a mess and the only reason we have this reform is because of Obamacare.  The old education reforms of charter schools and open enrollment had produced new racial segregation and failed to address the achievement gap because they were not improved upon.  The Fiscal Disparities Act has been gutted and the Met Council weakened and turned into noting more than a patronage tool for governors and a developers.  Minnesota has a failed budget process that is again repeating itself.  And it is unable to make badly needed reforms to infrastructure funding and  local government aid.
            What reform has come down to in Minnesota is money. Republicans seem to think reform is simply cut taxes or spending.  Or in the case of education, Republicans, along with Terri Bonoff, attack teachers' seniority or unions or otherwise bleed schools or other institutions with the idea that less money will force reform.  Contrary wise, often Democrats think that simply more money is the solution.  More money  for education, for example, is needed, but how that money is spent and for whom are more critical issues.

            So reform and innovation is largely dead or un-creative.  Dead because reform got caught in a partisan  crosshair and dead because the reforms most needed--government ethics and money and politics--stalled.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Monday, March 30, 2015

With God on Our Side: Religion, Bigotry, and Indiana

In a many dark hour
I've been thinkin' about this
That Jesus Christ
Was betrayed by a kiss
But I can't think for you
You'll have to decide
Whether Judas Iscariot
Had God on his side.

With God on Our Side--Bob Dylan

Need we tolerate the intolerant?  Do individuals have a First Amendment religious right to discriminate or be bigots?  These questions are really at the heart of much current political debate in the United States, most recently with the decision of Indiana to enact legislation purportedly giving individuals a religious right to refuse to serve individuals in their businesses.
Indiana’s new law is only the most recent manifestation of how the religious right drives a political cleavage through contentious issues.  Gay marriage, abortion, and matters of discrimination seem to pit the moral views of some against the personal liberty of others.  They raise questions about the limits of toleration in a free society.
It was not simply Indiana’s new law that made me think about toleration.  A couple of weeks ago I gave my students an assignment where they had to do some analysis with public opinion data.  I did not care what numbers they crunched– simply play around.  In class one student talked of her perplexity.  She decided to see what relationship there was between religious attitudes and support for reproductive rights for women.  She was perplexed to find overwhelming support among self-identified Jews for abortion rights.  She did not understand why until one of my Jewish students told her that within her faith an unborn fetus is not a person until born.  My student was surprised–she did not understand that not all faiths agree with the Christian idea that the fetus is a person.
Similarly, last week I received an e-mail from some individual who had read an article of mine.  He urged me to support a constitutional amendment to declare the fetus a person.  I wrote back and told him that what a woman does with her uterus is none of his, mine, or society’s business.  He wrote back and accused me as being under the delusion of radical feminism.
Both stories speak of the issue of toleration and respect for the choices others make.  They are about why in a free society there are limits to enacting your personal morality or theology into public policy.
Many forget that the concept of toleration is a modern Western European invention, born out of the exhaustion of the religious civil wars and the split between the Catholic Church and Protestants in the sixteenth century.  A theological government that does not respect the separation  of church and state is free to define orthodoxy, foisting upon dissenters, critics, and non-believers their view of truth in the name of God.  The 1598 French Edict of Nantes recognized the right of Protestants to believe what they wish.  British King James II and the Glorious Revolution of 1688 were about the religious toleration.  America’s founding with the Pilgrims and Puritans too were about religious toleration.  All of these historical events speak to a gradual recognition in the West that the church should be separate from the state, individuals should be free regarding what they believe, and that there were limits to orthodoxy and what a majority can compel a minority to believe or do.
The hallmark of a modern free society is balancing majority rule with minority rights.  James Madison declares that to be the case in his Federalist Paper number 10.  Alexis DeTocqueville’s Democracy in America fears the tyranny of the majority, James Bruce’s American Commonwealth  decries the fatalism many face in the fear of majority pressures, and Elizabeth Noelle-Neumann’s The Spiral of Silence describes the power of public opinion to silence and persecute. John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty captures it well when declaring that individuals ought to be free from the opinions of others and that there are limits on what society can compel people to do.
The point here is that there are limits to what political majorities can or should be allowed to do to others.  You can believe what you want but you cannot use the force of law to enact your prejudices into law.  We have a right to be bigots, we just do not have a right to enforce and impose the bigotry upon others, regardless of the reasons or motives.  This is especially the case in using religion as a shield, sword, or excuse to discriminate.
Long ago Bob Dylan wrote a song called “With God on our Side.”  He recounted how too often  religion was used as a justification for all types of evils.  He made a good point. Among the numerous problems in the current debates over gay marriage and rights, or abortion, or even birth control under the Affordable Care Act, is how religion is used to mask or further political ends.  It is first over how some individuals first think that there religious views are correct and how they have a right to impose them on others who disagree.  It is essentially saying that my views should be counted twice–they dictate how I live and with that, how you should live.  It is preempting some who disagree from being able to make their own choices.  “Freedom for me but not for thee” seems to be the stance.
This legislating of morality also seems to accept the legitimacy of imposing my religious views on others, even upon those who do not accept my faith.  I thought we had moved beyond the Middle Ages and the Spanish Inquisition.  Such a position also seems to believe that they have found the truth, the orthodoxy, and not are free to dissent or disagree.  The last I knew no one had a monopoly on the truth.
Accepting that people have a right to their own opinion does not mean they have a right for  your to accept it.  You can believe what you want–ethically and religiously–so long as it does not impact others in a discriminatory way.  That is the limit of your rights.
How does all this connect to Indiana?  Individuals are entitled to think what they want religious–they can be as bigoted as they want and not like gays and lesbians.  However they have no right to let that bigotry become a discriminatory law or policy.  Whether sincerely held or not, no one except for a racist perhaps accepts the idea that there should be a religious exemption to the 1964 Civil Rights Act when it comes to racial discrimination.  Imagine George Wallace claiming a First Amendment Free Exercise of Religion argument to fight integration and voting rights.  There is no difference between that and what Mike Pence of Indiana just signed into law.  While we may need to tolerate the intolerant when it comes to their private views–because the First Amendment protects that–there is no need to be tolerate or endorse those who wish to impose their views on others.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Geography of Twin Cities Race

An earlier version of this essay appeared in the March 18, 2015 edition of Politics in Minnesota.

Why are the Twin Cities so segregated?  This is the perplexing question and title of report recently issued  by Myron Orfield and the Institute of Metropolitan Opportunity at the University of Minnesota.  Why perplexing?  It is because he juxtaposes how the “Minneapolis-Saint Paul metropolitan area is known for its progressive politics and forward-thinking approach to regional planning” with the reality of the educational and residential segregation that exists.  Yet his perplexity should not be a surprise since so many of the conclusions he reached were those similarly found a generation ago, and of which could easily be confirmed by almost any person of color in the Twin Cities, if not Minnesota.
First let it be said the Orfield’s report is outstanding.  It documents a Twin Cities metropolitan region that is racially segregated.  This residential segregation is the product of a coalition of interest groups resisting Met Council plans and legislative mandates, if not also court orders, to disburse low income housing across the Twin Cities.  Instead, low income housing continues to be concentrated in select neighborhoods in Minneapolis and St Paul, along with select inner ring suburbs.  Additionally, educational reforms such as charter schools and choice which are supported by those who have vested interests in these ideas, have reinforced and enhanced the housing segregation.  Together, there is a housing-education interest group complex enabling the status quo, hostile to integration, pursuing policies that are producing residential-education segregation and the outcome disparities among students.
Orfield writes a report full of surprise about this, yet should he have been?  Back in 1996-97 the Institute on Race and Poverty, the predecessor to the Institute of Metropolitan Opportunity before its name was changed, was headed by john powell.  I worked there and was the principal writer and  project coordinator for a wonderful team that issued a report “Examining the Relationship Between Housing, Education, and Persistent Segregation.”  We found that the Twin Cities was among the  ten most segregated metropolitan regions in the country.  It was a region  where race and income were stratified by geography.  By that, we had already charted through the 1980s and 1990s that there was a heavy concentration of poor and racial minorities in selected urban and first ring suburbs.  We also found that the causes of this segregation were many, including exclusionary zoning, persistent private housing discrimination in terms of racial steering, residential  mortgage lending, and rental markets.  Our research on the Twin Cities paralleled that by national scholars who looked at other regions of the country.  In effect, the Twin Cities was not exceptional from trends found elsewhere across the country.
We additionally found that federal housing policy, school policies, siting of low income units, the way school district lines were drawn, political fragmentation, and frankly personal preferences–whites not wanting to live near people of color–drove the segregation. Yes government policy contributed to the discrimination, but there were powerful private preferences and market forces that also drove the segregation. For example, we found in a survey that we commissioned  that half of Whites described their ideal neighborhood as mostly White, whereas twenty percent of African-Americans preferred a neighborhood nearly or mostly non-White.  Questions about current neighborhood composition and current and ideal school patterns yielded similar answers demonstrating distinct preferences for Whites and African-Americans.  In short, Whites did not want to live or go to school with Non-Whites whereas African-Americans preferred more integrated options.
The causes of residential and school segregation were a consequence of both clear  governmental policies and choices, but also a product of individual and market preferences.  But where our study went further than the Orfield report was in at least four  ways.  First, we were willing to say something he was not–Twin Cities metropolitan segregation was a product a racism, individual, institutional, and societal.  Beneath the veneer of the ostensible progressivism of the area there was a clear racist animus.  Ask many people of color in the area and they will tell you that Minnesota Nice masks Minnesota racism.  Second, our study more so than Orfield’s looked at how segregation is a product of the intersection of race and class.  Third, our unit of analysis was the census track and not the metropolitan unit, giving us a better neighborhood by neighborhood study than the Orfield study.  Finally, our report offered several recommendations in terms of changes in state law and other policies to address the segregation.  Unfortunately, these recommendations were largely ignored.
Race and class worked together then and still do now to broker the segregation in Minnesota.  We noted how back in the early 90s Minnesota and Oregon had the highest percentage of their African-American populations attending predominantly minority schools.  We looked at rents that priced all poor people out of most suburbs and neighborhoods, with the special impact it had on people of color.  We documented the concentration of poverty, the disappearance of mixed income neighborhoods, and a series of failed public policies that did nothing to address discrimination.  We also pointed to then how the evidence showed that charter schools and vouchers did little to address school achievement and desegregate.  We found everything that Orfield discusses in his report, yet we did it a generation before he did.  We noted back then that the research was already clear in that  school vouchers, choice mechanisms, and perhaps even magnet schools were failing and would fail to address school performance or desegregate.  Yet as Orfield alludes to, powerful interest groups and political and perhaps academic careers and reputations are at stake in supporting these failed policies.
The power of the Orfield study is in linking the policies to interest group politics and in telling a story that brings our report up to the present.  It is a study that further confirms that little has been done to address what we called the “persistent segregation” in the Twin Cities in the nearly twenty years since the Institute on Race and Poverty issued its report.  One can only hope twenty hence another report will have documented a change in policy to reflect the increased racial diversity that the metropolitan region is experiencing.  Maybe it will also be a study that reports that the failed  housing and educational policies that we have thus far adopted since the 1990s were abandoned.