Here’s a tip for Minnesota political soothsayers: When next you list likely DFL candidates for governor in 2018, you can safely include the name Tim Walz.
Yes, the congressman from southern Minnesota’s First District is seeking a sixth term in the Nov. 8 election. He has made no official announcement about 2018. But when Walz paid a call on the Star Tribune Editorial Board last week, his answer to a question about a run for governor pointed in a direction I’d call both affirmative and reassuring.
Here’s the affirmative part:
“I’m honored to be asked about that. Football clichés come easily to me — it’s one game at a time. Still, I’m honored to be thinking about that. If I think I could serve this state best in bringing …” His voice trailed off, then resumed:
“I do think I’m seeing something troubling. This outstate vs. metro division is a very troubling thing. It’s unnecessary. It cuts at our strength. I think that’s our No. 1 issue right now. It’s stopping us from moving anything.
“To be a conciliatory voice being from outstate, who sees this state as a whole, that’s something I’d be willing to consider, if I thought I could be part of the solution. There’s a responsibility to get [functional state government] back, and maybe, since it’s counterintuitive, the progressive from outstate can do that.”
A conservative from the metro area might be similarly positioned to get state government’s decisionmaking wheels turning again, he generously allowed — “and I think they’re out there.”
But if they are, their names don’t as easily trip off mentioners’ tongues as does that of a 52-year-old member of Congress so politically gifted that some in his party have been pining for him to run for statewide office since his first campaign in 2006.
It’s just like Walz to be quick to say he’d look for someone on the other side of the partisan divide with whom he could create a lawmaking alliance. That’s pretty much how he has functioned every day that Congress has been in session during the last decade.
It’s why the Lugar Center-McCourt School of Georgetown University rated Walz fourth among 435 members of the U.S. House on its Bipartisan Index, which bases its rankings on bill sponsorships with members of the opposite party. (The rankings of Minnesota’s other seven members of the House range from the Third District’s Erik Paulsen at No. 54 to the Fifth District’s Keith Ellison at No. 403.)
It’s also why editorial writers poise their pens when Walz pays a call. He speaks respectfully about Republicans. He acknowledges merit in some of their views. He draws from a deep well of information as he describes possibilities for gridlock-ending compromises on Washington’s stubbornest policy conflicts — guns, deficit reduction, immigration, trade.
He voices confidence in the power of cogently presented facts to change minds. “What I’m really, really good at is teaching,” the former Mankato high school geography teacher said. “I look at this job and say, that’s what I’m doing.”
The reassurance I heard in Walz’s words came from his attention to the growing gaps — socioeconomic, cultural and political — between residents of the Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota. Those gaps and the politicians who exploit them are undermining state government’s ability to function.
And though Donald Trump has set foot in this state but once this year, he’s one of the politicians whom I charge with widening those gaps.
I doubt that the Republican presidential nominee cares a whit about functional state government in Minnesota. But polls show that his campaign is giving metro and outstate Minnesotans fresh reasons to mistrust each other’s judgments. Trump fans the flames of resentment among older, white, rural Americans, inviting them to blame “elites” or liberals or newcomers or Muslims or you-name-it for a host of grievances, real and imagined.
Soothing those resentments with enough goodwill for the state (and nation) to democratically govern itself will be much in order after Nov. 8. I don’t think that will happen automatically. Neither does Walz.
Restoring enough internal cohesiveness for government to function will require conscious, intentional decisions by politicians and the parties that back them — decisions to respect the other side, speak of the merit in the opposition’s ideas, and search diligently, daily, for compromise.
If a good teacher could be tapped to help metro and outstate Minnesotans understand each other, so much the better.