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Progressives should look at what Minnesota has accomplished

Peter Goodman is a commentator based in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Courtesy photo.
Peter Goodman is a commentator based in Las Cruces, New Mexico.


In November 2022, when Minnesota Democrats elected a governor, gained narrow majorities in both state legislative offices, and had a Democratic attorney-general, they became a laboratory for how to effectively use that power to achieve progressive policy priorities.

Our imminent legislative session, plus the return from Minnesota of a friend who’s a seasonal Las Crucen, prompts this look at all that Minnesota has done – including things we did before them and others where we lag.

As soon as the 2023 legislative session started, Minnesota protected abortion rights by encoding Roe v. Wade, expanded background checks on gun purchasers and passed a “red flag” measure through which officials can take guns away from people deemed to be threats to themselves or others, legalized recreational marijuana, and enacted major protections of voting rights. (They instituted automatic registration, pre-registering 16- and 17-year-olds, and cut the use of “dark money” in state and local races).

Minnesota has also increased school funding (including providing universal breakfast and lunch for every student in the state); expanded public child care support; increased paid family and sick leave to 12 weeks; provided legal refuge to trans youths from states that restrict gender-affirming and other medical care; set minimum wages for Uber and Lyft drivers; enacted “green” energy goals such as requiring utility companies to offer carbon-free electricity by 2040; and expanded public child care support programs. Governor Tim Walz says he wants Minnesota to be the best state in the union to raise a child in.

As U.S. Sen. Tina Smith said, these policies “have a direct and clear impact on improving people’s lives;” but Minnesota enacted them with a slim majority and while also maintaining a robust economy and keeping crime rates low, the criteria by which conservatives judge progressive local governments. The narrow majorities might have suggested caution; but Minnesotans, deciding that doing good beats doing nothing, took massive steps to improve the lives of real people and protect citizens’ rights. Some say there’s a lesson here for the national Democratic Party.

People call Minnesota a laboratory for progressive policy and a model for what the states can accomplish. Such a laboratory reassures other states that enacting laws to protect people and the environment can be done; and that such pro-people steps can succeed in a state that’s relatively moderate, socially.

I recall a very different episode in Kansas, where Republican Governor Sam Brownback and his Republican-controlled Legislature abused their unhindered power so extensively and created such a huge deficit that people wondered if the state could keep funding basic needs like public education. That seared the conservative state (where Republicans outnumber Democrats nearly two to one) so badly that Democrats have held the governorship ever since.

It’s essential to maintain basic services and help the state’s economy; but let’s also compare Minnesota and New Mexico with neighboring states where close-mindedness, intolerance, and hatred of folks who are different rule the day. States that try to erase slavery and racism from history, minimize assistance to poor folks, suppress minority voting, beat gay kids into submission with cruel “therapies,” and jail not only pregnant women seeking abortion but the bus driver who takes them to the Minnesota or New Mexico border to get medical care. Abortion-rights advocates note that Minnesota’s new law is especially crucial for pregnant women in neighboring states, where abortion remains illegal since the Supreme Court vaporized Roe v. Wade. That sounds quite familiar.

Peter Goodman's opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of KRWG Public Media or NMSU.