Join conversation about present political climate

On Wednesday, May 1, the residents of southwest Minnesota will have the opportunity to hear former U.S. Senator Dave Durenberger speak about his new book “When Republicans Were Progressive.” He will be joined by his co-author Lori Sturdevant, retired editorial writer and columnist for the Star Tribune. It will take place at noon in the Southwest Minnesota State University Conference Center.

Durenberger served as senator from 1978-1995. Over the course of his three terms, he focused on environmental issues, education, and foreign policy, but is probably best known for his work on national health care. He considered himself — and still does to this day — a progressive Republican, in the mold of President Theodore Roosevelt, Wisconsin governor Robert LaFollette, and Minnesotans like Harold Stassen, Al Quie, Arne Carlson, and Rudy Boschwitz.

Progressive Republicans, according to Durenberger, stood “not for big or small government, but for effective government. It prized government not for its own sake but as a practical tool for creating the conditions that allowed individuals to thrive.” It was also a party where bi-partisanship and working across the aisle “was a mark of strength, not weakness or disloyalty.”

The senator bemoans the present political climate in our state and nation, a climate where both parties have moved away from centrist politics to “bare-knuckles partisanship.” Moderation has been abandoned, replaced by intense polarization. Politics has become a zero-sum game and the losers are all of us: Minnesotans and Americans.

Public trust in our political leaders is evaporating. A recent survey revealed that 59% of Americans do not believe our political leaders respect American voters and 61% do not believe we have political leaders willing to compromise, according to political columnist Scott Rasmussen (Independent April 9).

What can be done about this situation? What can we do to fix our broken system and restore the public’s trust?

This book is Durenberger’s response to these questions. By looking back at Minnesota’s political past and the history of progressive politics in this state, Durenberger hopes to “look back and learn, and then use that knowledge to bend the nation’s course.”

We invite you to come join the conversation next Wednesday. Come “look back and learn” and, in so doing, help “bend the course” of our state and our nation, a course that bends back toward cooperation, open and honest dialogue, and bi-partisanship that can result in more effective government and sound policies. Initial steps toward this goal have been taken: a bi-partisan coalition of student and community groups have come together to sponsor this event, including the College Republicans, College Democrats, the Lyon County Republicans, and the Lyon County Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party.

Change is possible. A better, kinder, more civil political discourse is possible. We can start bending the course of our state and our nation right here in southwest Minnesota. Change begins at the local level; it begins with us.

— Anita Gaul is with the Lyon County Democratic Farmer Labor Party and Jesse McArdell is with the Lyon County Republicans