It’s being called the Minnesota miracle, but Minnesota’s historic legislative session was no act of god.
Democrats in Minnesota wrote abortion rights into law and passed paid family and medical leave; they funded free breakfast and lunch for all K-12 students and passed protections for transgender people. Undocumented people will be able to get driver’s licenses and people released from prison or jail will be able to vote. There’s a one-time tax rebate, and a tax credit aimed at low income parents and a $1 billion investment in affordable housing including for rental assistance. Minnesotans passed stronger protections for workers seeking to unionize, banned conversion therapy for LGBTQ people and set a date by which the electric grid has to be carbon free. They tightened gun laws, loosened marijuana regs, and sent more money to nursing homes. That list’s probably still incomplete.
In a tweet, Barack Obama commented: “If you need a reminder that elections have consequences, check out what’s happening in Minnesota.”
The stunning session is certainly proof that voting matters. The Democratic Farmers and Labor Party (DFL) owed its trifecta power this session to midterm elections in which they won not just the Governor’s mansion, but also majorities in both houses thanks to a one-vote majority in the state Senate and narrow victories by a handful of candidates, one of whom won by just 321 votes.
But voting alone won’t do it. As the beloved late Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone knew, legislative action doesn’t happen without massive, ongoing organizing by strong coalitions. In this case, longtime labor, environmental and social justice activists worked in coalition, the Wellstone way, sometimes for years. Minnesotans for Paid Family Medical Leave for example — a coalition of 70 labor, faith, and community groups — set their sights and worked to rally support for what they won this year for as much as a decade.
And not all majorities matter. Minnesota Democrats have held majorities before, but acted cautiously — carefully conducting partisan calculus — in the style of, if you don’t mind me saying — Obama. Cautionary politics lost them the majority a decade ago. It’s taken that long to reboot.
In other words, Democrats in Minnesota learned the lesson that Democrats nationally should have learned from the Sen. Mansion experience. Partisanship’s nice but principles are better.
Finally, Minnesota Democrats didn’t just win political capital. They spent it, and they spent it in a bold way, with time to have an impact on real people’s lives before the next elections to the Governor’s office or the state Senate.
There’s more to be learned from the Minnesota story. Let’s hope some learn it. But the biggest takeaway? Suffice to say, there are no miracles in politics.
You can catch my conversation with activists in Texas about how they’re surviving abortion bans and trumped up trans laws this time on the Laura Flanders Show on PBS stations and online at Lauraflanders.org.