Minnesota has gone “blue” in every Presidential election since 1976. Three times since, it has been the only state out of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and both Dakotas to vote Democratic. In 1984, as quipped by Homer Simpson, Minnesota was the only state won by Walter Mondale, not counting the District of Columbia. In 2010, when the rest of the country went under a red tide caused by the Tea Party, Minnesota kicked out its bumbling Republican governor and voted in the awkward-yet-competent Mark Dayton, and let’s not forget the state’s brief flirtation with third-party governor and former Body-Breaker Jesse Ventura.
Heck, even the state’s “blue” party doesn’t call itself the Democrats: it’s the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party due to a 1944 fusion between a swiftly desegregating Democratic party and a populist Farmer-Labor party that had actually successfully installed three governors pre-1944. Maybe this commitment to social issues comes from the idea of “Minnesota Nice,” a phenomenon noted by outside visitors who note that, even if they are upset, Minnesotans seem to be by and large a kind, forgiving, and compassionate people who don’t like it when folks go in for themselves, which may explain Trump’s drubbing in the Republican caucus last year and Wendell Anderson’s fall from grace… but more on Wendy later.
Minnesota was the only state in the region that did, and still does, flaunt the two-party rule as much as anyone can these days. Minnesotans seem to wear its distrust and even contempt of the current accepted political reality as a badge of pride… and there’s have good reason to.
It’s because they keep being right.
Minnesota was backing progressive causes like union rights, progressive income tax, equal pay for women, and collective bargaining years before it caught on elsewhere in the country thanks to third-party governor Floyd Olson in the 1930s. In the ‘60s, progressive senators like Hubert Humphrey, Eugene McCarthy and Walter Mondale continued making sure that Minnesota was progressive compared to other states at the time. Later, Paul Wellstone, Keith Ellison and, to a lesser extent, Klobuchar and Franken are considered progressive in Congress. At the state level, Governor Dayton may go down in history for his decision to tax the rich when nearly every other state was pushing austerity, leading to some of the best post-recession numbers in the Midwest. But it was a governor that came before Dayton, Wendell Anderson, that I want to be sure to talk about.
Anderson was only 37 years old when he was elected by a 9-point margin in 1970. He ran on a bold, progressive platform that promised to change the way local schools and governments were funded. The plan involved tax-base sharing that got desperately needed funds to poorer, rural communities. Today, some might foam at the mouth and jump up and down hollering about “redistribution” or “socialism,” but the single fact of the matter was that it worked. It worked so well that it became a model for other states, put Minnesota on the cover of Time Magazine, and continued to work until the aforementioned bumbler gutted it. Then, in a surprise to no one, local budgets and school funding fell back into turmoil. But hey, as long as rich people can keep getting richer.
Anderson ran on such a pipe dream, pie-in-the-sky, unrealistic fairy-dusting platform that his re-election in 1974 resulted in a fully-blue Minnesota. Anderson not only won every single county in the state, but he also won more than 62% of the vote, which is just a hair above what Bernie Sanders gained in the 2016 primary. So, as it turns out, running as a progressive and actually enacting policies that help people in their homes, their neighborhoods, and their pocketbooks is an incredibly successful means of ensuring you get re-elected. Who knew?
There’s all sorts of think pieces asking what the Democrats need to do to win, but the answer is simple: reject donations from massive corporations and corrupt billionaires from both sides of the aisle, and push programs that actually help people. In this time where everyone is panicking about what to do, it seems the answer is simple: look to the Star of the North and say “Minnesota? Nice.”