Saturday, April 6, 2013


Where is politics going in Minnesota? Our state, like the nation, seems so intensely divided between the left and right that it cannot get very much meaningful and helpful legislation passed. Along comes Tom Horner and NextMinnesota, saying: “We’ve got a new idea!”
by Charlie Leck

I’ve never been able to figure Tom Horner out. Once, a decade or so ago, I was given the job of trying to do just that – figure Horner out. He’s enigmatic.

“He holds his playing hand very close to his vest,” a very wise friend of mine said about Horner.

Horner was advising the director of Target Corporation’s government affairs office when I encountered him back then. I was volunteering with an organization that was concerned about suburban sprawl and wanted to see more done to encourage urban residential development (making it attractive for a strong middle-class to live in the city) and less building into the suburbs. We thought, among other things, that a downtown Target Store would be just a keen idea and would help along this idea of living downtown. We were encouraging the popular grocery chains to do the same thing.

I sat in on some of the discussions with Target executives, talking about the idea. Sure enough, Horner was usually included in the meetings. He’d sit quietly through most of the sessions, occasionally whispering something to his client or clients. Never – not once – did he give any indication of what he was personally thinking. Target, at the time, basically thought we were nuts. They protested that urban stores would be too expensive and too unwieldy to manage. They couldn’t be profitable.

We were pretty much dismissed, politely, as liberal nut-cases who didn’t understand big business and the necessity of profits. Our conversation with Target and other downtown businesses and corporations fell apart. I tried, but I couldn’t hold them together.

Today, Target has very successful urban stores in a number of America’s major cities, including Minneapolis, Chicago and New York City. Now, there are three major, upscale grocery stores in downtown Minneapolis and they are common in all of the major downtown cores in American cities. From all appearances, they are very successful. (A Target executive has told me, off the record, that their Minneapolis store turns a remarkable profit.) And downtown Minneapolis, as in many other urban downtown areas, has sprouted an extraordinary number of downtown condominiums and apartments, giving a whole new vitality to the city. The idea of living further and further out in sprawling suburban neighborhoods is becoming less attractive (for a lot of economic reasons).

I don’t know, but it I had to bet, I’d say Horner was quite responsible for the Target decision. We thought he was a stumbling block for us, but I think he took the conversation to another and more substantive level with Target. I think he enabled Target to see that the idea ought to be studied and considered carefully.

It’s only a fantasy on my part. Perhaps it was only time that convinced Target and the grocery-store chains that there was gold in them thar’ downtown blocks.

That was a long preface to what I really want to say about Tom Horner and his moderate, middle-of-the-road philosophy and ideas.

Begin here: I and a lot of Minnesotans owe Tom Horner a huge amount of gratitude for saving the state in the 2010 elections from an absolute catastrophe. For, that’s what would have happened if the extremely conservative Republican candidate, Tom Emmer, had been elected. I chatted with dozens of proud Republicans who were willing to abandon their support of the party rather than let that happen. Horner offered himself up as the candidate of those more centrist and reasonable Republicans. And, Horner took enough votes away from the far right efforts of Tom Emmer to defeat him. Because of a split Republican Party, the Democrats won the gubernatorial race for the first time in many years.

I don’t think the elected governor, Mark Dayton, has forgotten that. He’s governed with a more moderate and middle-of-the-road approach than he might have had he not gotten the message from Tom Horner and his supporters.

From all of this, Tom Horner has developed his next idea, if I may play with words. It’s NextMinnesota. It appears to be an effort to support centrist ideology in Minnesota politics. I don’t mind the idea. As a matter of fact, I applaud it. Sure, I’m a carved in stone, faithful, loyal and exuberant Democrat; however, I believe, and have always believed, that political strength is found in the center. Whenever we get too far out on the wings of the political plane – either left or right – we are in danger of crashing. I think the greatest political ideas have always been found lurking somewhere near the center of political philosophy.

I can face reality from time to time! Had Horner been the candidate of the Republican Party in 2012, without the intervention of a third party (Tea Party) candidate, he would have won the election. And, that would not have been a terrible thing.

So, Horner has taken this idea that political strength is found in the center and he’s created NextMinnesota. From out here, a bit to the left, I applaud him. I hope he succeeds. We need to draw the parties back toward the center – not all the way mind you, or they will become bland and meaningless, but at least closer to the center.

If you are interested in (1) Minnesota, (2) Minnesota politics or (3) just plain old reasonable politics, it will do you well to visit NextMinnesota on-line and find out about Tom Horner and his new cause. You can read there what lots of people are saying about Horner and the organization. Do it cautiously. Don’t forget that Tom Horner leans quite hard toward the corporate and business side of American politics, but he’s an idea guy and he’s reasonable. And, in this case, he’s definitely on to something!

Let me know what you think!

Why not become a follower?
If you read my blog regularly, why not become a follower? All you have to do is click in the upper right hand corner and establish a simple means of communication. Then you'll be informed every time a new blog is posted here. If all that's confusing, here's Google's explanation of how to do it! If you don’t want to post comments on the blog, but would like to communicate with me about it, send me an email if you’d like.

No comments:

Post a Comment