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Posts from the ‘Public Policy’ Category

Your Vote Counts: Especially When No One Else Goes to the Polls

Buck the trend and get out to vote on August 12.

Buck the trend and go to the polls on Tuesday, August 12.

You can be a powerful political influencer on Tuesday, August 12.

How?  Just go to the polls and cast your ballot in the Minnesota primary.

Your vote will be extra valuable because such a low turnout is predicted — just 9 percent, according to Humphrey School of Public Affairs Professor Larry Jacobs.

So, when you hear candidates saying “your vote counts,” they won’t be kidding.  If just 200,000 Minnesotans go to the polls statewide, you will have considerable influence — especially in local and hotly contested races.

Significant Races for All Parties
Whether your politics fall hard to the right, hard to the left or somewhere in-between (research shows the majority is in the middle), you have a lot of good reasons to vote in this primary.

For instance, four Republican candidates are fighting an extremely tight gubernatorial race, each hoping to win the bid to face off against DFL incumbent Mark Dayton this fall.  And in a surprising political twist, DFL-endorsed Secretary of State Rebecca Otto is being challenged by a self-financed foe.

And those are just some of the statewide races. You may live in a state House district in which the primary outcome will be determined by literally a handful of votes — including yours.

Where and How to Vote
The Minnesota Secretary of State’s website is the go-to place for all things election-related.  You can find your polling place, look at a sample ballot and even click through to candidate websites . . . including the ones for those hard-to-remember judicial contenders.

To quickly sort out which major candidate best matches your own political views, you can also check out MPR’s Select A Candidate tool.  For the Republican and Independence races for U.S. senate and the Republican race for governor, you can plug in your answers to key issue questions and rate their relative importance for you.  The tool will then tell you which candidate is your likely pick.

No Excuses
And remember, “I’m not registered” is not an excuse.  Same-day registration at the polls is still an option in Minnesota.

So wield your influence and step into the voting booth on Tuesday!

Make the Census Count for Your Cause

Colonial Ship's LogHave you ever attended a family reunion where you didn’t know a soul?

It may sound improbable, but this summer I was a first-time attendee at a national reunion of the descendants of two German brothers who emigrated to Pennsylvania in the 1730s.

At this gathering I didn’t know any of the dozens of my relatives (except, I confess, my history-loving brother who recruited me for the trip).  These new acquaintances reported that I am just one of more than 10,000 living U.S. “cousins” who are descended from these long-dead ancestors.

Free Tools, Free Data, Free Help
So how do we know we’re all  related and, more importantly, why should you care?

One valuable tool of avid genealogists is data from the U.S. Census.  My newfound cousins have used handwritten entries on census forms from decades long past to reveal interesting information about parents, siblings, births and deaths, residences, occupations and much more.

But that’s ancient history.  Today’s U.S. Census and American Community Survey data are rich repositories of information that you can use to build support for your nonprofit cause.

Free government data sources and tools, such as American Fact Finder, can help you sort, compare and configure data — about age, education, employment, poverty, housing, race & ethnicity and a seemingly endless variety of other topics.  Plus, you can slice the data into tiny geographies in order to present persuasive evidence of community needs and illustrate clearly your programmatic impact.

And you don’t need to be a data geek or computer whiz to access useful information. At a recent U.S. Census workshop co-hosted by the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, data dissemination specialist Ryan Dolan almost begged attendees to call or email his government colleagues or him to assist with data searches.

Minnesotans for the American Community Survey
While you’re using these free resources, don’t take them for granted.  Also present at the workshop was a representative of the Minnesota State Demographic Center who updated everyone on recent challenges to the American Community Survey and threats to U.S. Census funding.

She spoke on behalf of Minnesotans for the American Community Survey (MACS), a coalition of concerned citizens, business leaders, educators, social service providers and others who have joined together to educate elected officials and the public about the importance of census data to drive a strong economy and improve the well-being of all Minnesotans.

MACS supporters are not political.  They are simply people like you and me who believe in data-driven policies and actions.

Make the Census Count
So whether you’re counting cousins or keeping tabs on community needs and organizational outcomes, use the U.S. Census.  It’s free, it’s accurate and it’s easy to access.  And while you’re at it, tell your elected officials to maintain funding and current participation rules for this vital public resource.

What’s Your Political Persuasion?

Pew Research table of political typology

Will the people in the middle assert their political influence to put our country back on track?

Chatting with a friend the other day, I commented on the challenge of writing blog posts that are respectful and inclusive, but also have a point of view.   After all, why would I want to write a polarizing post that turns off half of my readers?

But on the other hand, who wants to read a blog that’s as bland as toast?

This ongoing (tedious) debate with myself about content and tone of posts has kept me from wading into political waters, but this week I just can’t help but share something from Pew Research (a nonpartisan fact tank): Beyond Red vs. Blue: The Political Typology.

Take the Quiz Now
This Pew research initiative parses U.S. citizens into eight political groups, only three of which are strongly ideological and partisan.  I’m most intrigued by the majority in the middle, such as the “Young Outsiders” and the “Hard-Pressed Skeptics.”  Sharp red and blue distinctions blur quickly when different shades of attitudes and values are mixed in.

I took the accompanying quiz to identify my typology, and you should too.  (It’s short and has easy mobile access.)  I  discovered I fell close to the line between two groups.  This in-between position felt right — partly because I have an aversion to being labeled and put in a box.

Respecting Divergent Opinions
Although I sometimes fall into a partisan camp, I like to think my views are more complex and nuanced than a mere label implies.

I also hope my views are open to change as I read, learn and discuss issues with others.  Exploring diverse and opposing views was something I enjoyed about my time as a Humphrey Policy Fellow.  My colleagues were of all political stripes.  They were smart, articulate and opinionated.  But at the same time, they were respectful.

No matter your political persuasion, I hope you’ll share your point of view with the world.  And if you fall into the “diverse middle,” speak up extra loudly (and politely, of course).  Your thoughtful perspectives are much needed today to counterbalance the more strident voices at both ends of the political spectrum.

Potholes on Road to Women’s Equality

Rocky Road to Women's Equality

The measurable obstacles on women’s road to equality cause set backs for our children and families, too.

When I attended a Women’s Foundation of Minnesota “Road to Equality Tour” event last week, I was reminded of a conversation I had with a boss many jobs and many years ago.  It went like this:

Me: “Why is John paid more than I am?  We have the same title, work the same hours and produce the same amount of copy every week.”

Boss: “Because John has a wife and kids to support.”

Me (out loud): “Okay.”  Me (silently): “That doesn’t sound right, but I better not say anything more or he’ll fire me.”

True story.

The Unexplained Women’s Pay Gap
Supervisors today may not be so blatantly biased, but discrimination still causes a significant pay gap for women.

According to the latest “Status of Women & Girls in Minnesota” research, published by the University of Minnesota Humphrey School’s Center on Women & Public Policy in partnership with the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota,  white women earn 20% less than white males.  Asian American, African American and American Indian, and Latina women earn 26%, 38% and 43% less than white men.

Why is this data so important and so alarming?  Because working mothers are increasingly the primary breadwinners for their families.  Nearly half of white moms are the  main wage earner in their families, and 60 to 80 percent of Latina, African American and American Indian moms bring home most or all of the bacon.

So, maybe we should put an ironic twist on my  former boss’ (convoluted) logic:  Women today should therefore earn more — not less — than men, right?

Underpaying Women Hurts the Kids, Too
Another report finding I found shocking is that over the last decade the number of Minnesota families with children living below the poverty line rose 64%.

That means more than 80,000 families struggle to cover essential needs . . . food, housing, transportation, child care and more.  Hmmm.  It’s not hard to see the connection between the poverty rate and another research fact:  That 36% of Minnesota’s homeless population are children with parents and unaccompanied minors.

More on Women and Leadership, Health, Safety and Economic Status
The 2014 “Status of Women & Girls” research is rich with eye-opening economic data, plus much more on safety, health and leadership.

I found the statistics on women in leadership particularly compelling because of their potential correlation with women’s diminished economic status. For instance:

  • Since 1998, gains in women’s political representation has flat lined in Minnesota.
  • In female-dominated sectors (e.g., nonprofits and education) where 70% or more of the workforce is women, more than 70% of the top leaders are male.
  • For every 50 new independent directors who are added to Minnesota’s corporate boards each year, only about a dozen are women and virtually none are women of color.

We Can Smooth the Bumpy Road
I admire the Women’s Foundation and the Humphrey School for raising up these data that mark the giant obstacles on the road to equality.  And I also commend their unflagging efforts to create pathways to prosperity for women and girls.

Be sure to read the last section of the research report (pdf).  It features practical, actionable steps you and I can take to change outcomes for women today.  Think of our actions as filling the potholes on the road to equality.  Together we can build a smoother road that benefits everyone —  women, our families and our communities — here in Minnesota and beyond.

Photo cc Amanda Slater


It’s Not Just the Words . . . It’s Your Reaction

Slice of PieI read with interest Lori Sturdevant’s opinion piece in the Strib about homelessness, bonding priorities and the size of the state of Minnesota’s bonding pie.

It appears that emotional reactions to just two little words may be blocking funding for some life-changing services at Catholic Charities’ Dorothy Day Center (and for other urgent projects).

What are the words?  One billion.

Sturdevant and others have written and talked at length about the artificial $1 billion bonding ceiling.  Logic tells us that $1 billion 20 years ago does not equal $1 billion today.  So why the limit?

We’ll it’s not about logic, it’s about emotion.  After all, can’t you just feel it in your gut that borrowing more than $1 billion is just too much (even if interest rates are at an all-time low)?

In a post earlier this year on MCF’s Philanthropy Potluck Blog (“Sparking Action: What to Say and How to Say It“), I wrote about some sage persuasive communications advice from Bradford Fitch, president of the Congressional Management Foundation:

” . . . most of us have a flawed perception of how our brains work: We think we make decisions by thinking and analyzing, but we really make decisions by seeing and feeling.”

So that makes me wonder . . . how might Catholic Charities and the dozens of other organizations in line for bonding appropriations reframe the conversation so we see it — and feel it — in a new light?  Certainly each one of their causes is worthy . . . and each has a multitude of stories that can instantly evoke a tear or a smile.  But how could they jointly negate visceral reactions to “$1 billion?”

In the waning days of this legislative session, I hope some astute policymakers and influencers in St. Paul can find the words that will arouse more positive feelings.  Then, maybe our legislators can see the way to increasing the size of the bonding pie . . . and leaders of our homeless shelters and other deserving projects won’t need to fight over the last slice.

Photo cc Pernilla Rydmark