Tuesday, January 06, 2009

We Like It Here?

Living in Minnesota is not easy. The winters are nasty, brutish, and long. Summer days are a rare commodity and summer nights are oft spoiled by ravenous mosquitoes.

With the exception of the Twins and Gopher hockey team, the championship trophy cases for our sports teams are pretty barren. There's been far more agony than ecstasy in that realm over the years.

We have to live with the cultural stigma wrought by "Fargo," Garrison Keillor, hot dish, and Sven and Ole jokes. Despite the fact that Minnesotans are among the best educated and well-read people in the country, we're often collectively viewed as ice-fishing rubes running around in our galoshes spouting "Ya sure, you betcha."

Even though some progress was made in early parts of this decade, we're still among the high end of states as far as tax burdens go and companies continue to face competitive disadvantages in our business climate. With the DFL in control of the state legislature and the a four-plus billion dollar budget deficit, it's hard to imagine that this situation won't get worse in the years ahead.

But despite all this, we could always find ample reasons to prefer the state to others. One of those reasons was that the people of Minnesota were considered down to earth, common sense folk. We weren't prone to undue excitement or rash acts based on emotion. We would calmly and carefully analyze our options and make prudent decisions based on what we thought best.

In politics this sometimes meant going against the perceived grain. Rather than always voting along straight party lines, Minnesotans would consider the character and experience of the individual candidate. And if there was a flaw in that character or just a gut instinct that this person might not be the best one for the job, some Minnesotans (often enough to make the difference) would vote against what might otherwise have been there party preference.

Of course in 1998, enough Minnesota voters strayed from this common sense approach to elect Jesse Ventura as governor. But that was a non-serious time. The big issues of the day really weren't that big. If there ever was a time for the people of Minnesota to let our hair down and take a flyer, that was it.

2008 was a serious time. A very serious time. A time when more than ever than our common sense, best man for the job inclination would come to the forefront and lead the people of Minnesota to make prudent and proper decisions when they went to their polling places. I was so confident that my fellow Minnesotans would do the right thing that I never seriously considered the possibility that Al Franken would be elected to the U.S. Senate. This was Minnesota after all. While we might be predominantly liberal, there were still enough rational, independent-minded voters out there who would realize that Franken was unfit for the office, unfit to represent the people of Minnesota in such an important position.

Now, with Franken joining the exclusive Senate club no longer a question of "if" but "when," I have to look around and wonder just what the hell has happened to my fellow inhabitants of the North Star state. Our weather is still cold. Our sports teams are still losing. Our image as lutefisk eating "uff da" doofuses still lingers. Our taxes are still high. But something has changed.

Al Franken is going to represent us in the U.S. Senate. And I can't be the only one asking, "What's the matter with Minnesota?"