Like it or not: We’re all in this together | Opinion

April 29, 2021 5:00 am

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We often grow up believing that a hastily drawn line might solve a conflict.

Kids draw lines at the dinner table or in the back seat of the car.

“Dad, he’s touching my side!”

Drawing lines never works. Eventually the kids have to figure out how to stand each other. I can’t promise how it will turn out for my kids, but my sisters and I get along just fine today.

Alas, certain former children now fixate on drawing lines after deciding they can’t handle people on the other side of the state.

The early part of the legislative session is often known as silly season, and for good reason. Nonsense bills enter the hopper, designed to grab attention, aid campaign fundraising, or otherwise troll the opposition. They won’t pass. They won’t work even if they did. These bills exist as conversation pieces among partisans before a deadline finally motivates leadership to negotiate the budget.

State Rep. Jeremy Munson, R-Lake Crystal, proposed a bill allowing Minnesota counties to secede. In a post linked to his fundraising site, he imagined a new state comprising South Dakota and the western and southern portions of Minnesota. His proposed new line runs down the western border of St. Louis county, splitting off part of the Mesabi Range in Itasca County. 

The result of Munson’s fantasy is a weirdly shaped, very conservative “New South Dakota” and a svelte “New Minnesota,” a veritable “blue-topia” that runs from Grand Marais down to Rochester. 

It’s not going to happen. Data journalist David Montgomery points out all the reasons why in a March 26 news analysis for Minnesota Public Radio. 

For one thing, the western Minnesota counties would quickly become the power brokers in their new state, something existing South Dakotans wouldn’t want. They’d also have considerably less economic strength than they do in Minnesota. The new Minnesota would be smaller, but still have more population, and would happily chug along with far fewer desolate highways to pave.

But that’s not the reason the bill exists. Terrible policy that would negatively affect even their own voters is no deterrent for today’s Republican party. In fact, very little of today’s politics is motivated by policy. It’s all culture. And when cultural disputes escalate, we become children who draw lines. 

It’s not just Minnesota. Just this month, legislators in eastern Oregon proposed joining Idaho. They do so not for the strategic benefit of joining one of the smallest states in the union, known mostly for potatoes and poultry farms. Rather, they like that Idaho is conservative, and loath that the populated western coast of Oregon is liberal. 

The thinking seems to be found at every level of government.

For instance, we saw this in northern Minnesota in 2018 when some Iron Range commissioners proposed splitting St. Louis County in two, creating a new northern county that would better serve the demands of the mining industry. The idea was hardly new; it was first floated more than a century ago. 

Ironically, in 1915 the northern half of the county resented the mining company control of the more populous Duluth area. But now industry policy emanates from a mysterious confederation of distant hedge funds rather than the Oliver Iron Mining Company headquarters at the Wolvin Building. To avoid confusion, new less complicated enemies have been selected: Hippies, mostly. 

Anyway, the northern county only works if you tax the mines more than you do now, something that mining companies have passed laws to prevent local governments from doing. There was a time people from the Range wanted to change those laws, but that time is not now. 

I remember almost 20 years ago when northeastern Minnesota, northern Wisconsin, and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula were all pro-union Democratic bastions. Charismatic state lawmakers like the late mustachioed greats Tom Rukavina from the Iron Range and Frank Boyle from Superior, Wisconsin, talked openly of reviving another old idea: The Great (Lake) State of Superior. 

Probable insolvency be damned!

Good theater. But we all remain in our respective states, which will remain as they are for the rest of the republic’s life

Places like where I’m from, the Iron Range, have flirted with one-party rule before. In fact, up here we’ve done it both ways. Mostly Republicans before World War II; mostly Democrats from WWII until just recently. 

Despite the differences of these eras, they shared one common thread: The notion that the rest of the state just didn’t understand us and the desire to draw a line that might fix that.

I suppose it doesn’t matter if you think rural Minnesotans are all the same: Fanatical hicks who stand in the way of progress. Or if you think Twin Cities people are all the same: Paradoxically a bunch of rich hipsters who don’t know real work, or minorities who have some secret agenda to take your stuff. If you fight the culture war you’ll eventually want to draw a line. I stay on my side; you stay on yours. 

That’s a losing game. Always has been. Culture wars vary only in severity, never in outcome. People hate and teach hate, a generation or two lost, with so much work for people to come back together when we really need each other.

You may call me a liberal. And yet, I live in a red precinct in a red county in a rapidly reddening part of our state. Under the logic of lines, this is no place for me. 

But it is. 

I love my community, my family. I love the history and even the weird culture of where I live. Any society that does not accept a spectrum of political views, religion, race, or economic enterprise only hurts itself in the long run. 

I don’t want my county to leave Minnesota any more than I want to leave my county. We’ll work it out. Everything changes eventually. I guess I’m stubborn. That’s what we all need to be to keep this republic alive.


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Aaron Brown
Aaron Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an author, community college instructor and radio producer from Northern Minnesota’s Iron Range.