Transforming America, One State At a Time

As regular readers know, I retired from the practice of law at the end of 2015 and, on January 1, 2016, became President of the Center of the American Experiment, a Minnesota-based think tank. Both Scott and I have long been associated with the Center. We wrote some of our early papers for the Center and its founder and long-time President, Mitch Pearlstein. Both of us have served on the Center’s board of directors. So the transition was a natural one.

As President of American Experiment, my objective is ambitious: I want to transform Minnesota’s political culture. Most people think of Minnesota as a deep blue state, and its political traditions are mostly liberal. But Minnesotans aren’t wild-eyed radicals; Barack Obama’s approval rating in Minnesota, last time I saw the numbers, was 35%, well below his national average. And the states that surround Minnesota range from purple to deep red.

Part of the problem is that many Minnesotans overestimate how well the state is doing economically. This causes them to be indifferent to, or skeptical of, calls for reform in Minnesota’s public policies. It isn’t just Minnesotans, either: the idea that Minnesota proves blue states can still work has become a common theme on the left. In particular, President Obama and others have compared Minnesota’s economy favorably with Wisconsin’s as a way of discrediting Governor Scott Walker.

Here in Minnesota, we hear a great deal of happy talk about our economy in the state’s media. The most recent example was a Gallup poll that was trumpeted in a press release by the Governor’s office and led to this headline in the Minneapolis Star Tribune: “Gallup names Minnesota tops in job creation.” Needless to say, the Gallup Poll doesn’t measure job gains and losses. The poll in question was, to put it generously, silly, as Peter Nelson, Vice President and Senior Policy Fellow at the Center, explained on the Center’s web site.

Gallup Job Creation

In fact, as Peter pointed out, Minnesota’s job growth in 2015 (1.5%) was well below the national average (1.9%). This is a trend: Minnesota’s job growth has been below average in each of the last four years.

Peter and I worked with Madison McQueen to create this 30-second video, which gives an entertaining and much more accurate picture of Minnesota’s economic performance over the last decade:

If you have friends or relatives in Minnesota, feel free to email the video to them. We want as many people as possible to see it. Toward that end, we are placing it as a Google Ad on desktops across Minnesota. It is also playing as a pre-roll (i.e., commercial) before YouTube videos, again only in Minnesota. As a pre-roll, it is achieving an extraordinary 19% view rate–that is, 19% of those who are trying to watch another video don’t click off Paul Bunyan when they have the opportunity. Instead, they watch it to the end. We have more videos of this sort in the works, as we raise money to fund them.

Starting next week, we will also be placing radio ads that talk about Minnesota’s economy, like this one, which mirrors the data in the video:

Our hope is that as Minnesotans gain a more realistic understanding of how our economy has performed under the current liberal regime, they will be more open to lower-tax, less-regulation, smaller-government reforms.

41ECnDxUcqL._AA160_Of course, Minnesota’s economy is only one of the Center’s areas of interest. This year we are sponsoring four quarterly lunch forums on the theme of how liberal policies hurt the middle class, low wage earners and minorities. Our first forum will be on February 18 and will feature the Wall Street Journal’s Jason Riley, author of Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder For Blacks to Succeed. The event will be at noon, at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Minneapolis. It is selling out rapidly; if you live within driving distance and would like to reserve a ticket for what should be a great event, the easiest way is to call Samantha Peterson at 612-584-4559, or email her at [email protected]


The Center is working on a number of other issues as well: Mitch Pearlstein continues his nationally known work on education, marriage and the family. We are mounting an extensive employee freedom campaign to free Minnesotans who are not, in fact, public employees from the grip of public employee unions. We are producing an academic paper to be followed up with a publicity campaign to spotlight short-sighted environmental regulations that retard growth and destroy jobs. We are working in the legislature to cut back on the power of the Metropolitan Council, an unelected bureaucracy with a liberal agenda. We are the principal conservative voice in Minnesota on health care. As of February 1, we will employ the two top investigative journalists in Minnesota. The list goes on.

Among its many other projects, American Experiment produces a quarterly magazine called Thinking Minnesota. It contains articles by Center scholars and others, and is a great way to keep up on what we are doing as well as get the best in conservative commentary. This is the cover of the current issue, due back from the printer next week:


We are sending the electronic version of the magazine free of charge to all Power Line VIP members.

I have no doubt that with sufficient financial support, we will achieve our goal of transforming the State of Minnesota. If you want to help, please go to our web site and donate what you can. $20 is plenty; if you are moved to give more, great. American Experiment is a grass roots organization that historically has been funded almost entirely by local donors. I am trying to broaden our donor base in a variety of ways, but be assured that no contribution is too small. Anything you can do is greatly appreciated. Also, please like us on Facebook–another good way to keep up with what we are doing–and follow us on Twitter, @MNThinkTank.