The Free Press, Mankato, MN

October 30, 2013

Purple Caucus can boost bipartisanship

Why it matters: A Minnesota Senate effort at bipartisanship can break a cycle of growing gridlock

The Mankato Free Press

---- — A group of Minnesota state senators started talking across the aisle last spring about issues that can move Minnesota forward in a bipartisan way.

It’s an effort worth supporting into the upcoming session at the Minnesota Legislature.

Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, and Sen. Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, formed the Purple Caucus last spring as a way to bridge the traditional “red” and “blue” partisan divide that comes with the Republican and Democratic parties.

In a written editorial last year, Miller said the intent of the Purple Caucus “is not to focus on issues that divide Minnesotans, but rather focus on issues that unite Minnesotans.” He expected that the group would focus on the state budget, jobs and the economy.

The first meeting last spring drew 10 senators. The second meeting drew 14. Reinert reported that 16 senators in all had attended a meeting as of last April and nearly a third of the Senate expressed interest. There was no real recruiting of members, but the two senators put out an “open call” for participants.

The caucus is billed as an informal way for legislators of both parties to discuss issues of mutual interest in a “non-polarizing venue,” in Reinert’s words. The senators’ ideas are getting deserved attention. They were recently invited to present their ideas at the Celebration of John Brandl and his Uncommon Quest for Common Ground event at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.

The idea of a “purple” caucus is simple and worthwhile. Though we’re sure it carries some political risk for both of these senators in terms of backlash from their own parties, it’s an idea that’s long overdue.

We would encourage senators of both parties to join, if informally, the Purple Caucus for the numerous obvious benefits of hearing another point of view, and more importantly, of building friendships and trust with members of the other party.

Reinert and Miller should be ambitious with the caucus and connect with the leaders of their own parties to encourage a role for the caucus on key issues. It’s not often that followers step up and volunteer their time and political capital for a leadership position.

We’d like to see the Purple Caucus become a more formal group and perhaps wield a little more muscle as they build a strong bipartisan coalition in both houses of the Legislature.

Miller said in a written statement last year that effort is going to take “time and patience.” We think voters are losing their patience with gridlock and we think the time is now for bipartisanship.