The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Editorials

September 5, 2013

Unsession could be worthwhile

Why it matters: Asking people for their ideas for creating better, more efficient government could create solutions outside political arena

Gov. Mark Dayton’s idea to ask state employees and citizens to come up with ideas for better, more efficient government isn’t really groundbreaking or even innovative, but it might just work.

Dayton’s so called “Unsession” project, playing off the old “Uncola” 7UP campaign of years ago bills itself as a different way of doing business. The website describes it as an effort to make government “better, faster, simpler and more efficient for people.” It also aims to “eliminate old and outdated rules” and remove other obstacles that make government “nearly impossible to understand.”

It’s encouraging to see the site has already garnered thousands of ideas and comments, many from state employees, but many also from the general public. It will be taking feedback until mid-September. Submissions can be made at the website http://unsessionsuggestion.ideascale.com/.

Dayton solicited ideas at state agency booths at the State Fair and also put out a call to 30,000 state employees for ideas. Some 1,200 have so far registered to participate and already more than 600 ideas have come forth.

We suspect many of these ideas have been heard before by policymakers and longtime legislative staff and leaders. And the Dayton administration points out it has already made several changes on things like shortening wait times for driver’s licenses and making hunting and fishing licenses available on smartphones.

But ideas that come from workers or Minnesota taxpayers may carry just a little bit more political clout in these times of hyper-partisanship. Maybe citizen-as-problem solver ideas will stick or at least be given a fair hearing versus ones that come from overly politicized political parties.

Even better if citizens or workers with the best ideas were able to testify before the Legislature on the best ideas.

Of course, asking state employees to suggest ideas that would save the state money may lead to fears that jobs would be eliminated. That’s why Dayton should have tied some early retirement or financial incentive to the request for state employee suggestions. It’s what a business might do if it were looking to be more efficient and cut costs.

Still, the Unsession is a worthwhile effort. It will be up to Dayton to promote it and put some reform ideas on a realistic political agenda. It will be a good test to see if good ideas from the grass roots up can truly find their way into good policy or if we’ll resort to the same old politics of conflict.

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