Editorial: Suburban legislators must unite to help residents

It’s time for suburban legislators to use their power in numbers to pass legislation and meet needs suburban residents have in common.

Don HeinzmanA quick analysis shows that there are 86 Senate and House members who represent suburban communities. That’s 42 percent of the total 201 legislators.

Suburban  legislators need to unite and organize caucuses in both houses and pass legislation that will benefit suburban residents.

Let’s face it. Minneapolis and St. Paul’s 26 legislators stick together on urban issues. In the arrowhead region legislators are united.  Legislators in Greater Minnesota, outside the metro area, vote often as a block.

Political observers agree that voters in the suburbs largely caused the switch of power at the Capitol from Republican to DFL.

Let’s be clear. This is not meant to pit the suburbs against Minneapolis and St. Paul. That battle has been waged and there’s general agreement that strong urban cities are vital anchors for a vibrant seven-county metropolitan area.

One overall mistaken notion is that suburban residents are largely well off and don’t need much help. On the contrary, we are seeing bigger class sizes, higher property taxes and cuts in human services that affect suburban residents.

Meanwhile, in the suburban communities, there’s more hunger, more kids qualifying for free and reduced lunches, more homelessness and traffic congestion.

A suburban legislative caucus certainly could unite and pass equitable funding in the school funding formula. Suburban legislators could vote as a block to increase funding for special education, which is draining general funds in many school districts. They could agree on voting for early childhood education and every-day kindergarten.

Had there been such a caucus, it’s quite possible the new Minnesota Vikings football stadium would be in Arden Hills, which would have meant huge economic development in the northern suburbs. Rep. Jim Abeler of Anoka disagrees. Why would legislators in Chaska care about a ball park in Arden Hills?

Had there been such a caucus, the Legislature would not have sat by while local government aid was cut more on inner-ring, aging suburbs, compared with outstate communities.

Why doesn’t a suburban caucus happen? Largely because no suburban legislators have stepped up to organize a caucus. Partisan politics plays a role because Republicans and Democrats no matter where they live can’t get along and are split. Geography is a factor, because what’s good for the southern suburbs is opposed by the northern ones.

Abeler notes that suburbs in Anoka county are different than the ones in Dakota County, and most think too much aid goes to western suburbs.

This suburban flexing of political muscles should be used thoughtfully and carefully, but it’s time for suburban legislators to organize a caucus and do what’s needed for the ones who put them in office and also could vote them out.

Editor’s note: Don Heinzman is a columnist and editorial writer for ECM Publishers, Inc.