The Exodus of Rural Minnesota DFL Voters

By Pat Lunemann

At our Todd County DFL annual meeting held in March 2019, much of our time was spent analyzing why voters have largely abandoned the DFL party in Todd County, and also most of Greater Minnesota.  We were privileged to have John Koll, DFL chair in neighboring Douglas County, lead us in a PowerPoint presentation with statistics and ideas of what we can do to find solutions to make a comeback.  I agree with much of what John said, but believe that there is one key issue for rural Democrats that we will continue to have difficulty with, until we show separation from our urban DFL cousins.

In recent years, the urban DFL message has been driven by metro environmentalists, who are against modern farming methods, a belief that trees should not be harvested, and that mining is evil.  Those three industries happen to employ a sizeable number of us in greater Minnesota, and even if we are not directly employed, the impact on our community is sizeable.  So, an attack on those modes of business is a personal attack on the way we make a living. We have always heard about elections being about “jobs, jobs, jobs”.   If we don’t have one, or our ability to earn a living to feed our family is attacked, we just might have an opinion on the party that is behind that issue.

I believe that the historical rural Democrat has believed in responsible, environmentally friendly and sustainable agriculture, forestry, and mining.  What that is may be different things to different people, and we could debate this issue for years.  But my point is that the middle of the road voter, who traditionally voted DFL in Minnesota, now believes that the DFL party is not like us in our rural communities, and only carries water for those working against our way of life.

I applaud Governor Walz for his “One Minnesota” message.  The Governor understands we have a divide, and a need to bridge that gap. For that to happen, we need to have a two way dialogue between our urban and rural cousins to help us understand each other.  Our city cousins need to understand that in order for us to thrive in greater Minnesota, we need good jobs and business opportunities based on the resources we have. We, in turn, need to be supportive of city issues while doing a better job of communicating our issues to our metro brethren.

I remember fondly two of our legislators, who unfortunately left us too early.  Senator Dallas Sams, and Representative Mary Ellen Otremba, were true rural Democrats who reflected who their constituency was, and didn’t always agree with the party line.  Dallas was truly bipartisan on agricultural issues.  Some of his best friends in the Senate were Republicans, which meant that they could have friendly internal debate.  Mary Ellen was passionate about right to life issues.  At odds with her party, personally she believed she was right, and that it was right for her district.

Last, we need to decide what we are for, rather than what we are against.  If there is a problem, we need to be the party with common sense, fiscally sound solutions, that the middle of the road voter can identify with.  Pat Lunemann

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