What 2014 Swing Voters Want From the New DFL-Controlled Legislature

There are  hordes of leadership consultants out there offering advice, and a lot of the advice is pretty much the same:  Set a goal for the result you hope to achieve, and make a plan to focus all of your future efforts toward achieving the goal. Duh.  It’s not a unique insight, but it does work.

Therefore, as the incoming DFL-controlled Legislature prepares its agenda for the 2013 legislative session, I have some mind-numbingly  stale advice to offer them:   Think about the one sentence reply that you want to be able to give when 2014 swing voters ask “Why should we re-hire you?” Then build your 2012-2014 legislative workplan around that reply, and stick to the plan.

I’m not talking about cutesy wordsmithing or spin.   That won’t cut it.  I’m talking about the actual accomplishments that you want to be able to offer up to 2014 voters, an electorate that almost certainly will be much smaller and less progressive than the voters who turned out for the 2012 presidential election cycle.  If I were a DFL legislative leader, I’d set my sights right now on being able to deliver an answer that goes something like this:

We passed reforms to eliminate the structural deficits that have been a black cloud over Minnesota for years, we are finally paying back our schools, we passed a strong jobs bill to maintain Minnesota’s economic momentum, we’re rebuilding Minnesota’s education system, we didn’t get side-tracked on divisive constitutional game-playing and we got all of our work done ahead of schedule.  

Q. Why should we swing voters rehire you?  A.  Because we have proven in 2013 and 2014 that we’re competent, responsible grown-ups that won’t bankrupt you or embarrass you.

That’s the product that the DFL needs to produce – a product that is very different than what its GOP predecessors produced.  And DFL leaders need to plan now to produce the product.

Minnesotans in the middle of the political spectrum are weary of permanent fiscal crises, budget gimmickry, partisan game-playing, struggling schools, perpetually missed deadlines, government shutdowns, and the finger-pointing that goes with all of that.  Therefore, the emphasis needs to be on fiscal responsibility, bread-and-butter issues, and adult leadership.

The incoming DFL-controlled Legislature is more fortunate than the outgoing GOP-controlled Legislature.  It doesn’t have stadium issues to preoccupy and taint it, unless it unwisely inserts itself into the seat license debate that should be resolved by the stadium authority.  The budget outlook it faces isn’t great, but with an improving economy it will be less lousy than it has been.  Finally, and most importantly, divided government is gone.

Because of all of this, the incoming Legislature should have an easier path to passing their agenda than the outgoing Legislature had.  But, it needs to be the right agenda to win over 2014 swing voters.

Should the Legislature pursue other issues as well?  Only if doing so doesn’t stop the Legislature from completing this bread-and-butter agenda on time.  Sacrifice is the essence of strategy, meaning leaders have to say “no” to some things in order to deliver on their top strategic priorities.  In its agenda-setting, time management and public messaging, the incoming DFL-controlled Legislature should aim all its efforts at being able to deliver fiscal responsibility, bread-and-butter issues, and adult leadership to wary Minnesota swing voters.

Note:  This post was also featured as a “Best of the Blogs” in Politics in Minnesota and in MinnPost’s Blog Cabin feature.

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