The Waning Influence Of Rural Minnesota

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By Reed Anfinson
Publisher, Swift County Monitor-News


When Swift County voted for Donald Trump for president in 2016, it was only the fourth time in 100 years that it has not voted for a Democrat and the first time in 60 years it had gone Republican.

It voted for Republican Dwight Eisenhower in 1956, Progressive Robert La Follette in 1924, Republican Warren Harding in 1920 and Republican Charles Evans Hughes in 1916.

Based on last Tuesday’s elections, it now appears that Swift County, along with much of rural Minnesota, is turning Republican. Unless the Democrats run a candidate with wide personal appeal to voters, such as Rep. Collin Peterson in the 7th Congressional District, or Sen. Amy Klobuchar for the U.S. Senate, it is going to go Republican.

Based on the changing demographics in the state that does not bode well for rural Minnesota’s influence in state government.

Why is rural Minnesota turning predominantly Republican? Its voters are older, predominantly white, and more socially conservative than voters in metropolitan areas of the state. They see Democrats as the party that gives handouts to undeserving people who are living off the system and their hard work. They see Democrats as responsible for the Section 8 housing that brings in people who don’t look like them, who they think bring more crime, and who they feel are too lazy to work.

They are rigid in their stands about welcoming immigrants who didn’t come here through the proper channels. However, this may also be a cover for not wanting immigrants of other colors, religions, and social norms than we have in rural Minnesota. Republicans, primarily Trump, have done a thorough job of creating fear of immigrants saying they bring violent crime with them.

Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act in March 2010, Republicans have blamed Democrats for rising healthcare costs. That is changing, however, as Republicans have moved to end the ACA, taking health insurance coverage away from many who previously couldn’t afford it.

What we saw from this recent election is the likely future of Minnesota politics: Rural Minnesota becoming ever more Republican and the metropolitan areas solidly in the Democrats’ camp. The bad news for Republicans is that the Twin Cities metropolitan area is growing rapidly with the seven county metropolitan area already representing 57 percent of the state’s population.

A look at the state’s governor’s race shows just how skewed vote totals, and electability, are toward Democrats in the Twin Cities area.

Governor-elected Tim Walz won the race for governor getting 1,392,348 votes – with 899,942 of those votes coming from the seven-county metropolitan area. Walz beat Hennepin County Commissioner and Republican candidate Jeff Johnson by 372,396 votes in those seven counties.

The four rural Minnesota congressional districts that encompass nearly all of Minnesota except the metropolitan area, the lst, 2nd, 7th and 8th, favored Johnson giving him 609,749 votes to Walz’s 572,326 – but that provided him a margin of only 37,423 votes.

Just three counties – Ramsey, Hennepin and Dakota gave Walz 704,395 votes to Johnson’s 333,024 – Walz won the three by 371,371 votes; that is a staggering vote total to overcome in the other 84 counties of the state.

The Nov. 6 election represented the 12th consecutive year that Republicans have not won a statewide election for the governor’s office or the U.S. Senate, showing the growing weight of Minneapolis and St. Paul, and the suburbs around them in deciding elections. They also haven’t won the secretary of state, auditor or attorney general’s office since 2006.

It was the suburbs of the Twin Cities that were primarily responsible for the DFL regaining control of the state House by picking up 18 seats, far more than the 11 it needed to again be in the majority. With its return to power led by suburban votes, it is no surprise that the new leadership starting in January will also be suburban.

Rep. Melissa Hortman of Brooklyn Park is likely to become the next speaker of the House with Ryan Winkler of Golden Valley the new majority leader. Representative Liz Olson of Duluth is slated to become the next House majority whip. These leadership positions set the agenda for House legislation.

If the metropolitan area goes blue with increasing frequency and rural Minnesota turns ever more red, the demographics of the state will relegate us to minority party status in the Legislature. What that means, is that our representatives in the House will become a smaller voice for rural issues. They will get no committee chairmanships and their ability to shepherd bills into law will be weakened. Metropolitan legislators will decide rural issues.

Further, we may see the DFL Party write off rural Minnesota as they focus their campaigns where the votes are. What is Swift County with its 1,752 DFL votes compared to the seven county metro with its nearly 900,000 votes for Walz? The only candidate for statewide office on the DFL ticket to stop by this fall was U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar. She was in town to meet with students and staff at Benson High School along with several manufacturers who employ students.

Minnesota’s new governor has rural roots. He grew up in a small town in northwest Nebraska, graduating from Butte High School with a class of 25. He became as geography teacher and coach at Mankato West High School and served six terms in the U.S. House representing southern Minnesota. He knows rural issues and cares about rural communities. As governor, we hope Walz keeps rural issues in front of a growing metropolitan based Legislature.

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