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Looking back at 'The Good Life in Minnesota'
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Time magazine, published on Aug. 13, 1973, proclaimed Minnesota "a state that works." (Image courtesy of Time magazine)
It was a simpler time -- there were no sane lanes, no cell phones, no Timberwolves. The IDS was shiny new, the Mall of America was not even a glint in the Ghermezian brothers' eyes. And Minnesota was a different place. It was 30 years ago, Aug. 13, 1973, that Time magazine devoted its cover and a six-page spread to Minnesota. The cover gushed "The good life in Minnesota," and the article boasted it was "a state that works." Now, 30 years later, we look back at that article and see how the Minnesota reflected in those pages has changed.

St. Paul, Minn. — Gov. Wendell Anderson proudly hoisted a smallish northern pike on that memorable cover photograph.

Time magazine's article was titled, "Minnesota: A State That Works." It lauded the state's natural resources, its hard-working people, its clean government, its charitable spirit. MPR's Greta Cunningham talked with former Gov. Wendell Anderson and Chuck Ruhr, who were both featured in the Time magazine article.

Wendell Anderson says he had no idea how big the article would be, that every week people still come up to him and mention the article. He says the biggest change in Minnesota since 1973 is the state's political parties and how both parties are interested in catering to special interests rather than nurturing leaders who govern for the common good.

Anderson also said he made a mistake by resigning his governorship to allow himself to be appointed to the U.S. Senate, and that he thinks the people of Minnesota made the right decision by not electing him in 1978.

Chuck Ruhr said that Minnesota at the time was a special place with many good things happening, and that the Time article seemed to wrap it all up, "put a nice ribbon around it and deliver it to the whole country." As an ad person, he said it was "the kind of exposure you just can't buy."

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Image Chuck Ruhr

Ruhr said people in Minnesota now are living faster lives and more interested in "I" than "we," but that it's a much more diverse place and that's a good thing.

Here are some excerpts from the original article.

The good life
If the American good life has anywhere survived in some intelligent equilibrium, it may be in Minnesota. It is a state where a residual American secret still seems to operate. Some of the nation's more agreeable qualities are evident there: courtesy and fairness, honesty, a capacity for innovation, hard work, intellectual adventure and responsibility.

Politics is almost unnaturally clean -- no patronage, virtually no corruption. The citizens are well educated: the high school dropout rate, 7.6 percent, is the nation's lowest. Minnesotans are remarkably civil: their crime rate is the third lowest in the nation (after Iowa and Maine). By a combination of political and cultural tradition, geography and sheer luck, Minnesota nurtures an extraordinarily successful society.

Minnesota has its drawbacks. Its winters are as hard as the Ice Age, and in the summers, mosquitos often seem half the size of dive bombers. Unemployment outside the Twin Cities area is troublesome, and personal income taxes are the highest in the nation. ... Some argue that Minneesota works a bit too well and too blandly, that its comparatively open and serene population is a decade or two behind the rest of the U.S. The place lacks the fire, urgency and self-accusation of states with massive urban centers and problems.

Racial issues
Minnesota's people are overwhelmingly white (98 percent), most of them solidly rooted in the middle class. Blacks rioted in Minneapolis in 1966 and 1967, but with only 1 percent of the state's population, they have not yet forced Minnesotans into any serious racial confrontation. Or at least, not apocalyptic confronation.

Minnesotans are proud of that. After the 1967 riots, in the intelligently direct style of most Minnesota politics, businessmen, civil rights leaders and educators met to organize the first Urban Coalition chapter in the country. Today blacks are often among the state's more enthusiastic boosters.

Says Gleason Glover, executive director of the Minneapolis Urban League: "For a black, Minneapolis is one of the truly outstanding cities in the U.S. to live in. The problems here -- housing, education, discrimination, unemployment -- are manageable ... There just isn't the real, deep-seated hatred here that blacks often encounter in other cities." Two black state legislators were elected last fall from predominantly white middle-class suburban districts.

California is the flashy blonde you like to take out once or twice. Minnesota is the girl you want to marry.
- Chuck Ruhr, in Time magazine in 1973

The economy
Minnesota's economy is a fairly well-balanced mix of manufacturing, agriculture and services. ... Over the past 10 years, Minnesota has become one of the nation's leading "brain industry" centers -- more than 170 electronic and related technical businesses now employ more than 70,000 people. Food companies, however, still lead the state in employment. Minneapolis-based companies produce more than half the cakes in the nation, for example. ... The state's per capita income of $4,032 ranks 19th among the 50 states.

Business culture
Minnesotans sometimes point to themselves as the reason for the state's success.

"You just don't have people barking at you when you're walking down the street or sitting in a restaurant," says Jim Johnson, a former Princeton instructor and Muskie campaign worker who recently moved back home. ...

Informality permeates business dealings as well as private life. Says Stephen Keating, president of Honeywell: "The nature of this community -- its size, its cohesiveness, its informality -- means that you can accomplish things at lunch, in the street, or your friends come by on the way home."

The land
Much of the mood in Minnesota has to do with the comparatively unspoiled land. Southern Minnesota is an expanse of rolling countryside, a patchwork of rectangular fields ... To the north and west, the land flattens into prairies that merge going eastward, with hills of nearly primeval forest. The northwestern lands are more sandy, but rich enough to produce ample crops of wheat. ... Below the Canadian border stretch vast expanses of forests and lakes, a region of shaggy and pristine beauty. ...

Such an abundance and accessibility of nature has much to do with the Minnesotans' sense of place and roots. More than almost any other Americans, they are outdoor people, and at least 50 percent of them customarily vacation within their own state.

Civic duty
Part of Minnesota's secret lies in people's extraordinary civic interest. The business community's social conscience, for example, is a reflection of the fact that so many companies have their headquarters in the state. ...

Even more important than corporate giving is personal fund raising. Fund drives currently underway or about to begin in the Twin Cities amount to a staggering $300 million, of which $136 million has already been raised. The business effort is two-fold -- one for cultural activities, one for social and civic affairs. The leading family in both is the Daytons, five brothers who are dominant stockholders in the Dayton Hudson Corp., which last year rang up $1.4 billion in retail sales.

Political culture
Some of Minnesota's success can be traced to its ethnic traditions. ... In many respects, the Scandinavians, long the largest single group in the state, have shaped Minnesota's character. They, together with its large Anglo-Saxon and German strain, account for a deep grain of sobriety and hard work, a near-worship for education and a high civic tradition in Minnesota life. ...

Arthur Naftalin, a brilliant mayor of Minneapolis during the '60s, points out that no single group -- ethnic, religious or business -- has ever been able to take control of the state. There were no Tammany machines to greet the immigrants. "With our great variety," says Naftalin, "we have always had to form coalitions." ...

(In the late '30s, Gov. Harold) Stassen pushed through a comprehensive civil service law that abolished patronage. "By taking politics out of the back room and engaging thousands in political activity, from women to college students, Stassen made the governmental process in Minnesota a superior instrument of the people's will," observes author Neal R. Peirce in The Great Plains States of America. ...

Wendell Anderson
(During the 1970 gubernatorial campaign, DFLer Anderson endorsed) a tax-reform program suggested by the Citizens League, a plan calling for the state to take over a large share of the school-financing burden from local districts, mandating a hugh increase in the state budget.

The Republicans thought that Anderson had blundered fatally. That they were wrong is an excellent example of the sophistication of the Minnesota voters. They were willing to elect a man who promised to raise some of their taxes in return for larger overall gains.

When he took office, Anderson proposed a $762 million boost in state taxes, a roughtly 30 percent increase in the biennial budget. Eventaully, he got through a $588 million compromise package, with substantial increases in the taxes on liquor and cigarettes, and in corporate and personal income taxes, along with a 1 cent rise in the sales tax. With such state revenues he increased state aid for education from 43 percent to 63 percent in the first year, and now to 70 percent, thereby decreasing the real estate tax burden by an average of 11.5 percent.

It was a major piece of social legislation, for within a six-year period, it will virtually equalize the per-pupil spending for education throughout the state, and thus go a long way toward equalizing education in the cities, suburbs and rural areas.

Chuck Ruhr
Chuck Ruhr, 36, owner of a Minneapolis ad agency, lives a long commute -- by Minneapolis standards -- from his office. But he can make the 25 miles of freeway in 30 or 40 minutes. He likes to point out that within an hour after leaving work, he can be sitting on his pontoon boat in the middle of White Bear Lake, enjoying a drink and watching the sun go down.

He and his wife and two children live in a 1912-vintage five-bedroom house on the shores of the lake, with their own beach and dock. His wife's optometry business is three blocks away; stores and schools are just as close.

Says Ruhr: "There is a little of the bad things up here -- drugs, pollution. Being way up here, people have had a chance to see the crest of the wave coming and react to it. There's an attitude, too, that we've got a nice little thing going and let's keep it that way."

Closing thoughts
Other states have more dramatic attractions, of course. To be in Ely or St. Cloud or event Minneapolis on a Saturday night and looking for excitement is to be conscious that nights are for sleeping. But htere is something in the verdict of Chuck Ruhr: "California is the flashy blonde you like to take out once or twice. Minnesota is the girl you want to marry."

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