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New idea: Moderate, sensible candidates

Sick of government shutdowns and other bitter political fighting? Tom Horner and Stephen Imholte have a solution for you.

It’s an organization called NextMinnesota, and it’s designed to support sensible, moderate candidates in all political parties.

The idea is to help centrist candidates with financial help during campaigns for office and ground level support in primary elections.

Horner ran for governor on the Independence Party ticket in 2010, and Imholte, brother of Detroit Lakes Alderman Bruce Imholte, ran his campaign.

The problem with today’s politics is that the political middle in both major parties is rapidly   disappearing, so there is less compromise and more gridlock.

The federal government shutdown is just the latest example, Horner said.

A number of forces are behind it: House districts have been drawn so most are safe for one party or the other — that means candidates are more worried about a primary challenge than the general election.

Huge amounts of money are required to win elections now, and special interest groups have tremendous clout.

Combined, the system “creates all these influences and opportunities for politicians to get locked into positions and not have to move,” Horner said. “Chances are House members are in safe districts and have all the money they’ll ever need.”

The extremists are mainly in the Republican Party now, but it’s been a problem in the Democratic Party before and will be again. “The pendulum swings back and forth,” he said.

Government at all levels is interconnected, so dysfunction at the state or federal level affects everyone.

“Part of the reason the Detroit Lakes community is so vibrant and has such a good quality of life,” is due to good healthcare, good education, and quality government services, and political dysfunction is putting it “all at risk,” Horner said.

Washington isn’t the only place there’s a problem. The rot has infected state governments as well, “and it’s becoming increasingly true in Minnesota,” which suffered a shutdown of its own just a few years ago, Horner said.

NextMinnesota is designed to help at the state level. It’s a not-for-profit political advocacy group that supports centrist candidates, politics and policy.

“We provide education to Minnesotans on important policy issues, as well as political and campaign support for candidates from both parties in an effort to advance Minnesota using common-sense solutions,” Horner says on the organization’s website,

The group helped support three centrists — two Democrats and one Republican — in legislative elections last year.

“First of all, we want to know what their positions are, what their thinking is, what their approach is,” Horner said. “Are they willing to make investments where they do the most good, and honestly say this is how we’re going to pay for it?”

He opposes higher taxes just for the sake of more spending (he says the new income tax on top earners just implemented by the DFL is one example) just as much as he opposes the unthinking ‘no new taxes’ stance of Republicans.

A tax bill should promote things like individual saving, business investment and job creation, he said.

“The challenge of NextMinnesota is can the voice of reason inspire enough passion that people will contribute — we need money to be successful,” Horner said. “Right now it’s the firebrands that are able to raise money.”

It’s sadly ironic that the parties are now using the government shutdown to raise funds, Horner said, since those contributions just fuel more reckless behavior which in turn inspires more campaign contributions — a vicious circle that in the end hurts everyone.

Horner has seen how government is supposed to work at its best. He was chief of staff for former Republican U.S. Sen. Dave Durenberger of Minnesota, a moderate known for his expertise on healthcare.

“In the late 1970s and early 1980s a remarkable amount of excellent public policy came from the Senate, under both Democrat and Republican leadership,” Horner said. “There was a critical mass of good centrist senators who would work together.”

Politicians can’t reach an innovative solution to a problem if they don’t take that first step together, which in the past often led to other steps and then an unexpected resolution, he said.

“Today they can’t even take that one step together, they are willing to let the perfect get in the way of the good. In my mind it’s not even the perfect, they’re letting nothing stand in the way of the good — that’s Washington today.”

He and Imholte decided to launch an organization that would work to improve the current party system in Minnesota.

Although Horner wouldn’t mind seeing other political parties rise to prominence, he said “as a practical matter, Democrats and Republicans will be in charge of the Legislature as far as the eye can see,” and NextMinnesota wants to “work with the people who will be making the decisions.”

He is also concerned about the number of young people turning away from political parties.

“Voters under the age of 30 have very little affiliation with the major political parties — they are more into issues and causes,” Horner said. “We do lose something if we don’t have strong, thoughtful political parties.”

He would also like NextMinnesota to be an educational source on policy issues.

“We can’t just look at these issues as red or blue, we have to start looking at them in maroon and gold — looking at what’s good for Minnesota.”

Minnesota is still in a relatively healthy political position, but big money is creeping into campaigns and that may not last, Horner said.

“We have a lot to build on here.” He said. “Minnesota could be poised for tremendous growth and opportunity if we make good decisions. If we make bad decisions it’s a fast and slippery slope downhill.”

The organization’s website is