I spent most of yesterday being inundated with Minnesota and Minneapolis-St. Paul corporate and government propaganda (for those of you who aren’t regular readers, this is why), so you’ll excuse me if I sound as if I work for the Twin Cities Chamber of Commerce, but it occurred to me over the course of the day that there are actually some important lessons for Turkish politics that can be gleaned from observing the North Star State, and that bringing a group of emerging Turkish leaders here is a good thing.
First, Minnesota has an unusually high level of civic engagement and corporate innovation. We were told a couple of times that it has the highest voter turnout rate of any state, and I checked every election from 2000 through 2010 and that held true for all of them. Minnesota voters turn out to the polls in larger numbers than their fellow citizens and the lesson of civic engagement and the important of voting is a good one, particularly given that the small and nonrandom sample I took today of my Turkish colleagues indicates that they do not feel terribly connected to their politicians. A number of the people we spoke with today waxed effusive about a sense among Minnesotans that politics is not only important but that politics can be a real driver of change and that local politics here is extremely responsive to its citizens. It is a good model for the Turkish visitors to observe, because it shows the importance of political engagement and the less cynical side of what can be accomplished through the political system. Minnesota also has the largest number of Fortune 500 companies per capita, which is a good reminder that innovation and corporate success do not have to be limited to the east and west coasts. Much of Turkey’s economic growth over the past decade has come from outside the big cities, and Minnesota mirrors that while illustrating that economic dynamism will flourish with an educated populace (which Minnesota has, with Minneapolis-St.Paul having the highest percentage of any metropolitan area in the country of adults with a diploma at 90%).
Second, Minnesota state politics is a great example of a diverse system that is not captured by one party and that tolerates, and even embraces, divided government. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, represents a district right next door to Michele Bachmann, who is currently notorious for her anti-Muslim witch hunt targeted at Huma Abedin. Two years ago, a Republican governor and Democratic legislature flipped completely, and Minnesota now has a Democratic governor and Republican legislature. Minnesota votes for Republican governors like Tim Pawlenty and complete wildcard governors like former pro wrestler Jesse Ventura at the same time that it votes for extremely liberal senators like Paul Wellstone or Al Franken. The state is hard to characterize politically and reveals a real openness to a wide spectrum of political ideas and personalities. Turkey, on the other hand, is a country that right now effectively operates as a one-party state given the AKP’s dominance and the CHP’s feckless impotence. As I’ve noted in the past, an unhealthy political system is ultimately going to hamper Turkish economic and political development and harm Turkey’s status as a geopolitical power. Minnesota presents a great demonstration for this next generation of Turkish political, business, and press leaders of a political system that is not captured by any one party or set of policies and that does not stagnate as a result of stale politics or a static political environment.
(This post has been brought to you by the State of Minnesota. The brainwashing will cease soon.)