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MN2020 Journal: Where, Governor Pawlenty, is Afghanistan, Minnesota?

October 16, 2009 By John R. Van Hecke, Executive Director & Fellow
I've visited many but not all of Minnesota's 87 counties and, as a farm boy,  I'm pretty familiar with our state's small towns but, no matter how hard I try, I can't find Afghanistan, Minnesota.

This is important because Governor Pawlenty just called for sending more troops to Afghanistan. Since he commands the Minnesota National Guard in their state militia capacity, he obviously means that he's deploying the Guard to help with a local disaster.  Honestly, why else would the Governor be so keen to send troops to some small Minnesota town?

I called up the big alphabetized list of Minnesota cities and towns. There's Adrian and Afton but no Afghanistan. Alphabetically, I'd expect Afghanistan to fall between those two and, candidly, there's a lot of room to fall.

Adrian is a small, southwest Minnesota town. It enjoyed considerable early commercial success during the mid/late 19th century as a railroad trade hub but as adjacent communities developed, Adrian cooled. Worthington, designated as the county seat, quickly became Nobles County's commercial center.

Afton, just east of the Saint Paul on the Wisconsin border, is a more genteel version of rural, farming Minnesota. Median family income is half-again as large as Minnesota's average. While farmers still farm in Afton, it's more residential than agricultural, particularly compared with Adrian. Think six or eight horses rather than six or eight large-scale hog confinement barns.

Culturally and economically, therefore, there's plenty of room between Adrian and Afton for an Afghanistan. Now, if I could just find it.

When Governor Pawlenty called for more troops in Afghanistan, I figured that he wants to send Minnesota National Guardsmen into Afghanistan, Minnesota except that I can't find it on a map.

I suppose he could deploy the Guard to break a strike. While it hasn't happened in years, Minnesota governors have used National Guard troops against organized labor far more frequently than they used troops supporting labor. But, I've scoured the papers and I find no reference to employer-worker tension in Afghanistan, MN.

If Pawlenty is breaking strikes, he's certainly keeping it under wraps. Somehow, I don't think he'd do that...keep it under wraps, I mean. Breaking strikes? He'd be all over that conservative advancement opportunity like chrome on a bumper.

Don't get me wrong, Minnesota counts on its National Guard, crisis or no. The Guard never says, "No, we can't do that"; but, quite the opposite. Consequently, I'm sure that those hard working, modest Afghanistan, Minnesotans appreciate Pawlenty's commitment of Minnesota troops to deliver relief supplies to their snow bound community or whatever it is plaguing them.

Given Minnesota's many deep, persistent challenges -a recession, high unemployment, skyrocketing local property taxes, crumbling roads and faltering bridges, a stagnant economy, overstressed public schools, no real plan for moving Minnesota's economy forward- you'd think that Governor Pawlenty might craft a better, more strategic response.

Maybe, however, I'm looking at this all wrong.

Minnesota is populated with non-existent towns. Writers Garrison Keillor and Sinclair Lewis built literary careers around stories set in Lake Wobegon and Gopher Prairie or Zenith, respectively. After writing "Main Street," Lewis took the fictional town a step further. Learning that Sauk Center's residents didn't like being portrayed as a bunch of small-minded bumpkins, despite disguising the town as Gopher Prairie, Lewis invented an entirely new state.

Maybe that's what Governor Pawlenty is doing. He doesn't appear terribly engaged by the very real public policy challenges facing Minnesota so he's turning to fiction instead. Doubling down on failed policies such as JOBZ, tax cuts for the wealthy and unilaterally revoking Minnesota's effective and efficient state-local revenue sharing agreement, isn't yielding positive results. Fiction, on the other hand, is entirely the writer's creation.

Samuel Clemens, better known as writer Mark Twain, observed that "Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn't."

We have plenty of strange but true worries right here at home. Perhaps the Governor will commit greater time and energy to addressing them and less time and energy on concerns well beyond our state's borders.

Now, if I could just find Afghanistan, Minnesota on the map.

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