Longtime MPR host Gary Eichten moderated a program at the University of St. Thomas last week focused on civility in politics and the possibilities for compromise. His guests were former Senate DFL Majority Leader Roger Moe and former Republican Speaker of the House Steve Sviggum.
They spoke Friday at the Selim Center for Lifelong Learning at the University of St. Thomas.
Sen. Moe said the “good old days” weren’t necessarily all that good. Decisions were made by men, in closed-room deals. He said things have improved by having a lot of different perspectives and points of view, and by making sure that competing interests are considered in the open. But it does, he added, make for “an increasingly complex process to find common ground.”
Speaker Sviggum said cooperation is the key to governing. And both men agreed that most Minnesota legislators work hard and have a genuine interest in doing the best they can for the good of the state.
Sen. Moe said it is important for elected officials to “see the big picture.” He likened it to putting together a jigsaw puzzle. The first thing most people do is take the cover off the box and stand it up and look at it, to see the complete picture.
Each had a final comment on the best way to achieve respect in politics and reach over the political divides. Moe said the most important question to ask, when speaking with someone, is “what do you think?” Speaker Sviggum said it is imperative never to question another person’s motives.
The two longtime legislative leaders shared their insights on money in politics, the rural-urban divide in Minnesota, the role of party caucuses and redistricting, the influence of President Trump on political discourse, the most important issue facing the state in the next five years, and highly controversial issues like gun control and abortion.
Roger Moe was elected to the Minnesota Senate in 1970 and served until 2003. He represented a district in rural northwest Minnesota.
Steve Sviggum was elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives in 1978 and served until 1997. He represented a rural district in southeast Minnesota.
Gary Eichten retired from Minnesota Public Radio in 2012 after nearly 45 years. He was inducted into the Minnesota Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2007.