Suddenly last week, government got real in Minnesota.
With the state hurtling toward a government shutdown, folks who might otherwise equate Capitol updates with white noise began to say, "Oh, no. Is this going to affect me?"
For many, it did.
A list of the governor's essential services reflected the multitude of ways government - and only state government, at that - impacts Minnesotans.
Consider just a few impacts:
Want to buy a lottery ticket? You're out of luck. Interested in laying a wager at Canterbury Downs, where operations are governed by a state board? Don't bet on it.
Maybe you felt like pitching a tent at a state park for the holiday weekend. Sorry, friend. Better find somewhere else to go.
Yet those inconveniences become trivial when we consider those most impacted by the shutdown: the state workers left out in the cold. No matter how you cut it in these times of public-employee benefits falling under heightened scrutiny, those are Minnesotans - family, friends, neighbors of ours - who do not get a paycheck.
Yes, it got very real.
The fact of the matter is that the government shutdown was the result of elected officials not getting the job done. Suddenly, that trip we made to the polls last November came rushing back to us. What had we done?
Or was it so sudden? Many predicted just such a stalemate after the ballots were counted in November 2010. Minnesotans elected a Democratic governor who ran largely on a tax-the-rich platform. Meanwhile, a GOP Legislature stormed to power behind an anti-tax, pro-reform message.
Yes, this has been a catastrophe waiting to happen.
But before we assail our elected leaders so quickly, perhaps it's worth looking in the mirror. Long known as a state with powerful Democratic leanings, Minnesota has, in recent years, begun casting deeper shades of purple. (Consider that we ushered in a Democratic Legislature in 2006 - the same year we re-elected former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican.)
What does this tell us? Are we a fickle people? Indecisive?
Perhaps it's worth considering our cultural characteristics. Many Minnesotans still trace their ancestral roots to Scandinavia and Germany - a cultural lineage that means much of the state still presents a stoic face. But don't confuse that characteristic with inflexibility. Minnesotans are nothing if not reasonable. Indeed, that goes for Minnesotans who hail from other backgrounds, as well.
Perhaps, come 2012 and beyond, we should evaluate whether our state candidates are emblematic of that critical trait - reasonableness. We've now seen what happens when heels get dug in too deep and hard lines form.
And we've seen who loses in that grudge match: Minnesotans.