New History Tracks Minnesota Events in the '70S

Article excerpt

It's easy to make fun of the 1970s. The whole decade seems to demand disrespect, with its striped pants, cheesy love songs, and palette of various mustard colors. It was 10 straight years of solid unloveliness, with a good bit of social turmoil thrown in.

But to the millions of people who came of age during the '70s, those years are special. Writer Dave Kenney graduated from high school in 1979, and as the years have passed, he's come to feel that the '70s played a pivotal role in U.S. cultural, social and political history.

"When I was living through those years, I was focused on the things young people always focus on -- the music, which I admit was really dreadful, and the pop culture. I could come up with an endless supply of worthless trivia from those years," he admits. "But now it's clear that a lot of important changes were happening in those years, and many of them happened right here, in Minnesota."

"Minnesota in the 70s" (Minnesota Historical Society Press), co- written by Kenney and Thomas Saylor, a professor of history at Concordia University, doesn't reveal a "uniquely Minnesotan" version of the '70s; instead, the writers show our state right in step, or even leading many of the changes in the national social, political, cultural, and business worlds.

The Minnesota Miracle

The book begins with a look at the Minnesota Miracle, when a Democratic governor, Wendell Anderson, led a bipartisan effort to reform the state's tax policy to boost education spending and aid to local governments. They ended up with a budget surplus, stronger outstate communities, and famously top-notch schools. But that spirit of cooperation didn't last, and politics began to break down as the decade wore on. The book charts a veer to the right, as a new conservatism takes hold at the state level, and nationwide as the country prepared to bring Ronald Reagan to the presidency.

"When I started research, I had this vague notion that I would uncover this wonderful lesson about how people could work together across the party divide, and that there would be something instructive there, on a policy level, that we could look to going forward," said Kenney. "We did have many examples of people working well together, and getting good things done. …