A Bipartisan Recommendation for Serving the Public Trust at this Time

As a coordinating member of the Minnesota Council on Character, I would like to share with you an unusual statement by two or our council members, Todd Otis and Chuck Slocum. As some of you may remember, both Todd and Chuck were Chairman of their respective political parties – the DFL and the Republicans.

At the Council, we seek to elevate worthy character as the foundation for citizens and as a goal of education. As Ben Franklin said at the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention, “A republic stands or falls on the virtue of its people and their chosen leaders. Our laws and our policies flow mostly from our character as people for good or for bad.”

Chuck and Todd have written this appeal, which has appeared in local newspapers. I wanted to share it with you and so have included it below.

Column: Turn to Our Better Angels and Away from Partisanship

By Todd Otis and Chuck Slocum, Guest Columnists

May 7, 2020

We are former chairs of the two major political parties in Minnesota; we care deeply about public issues.  Yes, the two parties are driven by different priorities and principles and the two of us have our strong and cordial disagreements.

But at this remarkable and agonizing time, we find ourselves in total agreement on one idea.  And that is that now is absolutely not the time for nasty partisanship in the public affairs of our state or our nation.  All of our elected leaders, from our president and Minnesota governor and thousands of others, need to be guided by character and not political expediency.

Our Anishinaabe brothers and sisters can show us the way.  They have treasured the “Gifts of the Seven Grandfathers: Humility, Courage, Honesty, Wisdom, Truth, Respect and Love.”

Humility. The awesome responsibility that elected leaders have to lead honorably and focus exclusively on the public good requires giving up the usual orientation toward re-election.

Wisdom. Knowing what to focus on to develop strategies and garner resources to attack the coronavirus requires great wisdom.  It requires securing the public’s health and regenerating the economy.

Truth. The solutions we need urgently must be guided by facts, science and verifiable truth.  The scope of the dangers, the effectiveness of treatments, the challenges related to developing and distributing vaccines must be unwaveringly guided by the truth.

Honesty. Now more than ever, our citizens need to have leaders they can trust who will tell the truth.  Indeed, trust is the bedrock for a vibrant and effective democracy.  In our adult lifetimes, trust has been eroding ever since the 1960s; 2020 is the time for our leaders to reverse what has been eroding for that last 60 years.

Respect. The heroes of the COVID-19 crisis are on the front lines, putting their lives at risk to serve us all.  Respect for them must be continuously and profoundly offered.  Leaders must not point fingers at one another as the blame game often creates losers across the spectrum of public opinion.

Courage. The courage that is shown privately by doctors, nurses, public safety professionals, grocery store and other service workers is a worthy model for all leaders.

Love. The spirit that “we are all in this together” is sweeping across our nation and the globe. Rather than inciting racism and xenophobia, now is the time to lead with love, understanding and forgiveness.  As Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”

We are certain that we will get through this crisis.  We grieve for those who are losing their lives and livelihoods because of this cursed virus.  This is a calamity for the ages.  It calls upon all of us to summon our faith, hope and charity.

With leaders who demonstrate character, what is at the other end of this tunnel could literally transform our state, nation and world.  We can summon our “better angels” to do that.  That transformation can change the tone of public life from one of polarized recrimination to robust, but respectful debate on the important issues.

We can find helpful ways to provide greater financial and health care security for millions while rebuilding our economy.  And we can join hands to protect the environment and the earth.  As Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”

Todd Otis of Minneapolis is a former state legislator and State Chair of the Minnesota DFL. Chuck Slocum of Minnetonka is a management consultant and former State Chair of the Independent-Republicans of Minnesota. They are members of the non-partisan Minnesota Council on Character.