Computer stations equipped to help consumers enroll in a new health insurance exchange await potential enrollees at the Dane County Job Center in Madison, Wis. Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013.
John Hart/AP Photo/Wisconsin State Journal

A tale of two states

Wisconsin and Minnesota make interesting bookends. They’re neighboring states of similar sizes, similar populations, and similar demographics. But political scientist Lawrence Jacobs did a nice job over the weekend noting an important – and contemporary – political difference between the two (thanks to my colleague Cory Gnazzo for the heads-up).
While both states used to embrace a populist progressive tradition, Minnesota and Wisconsin have followed very different courses over the last few years. The Badger State elected Scott Walker (R) governor and gave control of the legislature to Republicans, while the Gopher State made Mark Dayton (D) governor and elected a Democratic legislature.
After the 2010 elections, Wisconsin got to work targeting collective bargaining, tax cuts, and reduced spending. After the 2010 elections, Minnesota got to work raising taxes on the wealthy and making new in-state investments in areas such as education and infrastructure.
Whose governing model is proving to be more effective?
Three years into Mr. Walker’s term, Wisconsin lags behind Minnesota in job creation and economic growth. As a candidate, Mr. Walker promised to produce 250,000 private-sector jobs in his first term, but a year before the next election that number is less than 90,000. Wisconsin ranks 34th for job growth. […]
Along with California, Minnesota is the fifth fastest growing state economy, with private-sector job growth exceeding pre-recession levels. Forbes rates Minnesota as the eighth best state for business. Republicans deserve some of the credit, particularly for their commitment to education reform. They also argue that Minnesota’s new growth stems from the low taxes and reduced spending under Mr. Dayton’s Republican predecessor, Tim Pawlenty. But Minnesota’s job growth was subpar during Mr. Pawlenty’s eight-year tenure and recovered only under Mr. Dayton.
The two also differ on health care – while Minnesota has embraced Medicaid expansion and is reducing its rate of uninsured, thanks in part to an effective exchange marketplace, Wisconsin is leaving many behind, rejecting both Medicaid expansion and an exchange.
Jacobs didn’t mention it, but I’d also throw in a social-issues data point, with Minnesota embracing marriage equality, and Wisconsin Republicans backing new restrictions on reproductive rights (which were later rejected in court).
The obvious caveats certainly matter. It’s only been three years, for example, and we’ll get a better sense of the efficacy of the competing models as more data becomes available in future years.
But for now, Wisconsin and Minnesota offer a handy case study for competing approaches to governance – at the same time, in the same region, with roughly the same population. Or as Jacobs concluded, “The lesson from the upper Midwest is that rigid anti-tax dogma fails to deliver a convincing optimistic vision that widens economic opportunity and security. The excesses of liberalism may lurk, but Minnesota is building a modern progressivism that plows a hopeful path.”