"We are Blessed with Great Public Services"
A prominent Minnesota couple with a long history of political involvement credits public services with the high quality of life in our state. But they worry the current political climate will endanger those services and the workers who provide them.
“I think it’s good, the quality of public service,” says former Minneapolis Mayor Don Fraser. “I’ve been generally well impressed with the quality of the people who serve.”
“They really do serve the public, and nobody gives them much credit,” says Arvonne Fraser, a pioneering women’s rights leader who calls public workers unsung heroes. “We are blessed with great public services. We have a good education system, and people stay here.”
Don Fraser holds the record as longest-serving mayor of Minneapolis, from 1980 to 1993. Before that, he was a U.S. representative for 16 years and a state senator. He’s known for his work on human rights, boosting educational outcomes and reforming political processes.
Arvonne served in the Clinton and Carter administrations. She’s the former director of the Office of Women in Development at the U.S. Agency for International Development; U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women; and senior fellow emerita at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, where she co-founded the Center on Women, Gender and Public Policy.
The Frasers are in their early 90s now, and have been married going on 67 years. Minnesota’s high-quality public services make this a great place to live and grow older – they say that they love it here, and never really considered retiring anywhere else.
As retirees, HCMC tops their list of most-appreciated public services, along with Metro Transit, libraries, the university and the post office. The Frasers say they’re grateful for health care, made possible by the Affordable Care Act, Medicare and all of those who help administer it.
“We walk on sidewalks that were built by the city,” Arvonne says. “The streets are plowed. We live off government services: They fix the potholes and build the streets and maintain the airports. They do everything so the whole society can function. Unlike lots of other countries, we don’t have to bribe anybody.”
She points to Venezuela, where high-ranking officials reportedly sold passports and visas to people with ties to terrorism; and Romania, where the government tried to weaken anti-corruption laws, leading to nationwide protests.
Both Frasers are concerned about what’s happening in the U.S. under President Trump and Republican control of the Legislature.
“All kinds of (Trump’s) appointees scare me silly,” Arvonne says. “They just want to get rid of all kinds of government services or cut funds. If they succeed, the country will fall apart. We’ll have to depend on state and local government more.”
As an example, the couple point to the frequent maligning of teachers and our public education system.
“At the federal level, it’s discouraging,” Don says. “It’s a little hard to tell where the president will end up. But for the present, all he’s doing is getting bad headlines. Part of the challenge is to wait out this process and see, over time, if we can get a government we can admire again.”
When America finds its way back to good government, the Frasers have a wish list informed by decades of wisdom as public workers:
- Cap CEO pay. In 2014, the top CEOs made 300 times more than a typical worker, the Economic Policy Institute reports. “People fight for increasing the minimum wage, but nobody really fights these outrageous options and salaries that CEOS have,” Arvonne says. “There’s no fairness there.”
- Reform health care and fix the Affordable Care Act, not kill it, especially without anything to replace it. “A health care system that works for everybody would be a desirable outcome. We seem to be falling behind other countries,” Don says.
- Help parents afford child care. “What people pay for child care is obscene,” Arvonne says. “Children are citizens, not just their parents’ responsibility.”
- Turn public school buildings, which sit largely empty in the summer and are often underused before and after school, into public health, child care or community centers.
- Make sure people can look forward to retirement with an adequate income. Help stabilize Social Security by removing the income cap, which prevents the most affluent from paying the Social Security tax on earnings over $118,500.
The Frasers say they’re fortunate in their retirement: They can count on Social Security and public pensions. But they’re concerned about what will happen to other Americans who aren’t so lucky.
“How are my grandchildren going to be able to retire, that generation?” Arvonne asks. “Private pensions are gone.”
“We have to have a national system, maybe even attached to Social Security, because this whole business about 401 (k)s, you can’t expect every citizen to be a great investor, it’s just nonsense,” Arvonne says. She points out that Social Security isn’t just for retirees, either: It’s also critically needed by children who have lost a parent or those with disabilities.
Despite the current political climate, there are places the Frasers still find cause for optimism.
“Thank God public workers have a union,” Arvonne says. “Don’t let the union busters get at them. Both they and the country would suffer. That’s a great part of our political problem that unions aren’t as strong anymore. Some unions like AFSCME and SEIU, the public employees, are.”
“They are one of the organizations that continue to function and need to be in a leadership role and reestablishing a broader, more comprehensive system in which people do sign up for unions,” Don agrees. “We should be looking at other countries that are doing well by their workers. We ought to be looking ahead and copying some of it.”
As the Frasers watch marches, protests and packed town halls meetings spread across our state and our nation, they see signs of hope.
“What I’m delighted by is the resistance,” Arvonne says. “The public is resisting.”