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OUR OPINION: Minnesota Republicans, take a lesson from N.D.

On political maps in 2015, North Dakota is Red River red, and Minnesota is Lake of the Woods blue. But party labels — like gender categories — are proving surprisingly flexible these days.

And if Minnesota Republicans want to hold on to their House majority and even capture the Senate, they should watch North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple, a Republican who knows there's a whole lot more to successful GOP governance than just cutting taxes.

Take a typical day in Dalrymple's life — namely, yesterday. Among his other stops in a swing around the state, the governor visited Grand Forks, where he highlighted the accomplishments of the 2015 legislative session.

But here's the key: While those accomplishments very much included tax cuts, the cuts were not the centerpiece of the governor's remarks. In fact, they weren't even close.

Instead, Dalrymple focused on the state money that'll be spent on local projects: the $60 million earmarked for Grand Forks' new water treatment plant; the $10 million to support the city's pursuit of unmanned-aviation businesses; the $7 million for a state fund that'll match philanthropic donations to UND; and so on.

The announcement of these projects made Friday "a stupendous day" in Grand Forks, Dalrymple said.

And you know what? Most Grand Forks voters would say he's right.

Minnesota Republicans, take note.

Sure, some scolds will denounce this spending as pork. But Dalrymple knows that when Americans fret about government spending, what they're really complaining about is wasteful or inefficient spending.

In contrast, Americans largely support government spending that works — that delivers good value for the dollar. And the projects on Dalrymple's list qualify. They'll leave Grand Forks and the region better off, which means the region and its residents will be better able to contribute to North Dakota's growing economy.

And that's the test voters apply at election time: not whether an incumbent spent money, but whether he or she spent it in ways that worked.

Assuming, of course, that the state budget is healthy, thus allowing the spending in the first place.

Interestingly, Minnesota's budget is healthy these days. In fact, it boasts a $2 billion surplus.

So, how are House Republicans responding?

In a word: Badly.

"As lawmakers speed toward conclusion of the session, the centerpiece of the GOP agenda is a $2 billion tax cut plan that has left few resources for those rural-geared initiatives," the Star Tribune reported the other day.

"Outstate advocates are criticizing House Republican plans, and even some GOP legislators are fretting about the message to voters in what has become the party's most important base of support."

To take just one example, the House Republicans would cut Duluth's local government aid by $20 million. But that's 25 percent of the city's budget.

As Duluth's chief administrative officer told the Duluth News Tribune, "our entire Fire Department budget is $14.8 million. We could eliminate our Fire Department completely, and we would still have to find $5 million to cut."

No wonder The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead labeled the proposed cuts "a betrayal" in an editorial.

In Minnesota, House Republicans still cling to GOP orthodoxy, which calls tax cuts the be-all and end-all of good governance. That's a mistake, American voters agree.

Good governance — good, smart, effective, productive governance, of the kind that leaves people and communities better off — is the be-all and end-all of good governance. Tax cuts are just one component.

Dalrymple and other Republicans in North Dakota have learned that lesson. Republicans in Minnesota should, too.

— Tom Dennis for the Herald

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