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TakeAction Minnesota draws attention for political victories

St. Paul, Minn. - When Minnesotans last fall rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have required voters to present photo identification at the polls, it represented a huge victory for liberal groups that had fought to oppose it.

St. Paul, Minn. - When Minnesotans last fall rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have required voters to present photo identification at the polls, it represented a huge victory for liberal groups that had fought to oppose it.

On the front lines of that effort was TakeAction Minnesota, which over the last decade has become a powerful advocate for liberal causes. Since then, the group has played crucial role in several state and local campaigns, including the race for mayor in Minneapolis.

Take Action Minnesota emerged from the 2006 merger of two other groups -- Progressive Minnesota and the Minnesota Alliance for Progressive Action.

The group's supporters are "movement builders" -- ready to spring to action during petition drives and elections, said Dan McGrath, executive director of TakeAction Minnesota.

"At any given moment we're in the streets protesting something," McGrath said. "We're a people's organization. Every day we are knocking on doors, making phone calls, talking to people in the community -- people who are often low-income, people who are on the margins, people of color, the elderly, students."

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McGrath said those communities set TakeAction Minnesota's agenda, which has a lot to do with improving conditions for minorities in Minnesota. With an annual budget of more than $3 million, 31 full-time employees and an email list of more than 40,000 supporters, the group can devote considerable energy to its work.

"We decided we wanted to take on the most urgent issues that the state was facing, and that's really the issues around racial disparity," McGrath said. "Whether it's in health, employment or voting, there is just a vast difference between how white people and people of color experience Minnesota."

The group also has a growing list of ballot box successes. Minneapolis City Council member Betsy Hodges - who in the 1990s began her political career working for Progressive Minnesota - had TakeAction Minnesota's support in her successful race for mayor of Minneapolis.

Take Action Minnesota also backed one of its longtime members, Dai Thao, in St. Paul, and helped elect him the first Hmong council member in the city's history.

Those victories, along with the successful push against the proposed voter ID amendment, have Republicans taking notice.

Among them is former Republican U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, who co-founded the conservative political organizing group the American Action Network in 2010.

Coleman, who last year founded the Minnesota Action Network, makes no secret of trying to copy what TakeAction Minnesota and other liberal groups have accomplished.

"We've looked at what the Democrats have done with TakeAction Minnesota saying those on the right -- conservative -- have to replicate that," Coleman said. "We have to put more into better grassroots, on the ground organizing. We have to raise the funds so that we can be as effective as the D's."

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Republicans have reason to be envious of TakeAction Minnesota's organizational strength. But the group's success also has created an opportunity for the GOP, University of Minnesota Political Scientist Larry Jacobs said.

"Republicans are gleeful," Jacobs said. "They feel like the Democratic Party has been pushed too far to the left."

Coleman said when Democrats took control of the state Legislature and the governor's office last year and raised taxes by $2 billion it opened a door. Thanks to groups like Take Action Minnesota, the political atmosphere is ripe for center-right Republicans, he said.

"I think it's incumbent upon folks on the conservative side to understand what the left has done," Coleman said. "Spending and taxes have shot up between 8 and 9 percent while GDP shot up 3 percent. We're getting crushed by the liberal left in this state, so conservatives better do a better job than they're doing."

McGrath said TakeAction Minnesota is building on its success in convincing state Legislators to pass a law that stops companies from asking job applicants on employment forms whether they've been convicted of a crime. The group then successfully pushed the Target Corporation to make that a national policy.

These days, the group's primary focus now is getting the Legislature to increase the minimum wage, McGrath said.

"If what you want to do is make Minnesota a more equitable and prosperous place, then raising the minimum wage is absolutely a top-tier priority," he said.

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