A budget story told through bumper stickers

I had a story that aired this morning where I set out to find the “purple” frontier of the metro area — where blue voters mix with red — to get a view of how the state’s budget battle is playing out there.

I went to Circle Pines, a northern Twin Cities suburb with a population near 5,000.

It’s an area that helped the GOP regain control of the Minnesota Legislature. It’s an up-for-grabs place politically. Obama won there by 147 votes in 2008.

I spent two hours with the mayor of Circle Pines, Dave Bartholomay, who drove me around and explained the intricacies of city finance amid the tough economy and the state budget battle. The people I talked with from Circle Pines gave me a pretty interesting political anatomy of the place, including its origins as a Danish-style socialist cooperative.

circle pines mayor.jpg

Bartholomay says party labels don’t matter much in city politics. He and city council members roll up their sleeves and figure out how to find money to repaint the watertower, or fill the potholes. “The truth is, I’m a Democrat,” said Bartholomay. “If you look carefully, you’ll notice the Wellstone bumper sticker on my car.” Bartholomay’s brakes squealed as we pulled in behind city hall at the end of our tour and he announced, “Let it be known this tour was not done in a city vehicle. There are no city cars!” Mayor Dave’s suburban minivan has 205,000 miles on it.

As I pulled out of the parking lot of Circle Pines city hall, the pick-up truck in front of me had two bumper stickers about Obama. The one I remember was “Obummer.”

20 minutes later, I was back in St. Paul, driving behind a minivan with a bumper sticker that read “Another Mama for Obama.”

There are a million little details like this a reporter notices every day. Most never make it into the story. But I liked thinking about how bumper stickers were the only sign I’d traversed a political divide.

How much do bumper stickers reveal about a community?

Where else in the metro are the political winds shifting?

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