What is the role of Minnesota government?

One of the most valuable aspects of the current gubernatorial campaign is it’s leading to a necessary discussion on the role of government. There’s nothing wrong with the country today that a good civics lesson can’t cure.

Today, for example, Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer appeared at the Humphrey Institute’s candidate forum — Mark Dayton was there the other day and Tom Horner will be there Monday — and offered a comprehensive view of his vision for Minnesota’s education future. It was a terrific discussion, as was Dayton’s.

Invariably, the talk turned to the role of government and as he’s done before, Rep. Emmer noted that the Minnesota Constitution requires government to provide two things: Public safety and education.

I couldn’t find the specifics until my Republican friends on Twitter called my attention to Article 13, Section 1 (under the category of “miscellaneous subjects.”

UNIFORM SYSTEM OF PUBLIC SCHOOLS. The stability of a republican form of government depending mainly upon the intelligence of the people, it is the duty of the legislature to establish a general and uniform system of public schools. The legislature shall make such provisions by taxation or otherwise as will secure a thorough and efficient system of public schools throughout the state.

In that same section, then, it says the role of government is to provide lotteries, give bonuses to veterans, and preserve hunting and fishing.

Rep. Emmer’s suggestion — he’s used the line many times — is that the role of government is quite limited and spelled out in the Constitution; anything beyond that is a promise our constitution never made.

If we are to use the Minnesota Constitution as our guide on this question, however, the water gets more muddied. One might suggest that the writers of Article I intended it to be a clearer direction than Article 13.

Here’s Article 1:

Section 1. OBJECT OF GOVERNMENT. Government is instituted for the security, benefit and protection of the people, in whom all political power is inherent, together with the right to alter, modify or reform government whenever required by the public good.

Question: Of the many things government provides — often over the objection of others — which of them don’t fit such a vague description?

It may well be that the Constitution provides no clear guidance on the role of government in our lives, which puts the question squarely back in our own laps: What do we want it to be?