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Common sense from Carlson

No one made it to the top without a helping hand, Former Minnesota Gov. Arne Carlson told a Grand View Lodge audience Thursday at Brainerd Lakes Area Community Foundation's Award in Philanthropy dinner.

His speech was straight forward, passionate and lacking of any cynicism. The message contained qualities that are all too often lacking in today's political discourse.

Carlson, who turns 80 this fall, delivered the keynote speech as the foundation marked 10 years of honoring Brainerd area philanthropists. He spoke of the help he received in the form of Choate prep school scholarship that took him from the Bronx to a school where sons of some of the wealthiest families in America were enrolled. He remembered a serious talk one school official had with him in which Carlson's school boy transgressions and academic weaknesses were overlooked, while it was made clear to him that a new standard of behavior was now expected. It was young Carlson's turn to lead and help others.

Civic responsibilities and appreciation for public service were two of the themes articulated by the maverick Republican. Bad-mouthing of public servants has apparently reached an unacceptable level in Carlson's view. He noted that no business CEO would rant on and on about how his or her employees made up the worst work force in the U.S.

"What defines your community are the people," he said. "Every community has an obligation to take a positive view of public service. People want to feel proud about what they do."

He spoke of the values of the Greatest Generation, the men and women who suffered through the Great Depression and then fought valiantly in World War II. Those values, of working toward a common goal, are now disintegrating, he said.

As a young boy he remembered watching slightly older boys march off to war and all he could see on their faces was anxiety and fear. However, he said, "One thing you never heard was complaints." The teens who enlisted never said "what's in it for me," according to Carlson.

That spirit is diminishing today he said, as "we hear the constant thumping of 'me first' instead of 'we.'"

Carlson commended those involved with the Brainerd Lakes Area Community Foundation for working together to provide the helping hand that is needed by so many people.

He outlined two civic responsibilities that would help our nation deal with such challenges such as assimilating people of different cultures, caring for homeless children and educating all children so they can compete in an increasingly competitive world.

First, Carlson said, we need to send our best and brightest candidates to the Minnesota Legislature and Congress. This advice seemed consistent with a then-surprising stance the former governor and lifelong Republican disclosed in a Brainerd Dispatch story in 2008, in stating that in his opinion Gov. Sarah Palin fell short of the standards that should apply when selecting a vice presidential candidate.

Secondly, Carlson said, we need to promote the political careers of leaders who "understand what community is" and who are capable of working together for common goals.

Our business leaders are able to work together, Carlson said. The supporters of the Brainerd Lakes Area Community Foundation successfully work together. The question Carlson posed Thursday night was "Why can't we do the same in government?"

It was a fair question posed by a serious Minnesota public servant whose common sense voice is missed these days.