What’s Going On: Where Minnesota Republicans differ from Missouri Republicans

The locals call it Blood Alley.

On a map, it’s identified as Highway 21.

The highway starts near St. Louis and snakes its way to the Arkansas border, where it continues under a different name.

For a bit of context, Missouri highways have three things Minnesota highways don’t: potholes, curves and hills. In fact, they have lots of the latter two and in a state filled with dangerous highways, Highway 21 is one of the worst of the worst.

The “Blood Alley” moniker came around the 1970s when St. Louis’ population expanded south and referenced a specific portion of the highway in Jefferson County, where I grew up and learned to drive.

This highway is typical of many in Missouri filled with blind spots, curves and trees on both sides hiding oncoming missiles also referred to as deer. Glass shards and vehicle debris litter the narrow shoulder, testifying to the number of serious accidents that frequently occur on the highway which have claimed over 200 lives in a 30-year stretch.

It was about two months ago Blood Alley came to mind as I was driving on Highway 29, heading east towards New Ulm.

Highway 29 is like many Minnesota highways, especially ones in the southern part of the state as its flat and straight. Shoulders are wide and the pavement itself is in great condition, with nary a pot hole to be found, which is why I was astonished when I saw the first detour sign.

Road construction? You have to be kidding. This must be a mistake. So naturally, I ignored the signs and kept driving until I came to the intersection with Highway 4 and discovered that yes, in fact, I could go no further.

It was about that time I remembered reading a headline in The Journal regarding highway construction in Sleepy Eye. I would later read that article, which focused primarily on a street repaving project through Sleepy Eye that started in May. However, at the very end of the article, it referenced the construction project that sent me on a detour.

Apparently, at this intersection in the middle of nowhere, MnDOT had decided to build a round-a-bout to make it safer. According to MnDOT’s website, there had been six accidents, including two fatalities at the intersection, in 10 years.

Six accidents and two fatalities is a bad weekend on Blood Alley. But in Minnesota, its enough to warrant a $1.6 million construction project.

And that is a commentary on more than just highway construction priorities. First, it speaks to the expectations of the residents in the two states. In one, two fatalities doesn’t even move the needle. In the other, it’s enough to warrant a major construction project.

But more importantly, it’s also a commentary on what residents are willing to tolerate in terms of taxes. I’m frequently amazed at the volume of road construction in Minnesota, and that takes a lot of money which is why its no coincidence Minnesota is one of the higher taxed states in the country. You know what state isn’t in the top 10, or 15, or 20 or even 25 for highest taxes? Missouri.

A few months ago during his primary campaign, I spoke with GOP gubernatorial candidate Tim Pawlenty. He told me about his plan for tax reform and how one of his priorities was to get Minnesota out of the top 10 for highest taxed states.

While I agreed with him Minnesota’s taxes were much, much higher than some neighboring states, I also mentioned it appeared residents got something for their money in terms of better education, highways and parks. He maintained we could keep those great services with lower taxes.

Pawlenty’s message would have been very well received in Missouri; in fact, it would have been embraced and celebrated. But another thing I’ve learned from living in this state for nearly three years is a Minnesota Republican is very different from a Missouri Republican.

We all know what happened to Pawlenty in the primary. He lost, which only reinforces to me that Minnesotans are fine with higher taxes.

What they aren’t fine with is a Blood Alley, or anything close to it.


Gregory Orear is the publisher of The Journal. His award-winning weekly column, “What’s Going On,” has been published in four newspapers in three states for more than 20 years. He can be contacted at gorear@nujournal.com.