What’s Going On: An embarrassment for Minnesota

In the three years I’ve lived in Minnesota, I’ve gotten a little spoiled.

The schools here are better.

The parks here are better.

The towns are cleaner and the highways are flat, straight, and devoid of potholes.

And on average, Minnesota residents are healthier than most in terms of diabetes, cancer and obesity rates.

My wife and I joke with our family the reason we keep moving north from Missouri to Iowa to Minnesota is we are evolving. First, we started using utensils, then we started wearing shoes. We had to move to avoid sticking out.

But in all seriousness, our quality of life has noticeably improved for the reasons listed above. While I would contend the reason the schools, parks, highways etc., is better can be directly correlated to higher taxes here than in those aforementioned states, that’s a different column for a different day.

For now, we’ll just agree Minnesota does it better … with one glaring exception.

Over the summer, I rented a cabin on Red Lake in Waskish so my family could experience a true Minnesota staple: walleye fishing.

Obviously, not wanting to violate any state laws, I knew I would have to get a fishing license before dropping a lure into the water.

Now, for those who don’t know me, I’m a tightwad. Cheapskate. Penny-pincher. Whatever you want to call it, I don’t like spending money except when it saves money. That’s important to remember because just before moving up to Minnesota, I had renewed my driver’s license in Iowa. Not only had I gone to that expense, but I spent some extra money to get a 5-year instead of a 3-year license.

So, when I moved to Minnesota, I was reluctant to get a new license as I wanted to get my money’s worth out of my old one. However, to get an in-state fishing license, which naturally is much cheaper than an out-of-state one, you have to produce an in-state form of identification.

Caught in a tightwad pickle while recognizing I had got about 60 percent of the value out of my Iowa’s license, I went down to the Department of Public Safety to take the required written test.

It should be noted, true to my tightwad nature, I took the test completely unprepared as I had been told it would cost $5 to purchase a manual produced by the state filled with the information covered on the multiple-choice test.

Pshaw I said. I’ve been driving 30 years and its multiple choice? How hard could it be?

Well, it was harder than I expected but I passed. Barely. The test shuts down when you have answered enough questions and I think I had one to spare. So, proud of my accomplishment, I strutted to the counter fully prepared to take possession of my new, shiny, Minnesota drivers’ license.

Oh, but wait, I wasn’t done with government bureaucracy. I had to go to a county office first to take a vision test, fill out an application and have my picture taken. Surely there I would get my new license.

Wrong again. I was told it would be mailed to me.

Well, okay. While that was a step back from what I was used to in Iowa, where you got the license at the same place you took the test on the same day you passed it. It was a similar process in Missouri.

So, I paid my $25 and at the same time, took advantage of the opportunity to register to vote … in the primary.

That’s right. The primary election. Not the November mid-term. The primary … in August. As in four months ago.

And did I mention while I’ve voted in both the primary and mid-terms, I still don’t have my driver’s license?

Apparently, I’m not alone as The Star-Tribune recently revealed in a story carrying a headline of “New drivers face delays getting IDs.”

According to Department of Public Safety spokesman Bruce Gordon, new applications must undergo an additional review by the department, a review not required for renewals or duplicates.

“This can take between several weeks to several months,” he said.

And of course, the department is understaffed and apparently, the fall is “one of the busiest times of the year for new drivers.”

Apparently, the driver’s license delay has nothing to do with the problems encountered by the rollout of the new Minnesota Licensing and Registration System (MNLARS) for vehicle registration and titles.

Regardless of the reason, coupled with the MNLARS fiasco, this is a true black mark on an otherwise stellar report card for the state.

Think about it: not only Iowa, but Missouri of all places does this better.

That’s embarrassing and a fact I won’t be sharing with my family over the holidays as they eat their Thanksgiving meal barefoot and with their fingers, but with an actual driver’s license in their wallet.


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.