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Pearlstein on Quie: A good man, still going strong

Historian, author and think tank guru Mitch Pearlstein, who founded the conservative Center of the American Experiment in Minneapolis in 1990, seems to be having a field day in telling the story of one of his heroes, former Minnesota Gov. Al Quie. Despite a quarter century difference in their ages, Pearlstein, a Jew who was born in Queens, N.Y., writes quite comfortably about his former boss Quie, the Norwegian Lutheran politician raised on a Southern Minnesota dairy farm just outside Dennison.

It was Quie who first persuaded Pearlstein to write the book while, he said, “I still have my marbles.” Far more than a conventional biography, Pearlstein has structured the book as an extended conversation, taped over many mornings spent with Quie in connecting the diverse dots of his life from faith and family to politics, prisoners, kids and courts.  And in this two-way discussion, you get Pearlstein’s views not so subtly mixed with those of the subject, especially when they disagree on a fine point of policy. 

Republican Quie, who turns age 85 tomorrow when this most readable biography is released, served as a state senator from Rice County and then a popular congressman from Southeastern Minnesota’s 1st Congressional District for 21 years prior to being elected the 35th governor of Minnesota in 1978. He bested DFLer Rudy Perpich, who would also succeed him in 1983, when Quie chose not to seek a second term.

In “Riding into the Sunrise: Al Quie, A Life of Faith, Service & Civility,” Pearlstein’s topics range from Quie’s lovingly hardscrabble family and religious roots as “a follower of Jesus Christ” to his experiences in Congress with presidents and other powerful leaders. He covers what Quie called his “crises governorship” and his most meaningful recent experiences working with convicts as a faith-based organizer, mentor and teacher. Pearlstein also delves into Quie’s leadership in creation of parent-centered early-learning strategies for “at risk” children and his noteworthy efforts to reform Minnesota courts — to assure more impartiality and independence through passage of a controversial state constitutional amendment providing for “retention elections” of judges.

‘A truly remarkable man’
If one is remembered by the enemies he makes, Quie’s life would be forgettable, indeed; everybody seems to like and respect him even if they disagree with his views. Former DFL Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, who partnered with Quie through what Moe termed “wrenching” 1981-82 budget-balancing special sessions that included social-service cuts and tax increases, calls Quie “a truly remarkable man … an inspiration to my life.”

Five years ago, when a number of us organized — with his wife of 60 years, Gretchen, and the couple’s five children — an 80th birthday party for Quie, more than 1,200 admirers flooded the Radisson South Hotel in Bloomington to just say “thank you” and shake his hand. At that time, Quie released his first book, “Riding the Divide,” about his insights on life as shaped during his nine summers of trekking the Continental Divide on horseback from Canada to Mexico. The Pearlstein biography is in some ways a written tribute to the many feelings expressed that evening about the tall, gentle man with the large hands who has lived a long life of decency, grace, intelligence, kindness, and plain-spoken honesty. 

Unlike many Republicans, Pearlstein notes, Quie’s three key motivations for service are justice, love and mercy. Speaking at a forum during the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Quie offered a three-part problem-solving formula:

• Think for yourself and “know how you believe.”

• Listen to others “not only with ears but eyes and other senses.”

• Demonstrate caring and “show love” in dealing with the other person.
 
Small wonder that Quie’s ideas on politics, Pearlstein observes, “differ radically from the mean-spirited and bunkered types.”

Perhaps no one has summed up Al Quie more succinctly than his longtime friend, former Nixon aide, Watergate conspirator and founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries, Charles Colson, whose devout Christian faith was powerfully nurtured by Quie.

“Al Quie has changed my life forever. I have never known anyone quite like him and don’t expect to meet anyone like him again,” he states in the forward to the book.

Enough said.

Chuck Slocum is the president of The Williston Group, a management consulting firm; he considers Al Quie a mentor and friend. There is a free public reception in honor of Quie’s book release today from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute’s Cowles Auditorium, University of Minnesota (call 612-625-5002 to register).

The book: “Riding into the Sunrise: Al Quie, A Life of Faith, Service & Civility”
Author: Mitch Pearlstein
Publisher: Pogo Press; $27.95; 336 page hardcover
Available: Sept. 18 at local bookstores, Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com


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If you’re interested in joining the discussion by writing a Community Voices article, email Susan Albright at salbright [at] minnpost [dot] com.

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