In Minnesota, DFL Gov. Mark Dayton is number 40; 12 others have also been Farmer-Laborites, Democrats or DFLers. Jesse Ventura at number 38 won in 1998 on a Reform Party platform. The majority of Minnesota governors since statehood in 1858 have been Republican (26), though the last three won as Independent-Republicans.
I have met and had an opportunity to work in some manner with 11 of them.
I had my first in-depth conversation with Al Quie, Minnesota’s 35th governor, nearly 41 years ago. I remember our quiet, one-on-one talk like it was yesterday — I was age 29 — and on that day he became to me an insightful teacher whose lesson included the importance of growing a faith in God as part of a life journey.
Over the decades we have much spent time together on various projects, in small groups and in purely social situations. The man was there for me at my time of greatest need and I have tried to support him when I felt it was appropriate.
In fact, a group of us still meet regularly, often at the historic Nicolet Island Inn to share lunch with the former Rice County farmer, state lawmaker and 10-term U.S. congressman from southeastern Minnesota.
What is there not to like about Al Quie?
Deeply Lutheran and Minnesotan, Al Quie’s grandfather Halbord Kvi (later changed to Quie) must have had high-minded politics in his DNA when he joined in founding the new Republican Party and electing Abraham Lincoln as president in 1860. Al’s great grandfather wanted to rid the nation of slavery and went off to fight in the Civil War before returning to his Minnesota farmstead and family.
Sixty-three years later, in 1923, baby Albert Harold was born on that same Quie dairy farm in Wheeling Township near Dennison, Minnesota. He attended the grade schools in Nerstrand and high school in Northfield, eventually graduating from St. Olaf College. He married Gretchen Hansen, an artistically gifted St. Olaf student from Minneapolis; together they raised four children.
Quie quickly became involved in his community through his service as school board clerk, a supervisor of the Rice County Soil Conservation District and, in 1955, as a legislator when he began a term in the Minnesota Senate. Three years later, Quie won a special election to an open First District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he would serve with distinction until 1979.
In 1974, as a widely respected 50-year-old member of Congress, Quie was briefly considered for vice president of the United States after his good friend Gerald Ford became president upon the Watergate-related resignation of Richard Nixon. The VP position was eventually taken by Nelson Rockefeller.
A bipartisan approach to being governor
Four years later and running as an Independent-Republican, Quie defeated former Gov. Rudy Perpich in 1978 to serve a single term of office ending in 1983. Shortly after taking office, life became more complicated as he began to deal with economic woes that he believed required a bipartisan approach, including the raising of taxes, which caused a split within his party.
Defining and implementing a merit selection process for the naming of judges, according to Quie, was his most cherished accomplishment as governor.
Consistently, Quie’s vision avoided partisanship. This goal has always centered on his desire to back policies based on shared values and good character. Quie’s capacity to effectively analyze problems by digging down to fundamentals has served him well in his decision-making.
After the governorship
Ronald Reagan appointed Quie to the President’s Advisory Committee for Trade Negotiations in 1982; the next year he helped to oversee the seminal report “A Nation At Risk” released by the U.S. Department of Education, arguing that everyone, regardless of race, class or economic status, is entitled to a fair chance; from 1983-1988 he was an area director and executive vice president of Prison Fellowship.
In the aftermath of the 2010 election, the Republican Party’s 355-member Central Committee unwisely barred Quie and others from participating in formal party activities for two years because they publicly supported Independence Party candidate Tom Horner for governor. Quie attended and was welcomed at GOP meetings, anyway.
Some years ago, Quie publicly severed his lifelong allegiance to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America over theological disagreements including the denomination’s support for gay marriage. Still, when interviewed later, he said he harbored no resentment toward Minnesota’s movement to allow gay couples to wed.
In 2013, Quie curtailed his public activity because he felt called to care for Gretchen, who had Parkinson’s disease. His beloved Gretchen passed away at age 88 in the Christmas season of 2015 after 67 years of marriage. The two had relocated from their longtime home in Minnetonka to a Presbyterian Homes senior living facility in Wayzata, where the former governor still lives.
Earlier this year, Al volunteered to help Norway House successfully secure $5M in capital funding for an education center, recently named in his honor.
Still riding horses
A lifelong owner and lover of horses, Al still rides, most often with his son Dan. Feeling remarkably healthy and energetic, Quie has said one personal goal is to be riding a horse when he’s 100 years old; he turns 94 today, Sept. 18.
When approaching a challenge, Quie’s three-part formula for getting things done involves 1) radical integrity, 2) aggressive collaboration and 3) no excuses.
Happy birthday and thank you for your continuing service to our state, Al Quie. We learned much from you and have more to learn.
Chuck Slocum is president of The Williston Group, a management consulting firm; he can be reached by e-mail Chuck@WillistonGroup.Com
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