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Recalling the depth and decency of Al Quie

Quie represented a Republican Party that remembered the value of genuine debate and compromise, and the importance and possibility of maintaining political and personal integrity while creating public policy.

Al Quie in a photo from 2014.
Al Quie in a photo from 2014.

I was volunteering at a shelter in the 1980s when I got a call from former Gov. Al Quie. I was new to Minnesota and had no idea who he was. Quie was calling to check on a resident at the shelter.

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Minnesota was a progressive place compared to so many, and I was more than glad to follow my partner to a new life when she accepted a teaching position. To acclimate myself, I started volunteering, reading the Star Tribune daily, and listening to Minnesota public radio.

And we bought more coats.

Over time, I learned more about Al Quie and realized he was following up on someone released from prison. But when I spoke to him, it was like talking to a professional social worker — respect for confidentiality and a genuine concern for a near stranger’s wellbeing.

The call was memorable because Quie was amused that I had no idea who he was. I explained that I’d only been in this new, cold climate for six months. But it did seem special to pick up a call from a former governor of Minnesota. I came from Illinois, and even then, we somehow knew most of our governors were likely headed to prison rather than offering support to someone coming out.

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Politically, I lean somewhere to the left of the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, but I’ve spent much of my professional life working in southern Minnesota. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, I met many Minnesota representatives and senators, most of them Republicans. One told me of his humble beginnings in small-town Minnesota, another was proud of his daughter studying opera, and others profiled their roots in agriculture.

Rep. Al Quie in 1977
Congressional Pictorial Directory
Rep. Al Quie in 1977
Those memories were triggered when I read the New York Times obituary of Al Quie. If we had broadened our phone conversation back then, we would have found little to agree on. As Minnesota governor, he cut taxes, pared budgets and converted a Minnesota surplus into a deficit in fairly short order.

Just the same, his conservatism had a depth we rarely find today. As a U.S. representative — before becoming governor — he voted in favor of civil rights and voting rights. The Times focused on his proposed compromise on busing, but now, any compromise is perceived by many as a weakness.

And then there was his ministry to those in prison. He threw himself into a more diverse environment than most corporate diversity officers will likely encounter in their work.

The rural counties of southern Minnesota are unlikely to send Ilhan Omars and AOCs to the U.S. House. But we would be enormously lucky if they sent conservatives like Al Quie to represent them.

The dominant conservatism, now corrupted by the lure of fascism, is both shallow and disingenuous. And shallow, small-minded ideologues don’t know how to compromise. They certainly don’t know how to shape good public policy.

Sadly, liberalism has not fully shed the corruption of Cold War politics. It is hard to carry the mantle of democracy when we have not acknowledged the democracies we destroyed in the 20th century.

That was the environment and era that Al Quie was born into. Reflecting on his life in politics is not necessarily an exercise in nostalgia. It can offer a glimpse of the world we must rebuild to save our democracy — minus the foreign policy disasters. It might help to have a few more dairy farmers with integrity representing rural America — if they value fair elections, political debate grounded in facts, and a desire to provide justice and opportunity to all Americans.

Quie represented a Republican Party that remembered Abraham Lincoln, the value of genuine debate and compromise, and the importance and possibility of maintaining political and personal integrity while creating public policy.

Keith Luebke
Keith Luebke
Never running for public office allows me to stay on the political left with little compromise or accommodation to those on my right. And citizens of this country can happily stake their claim where they want on the political horizon. At least for now.

But I’m glad I was there to answer the phone on the day Al Quie called that shelter so many years ago. And I wish we’d had more time to discuss his work and life. He was a Lutheran farm boy worth listening to.

Keith Luebke wrote this on Sunday morning while reading newspapers with his partner of 50 years. She died while tending her community garden plot that afternoon. This article is his first publication without her substantial editing and proofreading skills.