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Former Iron Range legislator John Spanish has died

Former state Rep. John Spanish, a DFLer who represented Hibbing in the 1970s, has died at age 90.

He is perhaps best known for introducing a bill that would allow elderly, blind, or disabled people to hunt and fish without licenses. There’s an old photo of him here.

He tried to stay in the political game long after his two stints in the House, 1969-70 and 1973-78.

Legislative records show he also ran unsuccessfully for the DFL endorsement for the House in primary elections in 1980, 1982, 1984, 1986, 1988, 1990, 1992, 1994, 1998, 2000 and 2010. The most recent run was in the special election won by Carly Melin.

Aaron Brown, in his Minnesota Brown blog about the Iron Range, wrote this about Spanish last year, during that special election:

Either you know who John Spanish is or you don’t, but if you don’t you are missing the totality of what it means to be in Iron Range politics.

One time when I was in Rotary I was ringing bells for the Salvation Army Christmas kettle drive and had the opportunity to spend about half an hour chatting with Mr. Spanish. He told me of his time in the legislature, his long hours walking to and from the capitol because he did not drive when in St. Paul, being stopped by security people who would not believe he was a legislator. Indeed he was. He served four non-consecutive terms and is the only political figure I know of who’s run for office in seven different decades. He lost to Lona Minne in the 1978 DFL primary, in part because of ridicule he received for introducing a bill creating a hunting season for the blind. He claimed to me that this was a planned set-up, and still regrets agreeing to carry the bill. He’s failed to garner more than 5 percent in recent primaries but has not given up on his efforts to return to St. Paul.

Writing today, Brown notes:

Spanish is one of the most interesting people I’ve met covering and practicing politics on the Iron Range, and that’s saying something. A WWII vet, Spanish ran for office in at least six different decades, served four non-consecutive terms in the House, and was the most recent Range lawmaker elected straight out of the mines.

 Spanish was a sort of socially awkward savant who could memorize facts and figures on sight and, indeed, cited them for the rest of his life. Forever known for his ill-fated bill to extend hunting rights to the blind, which cost him his seat, he never entirely understood why he couldn’t get back in the legislature.

 Nevertheless, there was a sort of dogged earnestness to him that was remarkable. There is no modern parallel to him currently serving in the legislature and I doubt there ever will be again. He was a kind-hearted man who never stopped trying.

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