Allen Quist, retired politician, semi-retired farmer, soon-to-be retired teacher, was sitting in his home outside St. Peter recently when the phone rang. His spouse, Julie, longtime Republican Party activist who works for U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, answered.
Family Friend: “We need a candidate to run against Tim Walz. Are you or Allen interested?”
Julie Quist: “No.”
End of conversation.
Allen: “What was that about?”
Julie: “[Family Friend] wondered if either of us would be interested in running against Walz. I said, ‘No.’ “
Allen: “I should probably do that.”
Julie: “But of course.”
Long before Bachmann captured the imagination of the right and fired the ire of the left in Minnesota, there was Allen Quist.
A three-term state representative (1982-1988), he was the state’s conservative voice, the man in the middle of the Quistian movement that took over the state’s Republican Party. So powerful were the Quistians, who were bound together by social issues, that at the 1994 Republican convention, they endorsed Quist over their party’s incumbent governor, Arne Carlson.
Carlson, however, clobbered Quist in the primary and went on to win a second term. Quist, who had become a symbol of how narrow the Republican base had become, returned to his farm.
He has a good life, with 31 grandchildren, time for fishing, teaching political science courses at Bethany Lutheran College and dabbling in politics. So why return?
He talked about his gun collection.
“I’ve got an antique Model 12 Winchester,” Quist said. “When I bought it new, it cost $50. Winchester stopped making it, and now it’s very valued by collectors and is worth $1,000. When Winchester saw that, it decided to start making it again. They use the slogan, ‘A model too good to stay retired.’ ”
He laughed. Now 65, he sees himself as a man with too many good ideas to stay retired.
But the old pol is entering this fray with new priorities, he said. Whereas the Quistian movement was built around opposition to abortion, this Quist says he will be aiming his message at the Tea Party movement and fiscal conservatives. Not that he’s changed his social positions. He still opposes abortion, and he opposes gay marriage.
“But the issues that are the top priorities have changed,” said Quist. “Politics is always a moving target.”
The three priorities he’ll use in his campaign in an effort to get Republican endorsement and ultimately target Walz:
• The federal stimulus bill — he opposes it.
• Cap-and-trade legislation — he opposes it.
• The Democratic version of health care reform — he opposes it.
Walz has supported all three of those major legislative efforts, which Quist says will end up being a burden on the middle class. The Quist campaign will portray Walz as a liberal, wearing a moderate’s clothing.
Quist is an interesting character, known for controversial statements such as when he said that men are leaders of the household because of “genetic predisposition.”
Despite statements that rally his foes, Quist would much prefer to talk about the detail of policy.
“I do my own research,” he said. “I’m not using the Republican talking points on the health bill. Some of those talking points are silly stuff; sometimes Republicans aren’t all that swift. I’ve been studying that bill to see who wins, who loses.”
The message he’ll be delivering across the district is that big business actually ends up the big winner in the reform bill and that the middle class will end up taking the hits.
“I’m a free market guy,” said Quist, who believes that tort reform, coupled with higher deductibles, would solve most of the health care crisis.
There are, of course, contradictions in all of us. Quist, a free market guy, has profited nicely over the years in his heavily subdized farming business.
At 65, isn’t he also eligible for the government’s mighty health care program, Medicare? To date, he said, he’s not a Medicare client. Instead, his health care is covered under the insurance his wife receives by working for Bachmann. This, too, would be a policy that stems from the government’s options for its employees.
It remains unclear whether other Republicans will jump into this 1st District fray. Quist says he thinks it would be “healthy” if they do.
And, of course, the DFL already has jumped on the Quist candidacy, saying he would offer the same “ineffectiveness” for the 1st District that Bachmann offers people in the 6th.
The comparison with Bachmann doesn’t bother Quist in the slightest.
“She is a close friend,” he said. “If the left wants to associate me with Michele Bachmann, that’s fine with me.”
And why not? Long before she was the state’s political lightning rod, that was the post held by Quist.