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‘Teammates’ Walter Mondale and Arne Carlson find common ground on causes

With the “advantage” of age, the former Democratic vice president and GOP governor speak out on everything from Voter ID to redistricting to the budget shutdown.

Former Gov. Arne Carlson and former Vice President Walter Mondale

There are some advantages to aging.

“You get over some of the polarization,” says Walter Mondale, who is 84 years old. “You find out you agree on some fundamentals with a lot of different people.”

“When you’re older,” says Arne Carlson, who is 77, “you don’t feel the constraints that you might have when you were younger.”

Both oppose Voter ID amendment

Carlson, the former Republican governor, and Mondale, the former Democratic vice president and U.S. senator, talked with MinnPost in separate interviews about how easy it was for them to team up on a recent Star Tribune op-ed piece they co-wrote opposing the proposed Voter ID amendment.

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Actually, Mondale said, Carlson did most of the writing.

“He’s an excellent writer, very fast,” Mondale said, adding that he never was very happy with his own writing style.

The former governor and former vice president were brought together for this project by the League of Women Voters, an organization that also opposes the amendment that is expected to be on the ballot in November, if it passes the current court challenge.

Now, the two of them are among the leaders of the Our Vote Our Future coalition aimed at defeating the amendment.

They never did sit down in the same room for the writing project. Rather, over a 10-day period, they exchanged emails about what they wanted to say. Carlson put together the final version, Mondale approved it and off it went to the Strib.

This project only firmed up the admiration the two have for each other, though they’re not social friends and, at the heights of their political careers, their paths seldom crossed.

“We were both on parallel paths,” said Mondale. “But he was basically dealing with state issues, and I was involved in federal matters.”

Common ground on other issues, too

Now, far removed from elective office, the two have found common ground on other Minnesota-related public policy issues.

Last summer, of course, the two came together with other former office-holders when the state faced its worst political meltdown — the budget impasse between DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and the Republican-controlled Legislature that led to a nearly three-week shutdown of many state government functions. The pair offered suggestions for a compromise, but their plan never got any political traction.

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The two — along with former Republican U.S. Senator Dave Durenberger, former Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz (who earlier served as a Republican state legislator) and former Republican Gov. Al Quie — have been involved in other joint matters.

All of them, for example, have worked to reform Minnesota’s redistricting process. (Their efforts to move the process out of the Legislature to a more impartial group didn’t succeed.) They also jointly worked to keep politics out of the selection of judges, although that effort, too, has run into political opposition.

Mondale also expects to be working with Blatz soon in opposition to the other constitutional amendment heading to the general election ballot — the so-called marriage amendment.

Different styles

But it is the Mondale-Carlson matchup that is so intriguing, because the two are so different in style.

“He’s always been, umm, a free spirit,” said Mondale of Carlson.

That, of course, has often created problems for Carlson within his own party.

 Despite serving as a hugely popular governor, Carlson was shunned by GOP delegates who refused to endorse him for a second term in 1994. That action, however, only showed how far removed from the mainstream Republican activists had become. Carlson not only defeated the endorsed GOP candidate, Allen Quist, in the primary but went on to win the general election with 63 percent of the vote.

These days, Carlson, Durenberger and Quie are among Republicans exiled from official party functions because of their 2010 support of Independence Party gubernatorial candidate Tom Horner over the GOP’s endorsed candidate, Tom Emmer.

It doesn’t appear that Carlson will be back in good graces with his old party any time soon. And he doesn’t seem to care. In fact, he’s unimpressed with the work of contemporary politicians in general.

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“I long for the days when people got into politics to do true public service,” said Carlson. “When you think of Minnesota senators like Hubert Humphrey, Eugene McCarthy, Walter Mondale — and I would put Dave Durenberger in that company — you had people who got involved in the big national and international issues. There were many like that. What we have now is the politics of avoidance.  They’re only interested in getting re-elected. They have nothing to say about the big issues, because that might be politically dangerous.’’

Mondale laughs when he talked about Carlson’s “feistiness” in dealing with how the so-called Voter ID amendment came to be.

This is a paragraph from the op-ed piece, but apparently this one was Carlson-inspired:

“The proposed amendment does not have its origins in Minnesota, nor does it come about as a result of legislative studies of recent elections. It is a product of an organization call ALEC, which is the creation of the Koch brothers, who amassed their fortunes in oil and who live in Florida.”

This is a strike right at the heart of the new Republican majority in the Minnesota Legislature.  The GOP legislators claim they weren’t influenced by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Carlson isn’t buying.

“He doesn’t beat around the bush,” said Mondale of Carlson, laughing heartily.

The great freedom, for old pols, is not being involved in political campaigns.

“You’re fundamentally free to think about the big issues from all perspectives,” said Carlson.

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Mondale echoed those thoughts.

“When you’re not on the campaign trail, you have time to sit back and think things over,” Mondale said.