Saturday, July 8, 2006

Flashback: The Minnesota Legislature of 1957 Tussles with the Democratic Governor to Little Effect as Humphrey Manages a Comeback—Yet Slowly but Surely, a Republican Becomes Mayor of Minneapolis

[More memoirs for my kids and grandchildren

Having elected one state constitutional officer to join with a holdover, the Republicans, controlling the state treasurer and state auditor and managing a slow but perceptible return, went to the biennial legislative session in the minority in the House but controlling the Senate. My job was to run a very modest facsimile of what the national Republicans were doing with the Democratic Congress—setting up a publicity bureau for members, seeing their photos were taken with constituents and managing a daily radio interview with lawmakers. The GOP bought time on WCCO radio (CBS) for a daily fifteen minute drive-time interview which I ran. In those days—unlike now—major stations allowed the political parties to purchase time even at strategically important slots when the legislature was in session. The DFL didn’t bother expending any money for this purpose because it had the governor who could command the airways and a host of constitutional offices: attorney general and secretary of state notably.

The more senior Republicans who controlled the state Senate disdained the party radio program; they were run by a chillingly autocratic group who represented what the party was always accused of: aristocracy but at the same time were decidedly and laudably thrifty on spending. Since then I have always wondered at a species of Republican lawmaker who emerges with control of spending and taxes. They very much resemble the late Robert Taft of Ohio: authoritative, brilliant, cold even to the point of haughtiness. Such a person was Gordon Rosenmeir of Little Falls, acknowledged leader of conservatives, authority on the law and a paragon of fiscal integrity; another was Donald Wright of Minneapolis, chairman of the committee on taxation. I asked both to be on my program which would amount to free time to publicize their activities.

“Young man,” said Sen. Rosenmeir, a wealthy corporate lawyer, then fifty years old, “the work of the Senate is too complex to try to elucidate in fifteen minutes time.” Sen. Wright just waved me off. Imagine. Too complex to explain in fifteen minutes.

Accordingly, I decided to feature younger and newly elected lawmakers on my program as well as some progressive Republicans who were eager to be publicized. Of a good number of them, one was outstanding—State Senator Elmer L. Andersen (no relation to the former governor named C. Elmer Anderson who had been our losing candidate for secretary of state). This Elmer Andersen was stunning.

He had been born in Chicago in 1908, had lost both parents to pneumonia during the great flu epidemic in World War I. He moved to Muskegon, Michigan where he was reared by an aunt. He landed a job in a glue factory, believe it or not, owned by the H. B. Fuller Company where he worked on the assembly line, then was transferred as a promotion to the company’s headquarters in St. Paul. He became its top-rated salesman, went to the University of Minnesota at night, got promoted to vice president, then general manager. He married well, was elevated to president of Fuller when he was barely forty. In addition to being a success in business, Elmer had three goals: one to be a state senator, the second to own a farm and the third to be a journalist. He became a state senator, representing the suburbs of St. Paul and, by age 45, a multi-millionaire, bought a farm. The journalist part he had not realized when I met him.

In the conservative Republican state senate, Elmer L. Andersen was a distinct anomaly. It had been usual with those born in poverty and tempered by hardship who became successes to extol the individualist life and idealize entrepreneurship. While he was undeniably a great entrepreneur, this Andersen became immersed in social welfare and, as chairman of the Welfare committee, gave the state an enormous reputation for progressivism. He had the ability to get along with the Old Guard and yet wangle out of them appropriations for his projects which included a nationally-known center for the treatment of emotionally disturbed and psychotic children. He instituted the first metropolitan planning council in the nation in the 1940s, linking the goals of the suburbs to the needs of the inner city. A gifted writer and eloquent speaker (who struggled manfully to overcome a terrible stutter), a brilliant administrator yet dedicated Republican leader, he seemed in 1957 to be head and shoulders over all in the party.

At the moment, Elmer Andersen sought attention for his legislation. I put him on the air so often that I began to be criticized by the Senate’s Old Guard to whom I responded that perhaps they had better wise up and use the party’s free radio services as well. Some did. I even inveigled Sen. Rosenmeier to deign to come to my studios in the Capitol basement to broadcast—but primarily because he feared that liberal Andersen was gaining so much attention that he would one day become governor (a fear that was realized).

Another state senator of progressive mien who loved to get on the radio with me was Albert Quie (whose name was pronounced “quee” which is Norwegian means pregnant heifer. Quie whose name proved a political handicap for him because even most Norwegians didn’t know how to pronounce it, was a moderately wealthy farmer in his early 30s, with a crew cut and a former Navy pilot in World War II. He was also feared by the Old Guard which worried that he would try to use the radio to his own effect, to run for Congress or maybe governor (a fear that, again, was realized as he became a congressman and later governor). But neither would ascend the steps right away. Nineteen fifty-seven was a year where DFL governor Orville Freeman struggled head-on with the conservative Senate. He faced a reelection contest in 1958 which some people believed could spell his doom.

But Hubert Humphrey was back in the saddle, having repaired the rupture over the presidential primary of 1956, and he had plans for his party that were exciting.

First, Humphrey looked at his colleague, Republican U. S. Senator Edward Thye, a Stassen compatriot, and saw a man who could easily be beaten. In his sixties and a farmer, Thye was ill-educated which was of little concern since most Minnesotans of his age were. But Thye tried to make up for it by terrible affection, by using big words he didn’t fully understand and to which he applied in terrible malapropisms. Once a plain farmer, he went thoroughly eastern in his clothes and affected pronunciation, even to the extent of putting on a kind of high-brow eastern seaboard accent. Aware of the extent his affections were hurting him but determined to show his stature as a Senator, particularly eager not to be shown up by Humphrey, Thye was a great trouble. For a time his case work and constituent service was lagging, but he hired a tremendously capable administrative assistant, Robert A. Forsythe, who perfected constituent service to a high gloss working in tandem with the Eisenhower administration—to a point where Thye was out-pointing Humphrey in that area. Still, Thye’s problems were caused by himself, in qualities no one, not even the ingenious Bob Forsythe, could rectify.

It was at that time that Humphrey looked around and decided that the old era of anti-Catholic bigotry in Minnesota had ended and that Catholics, whether they knew it or not, would be excited if one of their number were to run for the Senate. Minnesota’s history had been geared to Protestant accession by politicians, analysts believing that Catholics would drag down a ticket greatly, hearkening back to the presidential campaign of Al Smith. Humphrey knew better. He privately encouraged Congressman Eugene McCarthy of St. Paul to run for the Senate but was careful not to dissuade the wealthy Eugenie Anderson of Red Wing, an early ambassador to Denmark and heir to a fortune that had been built up by her late husband’s father who invented puffed wheat and puffed rice by blowing them up with a makeshift cannon, a process he later sold for many millions to Quaker Oats.

Mrs. Anderson wanted to be the first woman Democratic senator and had a right to expect her credentials would top McCarthy’s who was a mere Congressman. She also had lots of dough. Humphrey privately went to the very man in the country who had an interest in seeing Catholics do well in politics—Joseph P. Kennedy of Massachusetts. Kennedy saw to it that McCarthy received funding to make the run for the nomination in expectation that if an Irish Catholic would do well in Minnesota, the case could be all the easier made for his son John to run for president. That battle was to come down the road. I yearned to run a campaign against McCarthy whom I knew but as the only Republican Catholic in the GOP bunch I thought I might supply expertise to help Thye. But then there came a great crisis of a sort for me, which was entirely of my doing and for which I fully expected to pay a great price.

No comments:

Post a Comment