Thursday, September 7, 2006

Flashback: Newly-Elected Minnesota Governor Andersen Begins Drive to Revitalize the Iron Range: Hubert Attacks; Andersen Sees U. S. Steel Leader, Then Visits Hard-Pressed Northeastern Part of the State.

[More stories from fifty years in politics my kids and grandchildren].

Elected Republican governor of Minnesota, Elmer Andersen went first to the heavily DFL Iron Range to meet with a group of small town mayors…all Democrats…to sell the idea of a Taconite Amendment, me tagging along. He did the sales job overwhelmingly. Town by town, speaking at Rotaries and in church basements he now campaigned to put an amendment on the ballot in 1962 in the same way he had campaigned for himself. Just a few days before election, a ruling by the DFL state tax commissioner turned down a petition by 43 firms requesting that Minnesota tax iron ore in the manner it taxed other commercial and industrial property. He claimed local governments on the Range could bring about any needed equalization by adjusting the assessed valuation of the ore…noting that the total assessed value of ore on the Range had been dropping—but this was due more to the declining economy rather than any change of attitudes by local governments.

Andersen began by educating all Minnesotans, as well as the media—including those innocent of any knowledge of mining—on a hideously dull topic: processing taconite. It was a capital-intensive operation. Huge crushers were needed to reduce the hard taconite rock to a consistency of talcum powder; then a magnetic device extracted the iron ore from the powder and molded it into pellets. While Minnesotans blinked to stay awake, he insisted that despite the expense associated with producing taconite pellets, they were a desirable commodity for the steel industry: having the advantage of air space between them so they could be processed into steel faster, more efficiently and cheaper than using even the best ore. “That means that taconite can compete with merchantable ore from anywhere in the world!” he said.

Newspaper headline-writers didn’t exactly race to stop the presses with that information and radio-TV didn’t interrupt programming to blurt this out—but it was important. I knew the idea of taxing taconite as a manufacturing process in order to produce jobs was gaining headway when Humphrey continued to sow seeds of distrust among embittered mine workers by saying, “Whatever the mining companies did for Elmer Andersen, he has paid them off handsomely by proposing the Taconite Amendment.” Karl Rolvaag, the DFL lieutenant governor, did the same…warming up for a bid for governor in 1962.

We went town to town. When we got to the Range towns, he wasn’t invited to speak, even though he was governor, so we set up a loudspeaker where he could address the people on the street—who listened but stayed indoors because they did not want to be seen listening to a Republican governor. Once after he finished on the loud-speaker a huge, rough-looking worker doubled his fists and strode up to the governor. I thought this was going to be it. Andersen said, timidly, “can I help you?” The worker spat some chewing tobacco on the sidewalk and said, “You’re doing okay, kid. Keep it up!” As he walked away, Andersen, the meek-appearing gentleman whom Brad Heffelfinger called feminine, said to me, “My goodness! I thought he was going to rough me up!” My goodness! What the dickens! Golly gee gumdrops! I thought then and have ever since: what an anomaly—a gentle guy with liquid-soft eyes, who belonged either in a board room or at an opera, doing a job like this in one of the toughest areas of the country. I think—in fact I know—that he could have received much better treatment in heavily-Democratic Chicago than on the Iron Range.

When we returned to the capitol in St. Paul, I started to think about how I was going to handle the media. I decided to do it much like JFK’s press secretary, Pierre Salinger, was reputed as doing: through personal, informal and highly personal contact. Gov. Freeman’s press secretary had done it in formal ways—by news release and news conference. Personal contact meant hanging out with them, eating lunch occasionally with them, drinking with them et al. Every morning I’d go to their press room and sit cross-legged on a table and swap yarns with them in an off-the-record fashion, learning as much from them and perhaps more than they did from me.

The reporters were: Adolph Johnson of the Associated Press, John McDonald of the “Minneapolis Tribune,” Wallace Mitchell of the ‘Minneapolis Star,” Bob Doder of UPI, Dick Wanek of the “St. Paul Dispatch,” Gene Newhall of the “St. Paul Pioneer-Press,” Arv Johnson of WCCO radio, Bob Fosse of WCCO-TV (NBC), Art Michelson of WTCN-TV, believe it or not Harry Reasoner (not long later to go big time as an ABC-TV anchor) on KSTP-TV (ABC). I decided to woo them with familiarity. I fraternized with them as closely as possible, trying to build a rapport which would enable me to slip our side of the stories into the mix. All of them with the exception of Reasoner were liberal Democrats. In reflection, I think it was the right thing to do, even if fraternization carried some risk: that I would become their ambassador to the Administration rather than the Administration’s to them.

Every morning I’d have that informal briefing in which all the irreverent things I’d say…even caustic things about some of our own administration people (and we had some losers)… were off-the-record. We’d have two formal news conferences with the governor each week—on Tuesday morning at 7:30 a.m. and on Thursday afternoon at about 3 p.m. My job was to sift through the acts of the administration and pick out top items that would make us look good and try to promote our end which was the Taconite Amendment. In addition, he had to brief the governor on things he should avoid so that we’d look bad. He was very receptive to the press. There was only one thing we were banking on: building enough momentum for the Taconite Amendment because without it we didn’t think we’d have much of a chance to get reelected.

I remember one day in the early morning the press and I were swapping smart aleck views when I looked around and listening to me was Ed Viehman, the recently retired State Republican chairman, on crutches. It was the last time I saw him. He had come to the State Capitol to see for the first time a Capitol that was in the hands of the Republicans. I walked him around and took him to our gigantic, ornate reception room where he sat down heavily and tried to catch his breath. I then excused myself for a second and went in to see the governor from a side door. I told him, “Ed Viehman is here. It’ll probably be the last time any of us will see him. Would you take a few minutes and visit with him, possibly telling him that you appreciate what he did in the early days to get us here?” The governor said, “No. To me he is and will always be Mac the Knife. I despise his ultra-partisan politics. I am too busy anyhow to do it. Say it to him yourself if you wish.” The same refusal to be grateful that had permeated Quie. It was not Elmer Andersen’s best day.

I showed Viehman around and lauded him—not extravagantly because I really meant it. We had about two hours together. When we parted both he and I knew we would never see each other again. The next time I saw him—about two weeks later—was at his funeral. Quie attended (how good of him) but Andersen did not. I have never understood the nature that adheres to most—not all—politicians: the view that gratitude for others’ contributions—is a weakness.

All the while, in an office across the hall from the governor’s suite, Fritz Mondale was installed as a fast-rising state attorney general. I must say that I am sure Fritz invented the idea of an attorney general who is the People’s Lawyer, a view that has been copied ever since. Originally, the attorney general post had been regarded as a dead-letter: an office which principally told officials of state government whether or not actions were constitutional, a role of scholarship. But Mondale was the first in the nation to make it an active, powerful, politically attractive office.

Mondale prosecuted many phony charities and set his eye on the governor’s office, deciding to run against us in 1962. The DFL Lieutenant Governor was also biding his time: Karl Rolvaag but he was having trouble keeping sober. Alcoholism later claimed him and, tragically, his wife who started drinking with him to keep him company. The media kept his secret but unofficially knew the score. We weren’t so worried about Rolvaag—but feared that young, handsome, clean-cut, reformer Fritz Mondale would be the one to worry about. For one who had started out being a pretty good josher and buddy of mine, Walter Mondale now put on a formal face as the state’s chief legal officer. Andersen was worried about Mondale, too because we both understood that Hubert Humphrey saw Mondale as the conduit back to the governorship rather than Karl Rolvaag whose sobriety was on again and off again. So I tried to whittle Mondale down a peg by playing some tricks on him. His angry reaction was funny. Since those early days, Fritz calmed down, changed his view from Destiny’s Tot to an ordinary guy and was much easier to live with. But he had to learn the hard way and it was fun to teach him.

1 comment:

  1. Tom,
    I am writing to tell you how much appreciate your comments and observations, particularly the history and background information you are add to postings.

    Keep up the good work.

    On an unrelated topic, I recently read Malachi Martin's book on the Jesuits. I was wondering if you are familiar with his work and if you have any comments concerning his conclusions. I would appreciate reading your comments on this topic.

    Thank you.