03 April 2007

Progressive Republican -- not an oxymoron

We had dinner with Dan Eckberg last night at his home in Cape Coral, Florida. We had a wonderful time talking and sitting on the lanai. When it got late, I was tempted to take up his offer to stay the night, but we really needed to be back to being guests here in Naples. Perhaps, it was the good discussions that prompted me to seriously begin the process of translating the paper version of Reading to this blog. And Dan's contribution was on the top of the pile (meaning it might be the oldest).

The last time a paper issue appeared, Dan recommended Cheri Register's book Packinghouse Daughter. This time around he recommends a more directly political book, A Man's Reach by Elmer L. Anderson.

Dan wrote about reading a book that was a timely reminder for us in Minnesota of the days when our top elected officials were committed to the best interests of the Minnesota “community” and to making the public part of the state functional. I think he was recommending compassionate politics as much as an inspirational book.

Dan wrote:

"Though we belonged to a different political parties, I have always admired Elmer L. Andersen, Minnesota's governor from 1961-63. Notices of his death, at 95, in November 2004 reminded me to read up on him. His memoir A Man's Reach was published in 2000. The title comes from a favorite phrase of his by Robert Browning: 'Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?'

"The book chronicles his life from his birth into a working class Chicago family (that became a single parent Muskegon, Michigan family) through his 91st year. Like his brothers he worked in a Muskegon furniture plant and eventually became a traveling salesman for that company. That brought him to Minnesota, where he enrolled in the University of Minnesota and met his wife, Eleanor.

"In 1934, he was hired by the H. B. Fuller, Jr. of the H.B. Fuller Company of St. Paul. It was a small adhesives manufacturer that he eventually bought. When his son took over the business in 1971, it had 27 plants in the United States and 10 other countries.

"In January 1949, twenty people filed for a special state Senate election in St. Paul. Andersen, a life-long liberal Republican, active with Family Service of St. Paul, a member of the Rotary Club, Chairman of the Community Chest [what's now called the United Way] campaign, and active with the Indianhead Council of the Boy Scouts won the primary and the seat.

"'I learned right away: always stay on good terms with people whose ideas differ from yours so that you can work with them tomorrow even if you differ with them today.' As a state Senator between 1949 and 1958, he supported the creation of a Duluth campus of the University of Minnesota, alcoholism treatment facilities, increasing the role of social workers in adoptions, the creation of new state parks, the building of more public housing, an effective civil rights law, and special education programs. In other words, Andersen supported all the things that today would make the Republican elite in Minnesota have fits.

"In 1960, several friends suggested that he run for governor. Andersen won by 22,879 votes. He pushed hard to get a fair housing bill passed and to create a Human Rights Commission. He leaned on Minnesota Twins' owner Calvin Griffith to racially integrate housing for Twins ball players in spring training in Florida.

"In 1962, Andersen ran for reelection against Karl Rolvaag and lost by 96 votes out of 1,220,000 cast.

"As a private citizen Andersen worked with his friend Charles A. Lindbergh to establish Voyageurs National Park and served on the Board of Regents of his beloved University of Minnesota. He also was an active board member of the Minnesota Historical Society and the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, whose library he endowed.

"Andersen's later career was as Chairman of ECM Publishers, Inc., a chain of 18 newspapers and 6 shoppers around the outer suburbs of the Twin Cities.

"Even in his later years, Andersen continued to be progressive in his political views. 'I am a liberal Republican. That is another way of saying that I am quite independent, or rather, I have become so as the Republican Party has moved steadily toward the right… It does not bother me that Minnesota ranks high among the states in taxation, because it also ranks high in its culture, education, health, life expectancy, and other positive measures. One reason Minnesota is economically strong and growing today is that it has invested in good government, education, health and nutrition, environment, parks, and trails - in everything that makes for balanced, happy lives… America and the rest of the world need to face up more directly to the problem of poverty. Every American -indeed, everyone in the world - should know freedom, justice, and opportunity.'"

Ah, the good old days… Thanks for the reminder, Dan.

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