NORWAY HOUSE PORTRAITS EXHIBIT
This portraits exhibition, hosted at Norway House in May and June of 2020, was my fifth. The show featured my portrait work and focused on interesting people I have met as both a lobbyist and a filmmaker. This is the first time that my pictures were accompanied with brief biographical sketches. A special thanks to Norway House and its Executive Director, Christian Carleton, for hosting the exhibit.
Vice President Walter Mondale
Years ago, I was talking with former Vice President Mondale at an event and I was not sure what the proper protocol was for addressing a man with so many distinctive titles. So, I asked to him, “You’ve been an Attorney General, a U.S. Senator, a Vice President and an Ambassador. How does someone properly address you?” He said, “Call me Fritz.” Despite the role he’s played in the state’s and nation’s history he remains the accessible, humble and decent man he’s always been. No scandal has ever touched his decades of service.
He served in the U.S. Senate at the high-water mark of liberalism and was a champion for civil rights, fair housing, economic equality and much more. Today, the achievement that gives him the most pride was his fight to preserve wilderness and save the nation’s pristine riverways from exploitation. The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which he co-authored with Sen. Gaylord Nelson a half century ago, has so far rescued for future generations, 127,000 miles of riverways on 209 rivers in 40 states and Puerto Rico.
As Vice President, Mondale worked with President Carter to double the size of the National Park System by setting aside in perpetuity 157 million acres in Alaska. That ranks his contribution to conservation second only to that of President Theodore Roosevelt.
I once interviewed Mondale about the tumultuous year 1968. The Vietnam War was raging and there was a movement to dump an incumbent Democratic President, Lyndon Johnson. When Johnson announced he wouldn’t run again Walter Mondale became co-chair of Hubert Humphrey’s campaign for President. What makes that more interesting is that his Minnesota counterpoint in the Senate was Eugene McCarthy who had challenged Johnson in the first place. His seatmate in the Senate was Robert Kennedy, who was also running for the nation’s highest office. Mondale regrets that he had not come to oppose the Vietnam War sooner and praises McCarthy’s early opposition to the war.
This portrait, shot the cabin he owned on the St. Croix River that he owned until recently, may reveal his anxiety about the many pressures on the St. Croix River and the existential threat posed by climate change. He believes there is a moral dimension to these issues.
I became an admirer of Susana DeLeon several years ago when I saw her standing outside the Governor’s office wearing an almost supernatural costume like the one depicted here. She was holding the same sign as you see in this picture: “Thou Shalt Not Steal Immigrant’s Dignity.” For many years she has come to the State Capitol to lobby for the fair and humane treatment for undocumented immigrants. She arrives with members of a dance group she organized many years ago, all dressed in spectacular traditional Central American costumes. Her large and at times loud contingent (complete with drums) would show up day after day in attempt to advance legislation helpful to their cause.
The dance group she created is called the “Kalpulli Ketzal Coatlicue.” They perform at various events throughout the year including Cinco De Mayo. If you ever get a chance to see them in action you should not miss it.
Susana immigrated here from the state of Coahuila, Mexico in the 1980’s. She pushed herself hard to get a good education and after she graduated from the Humphrey Institute went on to William Mitchell Law School where she earned a law degree. She tells the story about how, not long after she was admitted to law school, a big white man approached her and said, “You don’t belong here. You only got in because you are a Mexican.” She replied, “I probably have better grades than you. I got in with honors. You probably got in because you are white.” Don’t mess with Susana!
Susana has devoted her life and her career, as an immigration attorney, to helping other immigrants. She is a fireball flung headlong at all barriers to immigrants seeking a shot at the American Dream.
I am grateful to Susana for taking time out of a busy day to come to the Capitol for the sole purpose of allowing me to get this portrait.
In this world, as Albert Camus said, “One either collaborates or one fights.” Susana is a fighter and I admire that quality.
Will Steger and I attended the same Catholic parochial school back in the 1950’s. He was two grades ahead of me. The first time I saw him after that was at a fundraising event four decades later sponsored by my brother to raise money for the Will Steger Foundation.
I wanted to have a portrait of Will in his natural habitat north of Ely, Minnesota and was excited when he agreed. When I arrived around noon he was feverishly busy with various building projects at his Center for Global Environmental Education. He was supervising about twenty people engaged in everything from cooking to carpentry. He seemed preoccupied so I said, “Don’t worry about me. I’ll wander around the compound and look for locations for the shoot. You show up when your comfortable that everything is going as you want it to.” It is a gorgeous spot and there is a little lake at its center surrounded by that ancient green stone that formed 2.7 billion years ago.
About two hours later Will Steger showed up quite relaxed given the fires that drive his passions. We got reacquainted and then started taking pictures. As I shot pictures, we talked about our common roots at St. Richards Catholic Church in Richfield and all sort of other things. His family was deeply involved in the church and Will was an altar boy. I was not good material for that role after I became an agnostic in fourth grade while attending St. Richards.
Will is an educator, author, photographer, and lecturer. He is best known as a polar explorer who reached the North Pole in 1986 with a team that included Ann Bancroft. There have been dozens of other expeditions including the South Pole.
His personal library is stacked with books by the explorers who preceded him, including Byrd, Amundsen, Shackleton, Peary and others. Given Will’s incredible accomplishments he certainly has earned a place in their ranks.
President Kennedy talked about “greatness.” He said, “Don’t pray for easy lives, pray to be stronger men…There is work to be done and obligations to be met—obligations to truth...” Will Steger has achieved greatness with his life’s work. This portrait was taken by the lake that sits below his home atop an outcropping of that ancient greenstone.
Early in my career at the Minnesota Capitol a plaque on the wall of a crusty old state senator caught me attention. It read, “The tallest oak is nothing more than a nut that stood its ground.”
The author of that slogan must have been thinking of Tom George, an accomplished pianist and super salesman for things at once sublime, intangible and fleeting. Music exists in the moment and then moves on. Without a performance it is but motionless marks on a piece of paper.
What is remarkable about Tom is what he pulled off beginning more that 30 years ago. He was just out of college with a music degree and playing commercial piano one summer on Madeline Island. It occurred to him that what the island needed was a school to train aspiring string quartet musicians. The island had clearly cast a spell on Tom, as it does to many others, and he felt it was the perfect environment for such a school.
If Tom George had asked me back then what I thought of the prospects for succeeding with such an enterprise on an island situated in Lake Superior with a short summer before a long freeze up I would not have been bullish. To totally comprehend the difficulty posed by this proposition one would have to watch Werner Herzog’s film entitled “Fitzcarraldo.” In that film, a mad man forces his crew to manually haul the 320-ton steamship up a very steep hill in a hot jungle.
Through pure will and hard work there now exists a school for aspiring artists on that island. Madeline Island Chamber Music (MICM) is a nationally renowned school that draws on the best students from every imaginable location, including other countries.
Every year, 48 musicians are selected from a large pool of applicants and 12 string quartets are fashioned by placing students with similar skill levels together. They are given a piece of classical music to work on for five weeks. Each week a different world-class professional string quartet comes to work with them on the piece which exposes students to the very best musicians found anywhere and their varied interpretations of the music. It all culminates with a recital before a local audience.
The list of quartets includes the Shanghai, Ariana, Jupiter, Brooklyn Rider and American. That would be like an aspiring rocker going to a rock and roll school and being tutored by the Beatles, Buddy Holly, and Elvis.
All Tom had to do to pull this off is find students, convince professional musicians to participate, arrange housing for both and food for students as well as transportation. That took money and lots of it. Tom didn’t have much money so he had to find lots of money and somehow, for more than three decades, he did.
Madeline Island Chamber Music now consists of dormitories, a combined kitchen and administrative center, practice rooms and a large venue for concerts. Osmo Vänskä visited the island to help celebrate the 25th anniversary and the 30th was held at Orchestra Hall. Graduates from this program have formed successful Quartets and many play for major orchestras.
Tom George retired a couple of years ago as executive director at MICM. He is still playing and teaching piano. I got to know Tom while working on a documentary about his creation. I then became a member of the board of directors for the school. He is a dear friend with an uproarious sense of humor and a high degree of irreverence for the conventional. Keeping such an enterprise afloat is always a challenge and Tom would often call me for “therapy sessions.” With me he has always been a very unguarded and open person.
This has been a tough year for all non-profits and MICM is no different. The program was temporarily shut down this summer due to Covid-19, but if Tom’s spirit prevails the institution will live on for many years to come. The Board and new executive director are committed to a bright future for the organization.
It has been an unqualified pleasure to serve on the board of MICM and become acquainted with a whole new world of talented and accomplished people who serve out of a love for great music and a commitment to the next generation of classical musicians. Spending time with musicians has been an additional treat.
In this portrait we see Tom just before he introduced a student quartet to a group of potential new donors in the home of one of the school’s more generous patrons.
I met Sharon Day as a result of the documentary I made entitled, “The Wild and Scenic St. Croix.” The interview with her I did for the film and her take on environmental issues and life in general added great value to the effort. I also discovered in the process of developing a friendship that we are both recovering alcoholics who stopped drinking more than four decades ago.
Sharon is not very tall, but she casts a long shadow. She is a powerfully positive force in so many people’s lives. Her message of love, tolerance and respect for the Earth and its inhabitants stands in stark contrast to today’s voices of plunder, greed, hate and the “wealth gospel.”
In her capacity as Executive Director of the Indigenous Peoples Task Force she has devoted herself to improving the quality of life of Native Americans. The programs she has established are rooted in indigenous ways of understanding nature and the values of inclusiveness and respect for diversity. She has created a vision of healing that will benefit all people and our mother earth.
Sharon Day makes things happen. She has raised several million dollars and is now seeking a state matching grant for a new facility for her organization’s many enterprises. The name of the new space will be “Mik-wane-dun Aud-i-soo-kon” which means “remember our teachings” in Ojibwe. The Center will continue the healing traditions that have been passed down through the generations, and provide an urban sanctuary where body, mind, and spirit can become whole through time-honored indigenous culture and practice. She is an accomplished musician and the theater productions offered by her organization are first-rate.
Sharon is a tireless champion for pure air, healthy food, and clean water. Spending any time with her is a spiritually uplifting experience, but that is especially so when one partakes in one of her “water walks.” She integrates her strong commitment to Native American values and spiritualism with a belief in the efficacy of modern science.
Sharon Day lives on a higher spiritual plane than I and I treasure our friendship.
I’m not ordinarily a big sports fan. The only exception being those years my son played hockey in a local league. For some reason Jessie Diggins’ winning the gold medal for cross-country skiing in South Korea in 2018 caught my attention. I’ve watched the end of that race dozens of times, each time with moist eyes. It was a David versus Goliath victory and there was that extraordinary effort, but I was most touched by the scene at the end – the total exhaustion and the joy that radiated from Jessie and her teammate, Kikkan Randall .
Not long after her victory she visited the Minnesota State Capitol for some well-deserved adulation. I was fortunate enough to be invited to be the photographer for the event and spent some time with Diggins and her family. She has the quickest smile I’ve ever seen. Her energy and that contagious smile illuminated every room she entered!
What was most impressive to me that day was the way she interacted with all the girls who came to see their hero. She radiated a genuine warmth and gave her full attention to each young admirer.
Jessie is a missionary who knows that fame can be fleeting, and she intends to use her fame to advance important causes.
As an ambassador for the non-profit organization “Fast and Female,” she works to inspire girls from ages 8–18 to be active and empowered in sports. In this respect she is like the subject of one of my other portraits featuring Ann Bancroft, the polar explorer who has devoted her life to teaching and encouraging girls to dream instead of being typecast in a pre-ordained role.
Diggins is also an ambassador for “Protect Our Winters” whose aim is to advance systemic solutions to climate change through the outdoor sports community.
Finally, she has been open about her own battles with an eating disorder because she wants to be helpful to others dealing with the same problem.
She is one of the most charismatic persons I have ever met. What is special about this portrait is that it catches her in a moment of introspective reverie.
Sen. Dave Durenberger
Former U.S. Senator Dave Durenberger is a product of the progressive wing of the Republican Party that shaped Minnesota history in a forward-looking fashion for 60 years. That era started with Gov. Harold Stassen in 1937 and ended when Gov. Arne Carlson left office in 1998. As a result of that movement Minnesota had civil service reform, conditions in mental hospitals were improved, significant investments were made in public education, the Fiscal Disparities law was enacted, and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency was established along with the Metropolitan Council. Most of these reforms are now the targets of Republican ire.
In 1978 Dave Durenberger was elected to the U. S. Senate. Working with a small bi-partisan group he played a key role in the passage of major clean air legislation. He chaired the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence.
He partnered with Democratic Rep. Bruce Vento to establish the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area; the only national park dedicated to that great river. He is most noted for his many contributions to health care reform made in his capacity as chair of the Health Subcommittee of the Senate Finance Committee. He knew how to work across party lines, did his homework and was persuasive.
A life in politics (and now documentary filmmaking) has afforded me an opportunity to spend time with people who have shaped history. It was, in fact, the documentary I made about the Mississippi River that made my friendship with Durenberger possible.
Today’s Republican Party bears no resemblance to the party that elected him to statewide office three times. Dave now considers himself and independent.
This picture was taken one morning at Nina’s Café in St. Paul. We were just chatting one day when I noticed how blue his eyes were and how his blue shirt magnified their blueness. I asked him to turn toward the light and here is the result.
Dave Durenberger is a good man who accomplished much. He is the only Republican running for statewide office I have ever voted for, though I almost voted for Arne Carlson when he ran for governor in 1990.
Last summer, Ana Alajbeg was working at a restaurant in Trogir, Croatia. She came into my life at very trying moment during an otherwise magnificent trip to Croatia. The day before we were to return to Minnesota, I had a couple of vexing experiences. First, I dropped my camera on a marble walkway and heavily damaged my favorite lens. Then later that evening wife Gloria and I had dinner with my brother and his wife at an outdoor café on the Trogir waterfront. It was dark, the tablecloth was black and so was my wallet. When I awoke the next morning in my hotel room, I realized I had left my wallet on the table at the café!
Gloria and I were scheduled to fly to Paris in just a few hours. I raced back to the restaurant and asked this young woman, who had reported to work early, if she had seen my wallet. She hadn’t but told me that the café next door, where I had been at the evening before, would not open for another half hour. I walked nervously around the medieval town for the next thirty minutes and returned.
When I did, she flagged me down to tell me she had found my wallet and took me to where it had been tucked away for safe keeping. I startled her a little when I exclaimed, “I love you!”
Everything was there. I tried to thank her with a big tip. She would have none of it. Having failed to reward her financially I raced off to a local market and bought her the flowers she is holding in this picture. Her smile was yet another reward for me. I posted the story on Facebook and it went viral and three Croatian news services picked up the story.
Ana tells me (I imagine with a degree of hyperbole) that we are now both famous in Croatia and she said the Mayor of Trogir gave her a special commendation for her good deed. I can’t help but hold a special spot in my heart for Ana for all the misery she saved me from by giving me a helping hand.
We’ve kept in touch ever since and are now sharing information on the impact of the coronavirus on our respective countries.
Kami Mendlik is a nationally renowned landscape painter. Her list of awards and recognitions runs several pages on her resume. In 2008 she established the St. Croix School of Painting in Stillwater where she teaches the fundamentals of landscape painting. What is most amazing is her brilliant command of color. She is, in fact, the author of a book about color relativity.
I’ve been a fan of her painting for a long time and my wife and I have begun collecting her works.
When I made my documentary about the St. Croix River to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, I wanted the voices of artists in the film. I interviewed Kami in her studio north of Stillwater and her comments about the river became an integral part of the documentary which premiered on TPT in June of 2018.
Out of gratitude for her generous contributions to the film I offered my services to her as a photographer. Last year she took me up on my offer when she needed a new headshot for her website. The photograph you see here is not her official headshot. When we were satisfied that we had several good shots for the website I asked if she would be willing to let me take a “biographical” portrait of her for a show I was planning. She agreed and this portrait is the result. The life of an artist is not easy. The expression on Kami’s face is that of a smart, determined and sophisticated businesswoman who has had to deal with her fair share of difficulties. She has a lot of courage and initiative and is, above all else, a great artist and a brilliant colorist.
Tom Reiter and I have lived in the same Afton neighborhood for more than two decades but we did not really get to know one another until about five years ago when we started up a conversation at the counter in the Roseville National Camera store.
So many of the big projects in which I’ve engaged in during the last five years would not have been possible without the collaboration that grew out of that chance encounter. He is a photographer, a videographer, a licensed drone pilot and a generous man to boot.
We’ve had all kinds of adventures since, including filming a string quartet, doing a documentary about a music camp for string quartet musicians, and national parks. During those times, he’s smashed up two drones in my presence and I lost a camera in the Namakagon River. We’ve paddled some beautiful rivers.
Tom is an attorney who started out his legal career as a public defender and ended it as a highly successful real estate attorney. He and his wife are “foodies” and Tom is a physical fitness fanatic who runs every day.
Since he retired, Tom’s devoted a lot of his time and energies to numerous important causes. The list is too long to mention, but he has recently focused on environmental causes.
During this pandemic one of the things I miss are our morning chats over coffee. I know the “shelter in place” requirement must be difficult for Tom and his wife as they love traveling the world.
This portrait is revealing. His choice of that tee shirt was intentional. He is seated at the wheel of his 1967 VW bus, the rare 21 window version. He took many years to restore the bus and was put out when someone offered him a lot of money so they could chop it up to make some kind of food truck out of it! The fact that the windshields (two panels) can be opened by pulling them up and out made this picture possible. He’s a great guy and a good friend.
Josie has a storied history in civil rights that began at age 14 with a campaign to repeal the poll tax then in effect in Texas. She later worked for the Urban League as a community organizer in Minneapolis and fought for fair housing and against discrimination in employment. She played a role in organizing Minnesota’s contingent to the March on Washington in 1963. The following year she risked her life by participating in the Freedom Summer movement that took protesters into the deep South in caravans of buses. In 2008, as a delegate to the National Convention, she had the thrill of nominating Barack Obama as the first African American nominee of Democratic Party.
My first encounter with Josie occurred in 1971 as the legislature was choosing between several candidates for the University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents. One of the candidates was an African American civil rights activist named Josie Johnson. The contest for an open seat pitted Johnson against banking mogul Hal Greenwood. Greenwood was the favorite of the very thin Republican majority that then controlled the legislature. The Democratic leadership favored civil rights activist Johnson and worked out a secret deal with a small cabal of disaffected Republicans. They promised every Democratic vote for Loanne Thrane, the candidate of a small and sullen band of upset Republicans, in exchange for five Republican votes for Josie Johnson. The votes of the joint convention at first went up on the board as expected but at the last minute, all the Democrats switched their votes to Thrane and five Republicans switched to Johnson shocking the Republican leadership and Hal Greenwood who thought he had the Regents seat in the bag. Thus, Josie Johnson became the first African American Woman member of the Board of Regents. Hal Greenwood, on the other hand, was indicted a couple of years later for bank fraud and served time in a federal penitentiary.
When I met Josie to discuss the portrait we spoke at length. She told me about the book she has just published entitled Hope in the Struggle. She said she wrote it to answer the question so many young African Americans ask, “How do you maintain hope?” Her book is an inspiring story about maintaining hope in these contentious and often ugly times.
This portrait reflects her concern about the direction the country has taken.
Robin McDowell and Mike Rezendes
If ever there was a better time to honor the work of journalists I don’t know when that might have been. Their profession is under fire on three fronts. Changes in the economics of newspapers have eviscerated their traditional sources of revenue and there is an orchestrated attack by the far right that is undermining their efforts to keep the public informed. If all that isn’t enough Americans now cherry pick their news sources and therefore daily reinforce, rather than challenge, their assumptions.
It is a big deal when one of your neighbors wins a Pulitzer Prize for journalism. Afton resident Robin McDowell won her Pulitzer in 2016 for her remarkable investigation of the fishing industry in Southeast Asia. The work of Robin and her team of very brave journalists ultimately freed 2,000 slaves and traced the seafood they caught to supermarkets and pet food stores across the United States. Their story opened a door that allowed the world to see a very dark side of humanity; an industry that demanded grueling 20-hour days, paid little or no money and whipped their victims with stingray tails.
Robin and her team discovered an actual slave island and risked their lives to film captives at night. They hid in the back of trucks to monitor the illicit activities of the perpetrators of these crimes against humanity and were chased by enforcers in a speedboat and nearly rammed. Robin has led an adventurous life as an AP reporter with assignments that have allowed her to live and work all over the world.
When we met to discuss this portrait project I asked if I could visit her home to scope out a location. At her house I met her significant other, Michael Rezendes. Mike was the lead writer for the Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” investigative reporting team that did the massive expose of child molestation and cover up in the Catholic Church. Their work won the Boston Globe a well-deserved Pulitzer Prize in 2003. The series they wrote forced the Church to confess its own sins and resulted in big settlements for the victims of the abuse. Cardinal Bernard Law, who led the Boston Archdiocese, was forced to resign. A first-rate film entitled “Spotlight” was made about their efforts and actor Mark Ruffalo played the role of Mike Rezendes. I will close with a quote by publisher Joseph Pulitzer: “Our Republic and its press will rise and fall together.” He was right and we are living in dangerous time. Long live the free press!
Both of these individuals deserve a full-page bio, but they wanted to be pictured together and I have honored their wish - great human beings doing especially important work.
If I had ever made a film about a labor leader central casting would have sent me Dave Roe. He was as tough as a bunkhouse steak. His default facial expression was that of someone about to storm a barricade. I don’t know if he ever even lit the cigars he chewed on perpetually.
Roe served as president of the Minnesota AFL-CIO from 1966 to 1984 and was a powerful figure at the State Capitol and in the struggles of working men and women for good wages and safe working conditions. He had well-deserved reputation for being gruff and didn’t shy away from disagreement.
He spent a dozen years as a member of the University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents where he was a sometimes controversial force. He was a frequent critic of embattled President Kenneth Keller and stated publicly that Keller would likely be forced to quit after an audit questioned the $1.5 million spent to redecorate the president’s official residence.
Dave Roe had a gut-level sensibility about the working people he represented. They trusted him and that is the reason he successfully led the AFL-CIO for so long.
It was easy to be intimidated by this man, but for those of us who got to know him he was a soft touch with a big heart and a devoted family man who deeply loved his children and wife Audrey for the 70 years they shared.
Most revealing about the man’s devotion to working people was his long effort, after retiring from the AFL-CIO, to create a labor interpretive center. He was disheartened after Gov. Jesse Ventura line-item vetoed money for the project.
Never one to accept defeat he ultimately succeeded and today we have a Workers Memorial Garden at the State Capitol, honoring the state’s laborers.
This picture was taken on the day of the ribbon cutting at the Garden he worked so long and so hard to create. It captures his hard edge and determination but conceals his warmth. He died not too many months after this picture was taken.
On January 6, 1971, newly elected State Senator Roger Moe arrived at the Minnesota Capitol to start a career that spanned 32 years. He came from a very rural area in the northwest corner of the state. He didn’t have electricity at his farm home until he was in grade school. When electricity came, he described how the family stayed up half that night making toast with the new toaster his mother had won at a bank raffle. Indoor plumbing would come later.
The 1970’s were an exciting and tumultuous time to be involved in politics and a period of dramatic change. The day his first session started, as he pulled into his assigned parking spot in front of the Capitol, a sergeant approached him and shouted “Hey kid, you can’t park there--that spot is reserved for senators!” Moe said, “But I am a senator.” The sergeant took another look at the 27-year-old, shook his head, and walked away.
The “Liberals” were in the minority during his first year in the Senate, but that changed when they took control of both bodies of the legislature for the first time in 114 years in the 1972 election. There was a lot of pent up demand for action. The newly elected Democratic governor was 37-year-old Wendell Anderson; a charismatic public speaker and a hockey star who played on the United States team that came in second to the Soviet Union in the 1960 Winter Olympics.
Moe was selected as majority leader by his caucus in 1981 and remained in that position for 22 years. As a state leader he led an historic transformation in state policy. I doubt there are a half dozen majority leaders who have lasted that long at the top in the last 230 years in any state in America.
There are many special qualities in this man. In his personal finances he knows that if you watch the pennies and nickels that the dollars will follow. He can’t leave a room without turning out the light and he drove his cars into the ground. One of his Buicks had 350,000 miles on it before his wife, Paulette, convinced him he needed a car with air conditioning that worked. That cautious approach to money, when applied to his work at the Capitol, meant that he was always inclined to take the punch bowl away from the party before it got out of hand – a benefit to taxpayers.
He ran for governor in 2002 and lost. The voters passed on a man who would have been one of Minnesota’s greatest governors.
Christina Carleton is the Executive Director of Norway House. I met Christina several years ago when she was spending time at the Minnesota Capitol leading Norway House’s effort to secure a state bonding match for the major expansion then on the drawing board. The portrait of Gov. Mark Dayton that is part of this collection was taken during a meeting in which she convinced him to support the project. She was successful that day and Norway House has met the match and will be moving forward with the project this Fall. I am told that the Norwegian Consulate will be moving into the new space when it is completed. Christina has made a career of capacity building with a number of non-profit organizations.
Carleton once served as Honorary Vice Consul Norwegian Consulate General and was an Officer at the Royal Norwegian Consulate General. She is widely traveled including a stint at the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Albania where one of her duties was reporting on human trafficking in the Balkans. Christina has acquired varying degrees of proficiency in at least five languages. From what I have heard she was also once a highly competitive athlete with medals to prove it.
She has served on a number of non-profit boards including Vinland National Center and the Edvard Grieg Society. As major fan of the music of Edvard Grieg I am impressed. I even visited Grieg’s grave when staying in Oslo in 2018.
For all of the reasons stated above I wanted Christina to be a part of my collection of “Interesting People I Have Met.” We decided to have a little fun with her portrait. When looking at her picture, imagine a harried Executive Director of a non-profit navigating that organization through a pandemic while operating out of her home and with the help of two young children. She has a major building project in the works and a Syttende Mai celebration in the midst of a “shelter in place” order from the governor. With all this in mind I asked her to pose sitting on a table in the currently empty Norway House building with her legs crossed and relaxing with a cup of coffee. I wanted her to imagine a moment of peace in in a time of madness. I then super-imposed her image on a tranquil scene featuring one of Norway’s storied fiords. So my question to you is did you figure out it was photoshopped before I told you?
Clyde Bellecourt’s Ojibwe name is, Nee-gon-we-way-we-dun, which translates to “Thunder Before the Storm.” His name was a portent of what was to come. Bellecourt was a civil rights organizer and the co-founder, along with Russell Means and George Mitchell, of the American Indian Movement (AIM) in 1968. The purpose of the movement was to raise awareness about issues American Indians faced and look for solutions to problems with police harassment, discrimination, poor housing and unemployment.
Bellecourt was born in 1937 on the White Earth Reservation which was the largest and poorest band in Minnesota. He was the seventh of 12 children. He attended a strictly run reservation school where the primary mission was to take the “Indian out of the Indian.” He has had several run-ins with the law over the years including burglaries, robberies and drug sales. He’s done a couple of stints in prison, but it would be a great injustice to judge him only for his mistakes. He evolved from the indignities and privations of youth and altercations with the law into a champion for equal rights for Native Americans.
When AIM was established it began to monitor arrests of American Indians made by local police departments to ensure fair treatment and preserve dignity. They took on corruption in Bureau of Indian Affairs and poor living conditions on reservations. In 1973 he and others occupied Wounded Knee and U.S. Marshalls soon surrounded the town. The siege lasted 71 days. Two native activists were killed, and one federal agent was shot and paralyzed. Bellecourt negotiated an end to the occupation and he and Russell Means ultimately met with representatives of the President Nixon about their grievances.
I remember seeing Clyde and Russell Means many times at the Eagles Club that was located near the Capitol back in the early 1970s when AIM was at the height of its militancy. I admire people who fight for their rights and Clyde is one of those people who took big risks and went to lengths to secure fair treatment for his people.
This portrait of Bellecourt at age 83 is one of my favorites. It captures his intensity, devotion to his cause and his durability despite his battle with cancer.
President Bill Clinton
During the 2012 presidential campaign, when Mitt Romney challenged Obama, I got a phone call from the Obama campaign. I assumed they wanted me to write another check but was pleasantly surprised when the campaign asked if I would be willing to take pictures at an intimate fundraising event in a private home featuring former President Bill Clinton. It was a very high-end event and I agreed immediately.
I had to sign a contract promising to never divulge a single word that was uttered by the president that afternoon and I would not be able to use any of the photos for my own purposes because they belonged to the campaign. As it turned out, Clinton was essentially practicing the speech he gave at the Humphrey-Mondale dinner later that day (it was a great speech). And since the campaign broke the contract by never paying me, I have since used the pictures in any manner I see fit.
I showed up early on the day of the event to scope out the house and grounds. An hour later, when the Clinton entourage was about to arrive all the patrons assembled outside were told to go inside by the Secret Service. I stayed outside thinking that since I was the official photographer for the event I could exempt myself from an order of the Secret Service. The Secret Service had other ideas. When I asked why, the agent explained that if Clinton stopped and started talking to me, he would keep everyone inside waiting for “who knew how long.”
My instructions were that Clinton did not want to pose for individual shots with the donors because that would eat up too much time. So, I did my best to catch the handshakes with the contributors on the fly. As it turned out, it wasn’t the folks who paid the big bucks that got individual pictures with Bill Clinton. It was instead the catering folks in the kitchen, a campaign staffer, the hosts, me and dozens of neighbors waiting outside to learn why three large black Chevy Suburbans were parked in front of their neighbor’s home. Despite being already late for his next engagement Clinton spent 20 more minutes talking and posing for pictures with the crowd outside.
Minnesota Senator Melisa López Franzen
Melisa López Franzen made an early impression on me because her story is compelling. She is a native of Puerto Rico who ran for the Minnesota State Senate as a Democrat in the once rock-ribbed Republican bastion of Edina. She defeated a GOP state representative and one-time GOP chair whose outward persona could have kept mayonnaise cool at a 4th of July picnic. I’m sure he assumed when he filed for the open State Senate seat that it would be his for the taking. She won and she won again four years later in 2016.
Franzen grew up and was educated in bilingual Puerto Rican schools. She attended the InterAmerican University of Puerto Rico and graduated in 2001 with a B.A. in political science. She was an excellent student who graduated from college in less than three years. She came to the United States mainland at age 21 for graduate studies at the Humphrey Institute and then completed law school at the University of Minnesota.
Her family and relatives still live on the island and between the hurricanes and Covid-19 it has been a difficult time for them. When Hurricane Maria hit the island in 2017 it completely wiped out electricity and communications which meant it took ten days for Melisa to learn that her family had survived the ordeal. She has subsequently been involved in the relief effort in the aftermath of the storm.
Fast-forward to 2020…at the legislature Franzen concentrates on health care issues. She is worried about a system that is so tied to insurance provided by an employer now that millions are losing their jobs and their health insurance. She believes we need a system that serves everyone, regardless of income and race. She told me that we “can’t afford to waste this crisis. We must make changes in the health care delivery system.”
In addition to her legislative duties, Melisa is the President and Co-Founder of New Publica, a full-service public relations firm working with clients from every sector ranging from corporations to nonprofits and everything in between.
Melisa and her husband, Nathan, who she met when they were both graduate assistants at the Humphrey Institute, have two children.
Given her energy, charm, intelligence, and ambition, I wouldn’t be surprised if Melisa Franzen ends up in the U. S. Senate someday.
Osmo Antero Vänskä
My “Walter Mitty” fantasy would be to conduct a major orchestra. The fact that I can’t read sheet music and can only play a stereo has been something of an impediment to my dream. I have always thought being a conductor and leading a world class orchestra would be the most fulfilling job in the world.
I was therefore thrilled in 2015 when Osmo Vänskä, the internationally renowned Artistic Director for the Minnesota Orchestra, agreed to let me interview him for a project I was then working on. I asked his assistant if I should refer to him as “Maestro” and was told that “Osmo” would suffice.
He was a very gracious with his time and seemed just a bit shy at first. I’d like to think he warmed to the interview because he liked the questions I was asking, especially when we talked about the importance of the arts and humanities in a world fraught with tension and with too little time for reflection.
This is what he said:
“I have seen so many examples where people are sharing their feelings and it’s a kind of therapy. And I think music could heal a lot of bad feelings when something happened on a larger scale.”
He is concerned that every time budgets get tight the first cuts are in the arts.
He has done much to enhance the reputation of the Minnesota Orchestra and a Grammy Award for an album of Sibelius symphonies underscores that point.
What impressed me as much as his skill as a conductor was that he stood with the musicians during the lengthy labor dispute in 2013 when he announced his resignation as artistic director after management locked out the musicians. Soon thereafter management and labor came to an agreement and Vänskä returned.
His tenure in Minnesota will soon end, and I for one will greatly miss him.
One other interesting fact about this man that would seem out of place for an orchestra conductor is that one of his hobbies is riding motorcycles!
Mayor Kim Norton
My first encounter with Kim Norton was after I was selected as lobbyist for Rochester Public Schools in 2001. She was active in the PTA at that time and thought the expenditure on lobbying was wasteful. She decided to come to the Capitol and follow me around for a day to prove her point. She must have changed her mind because she was supportive of my work from that point forward, which was fortunate because she soon ran for the school board and ultimately became its chair!
In 2006 Kim ran for the legislature and won. During her decade in the House I developed a deep respect for her values, integrity, independence and clear thinking. She was not afraid to take on complex and controversial issues. Hundreds of people in Minnesota are alive today because of her success passing the mandatory seatbelt law. We became close friends over the years, but that didn’t stop her from refusing to vote for a bill just because I was pushing if she didn’t agree with me on the issue.
Toward the end of her career in the legislature she was awarded a Bush Fellowship and focused her research on successful efforts by local governments in other parts of the country and world to advance alternative energy strategies.
Kim Norton is now the Mayor of Rochester where she is putting her energy, vision and experience to work for Minnesota’s third largest city.
I introduced Kim to kayaking at the end of one particularly enervating session of the legislature about 12 years ago. She loved it and in the intervening years we have paddled many Minnesota rivers and lakes. On one occasion we took on the Cannon River after a major downpour. It had been posted by the county sheriff with a warning that the water was dangerous. That afternoon we surged past canoes that had been wrapped completely around trees and lots of debris. We were young and foolish then.
This stealth portrait was taken during a break in the action while doing a photo shoot of her for her 2010 campaign for the House. This picture shows her in a moment of reflection between shots.
President Barack Obama
This picture of President Barack Obama was taken on February 27, 2014 during a visit to Minnesota. The purpose of his visit was to promote a much needed $600 million transportation package designed to fix roads and bridges and build up the nation’s mass transit infrastructure. It is interesting to contrast the tone and message of Obama’s rallies, which were designed to promote initiatives and reforms, with that of the current occupant at the White House’s rallies where the focus of his venom is on minorities, immigrants, dismissal of science, the deep state and the media.
He was in town to see both the new Green Line and the recently refurbished Union Depot. We can hope the Depot will someday be the major transportation hub it once was and is envisioned to be in the future. Only a couple years earlier this glorious architectural marvel sat abandoned with its windows either broken or shuttered and overrun with pigeons.
I got my ticket to the event from a kindly Republican county commissioner who knew I would be far more excited about a chance to meet President Obama than he would.
I met Destiny Martinez about a decade ago at a local Dunn Brothers where she worked as a barista. It soon became apparent that lots of customers were coming in everyday not only for the boost they got from caffeine, but also for the lift they got from Destiny’s warmth and energy; qualities powerfully transmitted through her luminescent coffee-brown eyes and big smile.
When we first met she was attending high school. Along the way, she got a business degree from a state university in Wisconsin and married a great guy named Juan who works as a civil engineer. A decade later they have produced three adorable children. By profession today she is in real estate though she still regularly visits that same Dunn Brothers Coffee shop to roast beans.
More impressive than her winsome personality and striking eyes is her curious mind; one coupled with honed critical thinking skills and a strong tendency to question group thinking and conventional wisdom.
Destiny has also appeared in two of my documentaries. She brought my St. Croix River film project good luck. On the day we were to shoot the gondola scene in Stillwater in mid-October the sky was gray and a light drizzle was falling as we pulled out from the dock. A minute later the clouds on the horizon broke and the clouds overhead turned orange and crimson. It was perfect.
This pose, with the vintage French helmet, was inspired by the recent release of the film, “1917.”
Sen. Matt Klein
If I could salute Minnesota’s health care workers the way I want I would tip the wings of a F-22 Raptor as I flew low and loud over Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC). Having ruled out that option I have chosen a more conventional means and one for which I am better qualified. In saluting one person who is serving on the front lines of this war with a deadly virus I hope to salute indirectly all who are risking their lives to save our lives.
I met Matt Klein in the summer of 2016 when he was first running for the Minnesota State Senate seat that opened upon the retirement of Jim Metzen. He was smart, sincere, and direct and made a favorable impression.
Matt received his medical degree as an internist through the Mayo Clinic program back in 1993. Today he is practicing medicine as a “hospitalist” which means he works exclusively in a hospital and doesn’t have to split his time between a clinic and a hospital. For some reason, perhaps for freedom of action, he prefers the night shift at HCMC where he is both admitting and treating patients afflicted by Covid-19.
He says the pandemic has had a “revolutionary” impact on the way health care is provisioned and is forcing changes that in many cases should have been made 10 years ago. One example he gave was how telemedicine is changing the landscape—"you no longer have to take half a day off work and sit in a waiting room to see a doctor and there is thus less exposure to disease.”
The pandemic changed everything at HCMC and many other hospitals overnight and it’s adversely impacting their normal revenue streams. People are postponing routine procedures, delaying physicals and ignoring chest pains and the like. Even the emergency rooms became much quieter for a while. Less driving meant less trauma patients and fear of the contagion meant even less gunshot wounds and stabbings. Another negative aspect is that the wearing of masks, gowns, gloves and shields has had a de-personalizing effect on health care delivery that is hard for some patients.
More troubling to Matt is how seemingly smart people in the Legislature and elsewhere are ignoring the threat posed by the virus just like they are denying climate change. He commends Gov. Walz for shutting down early, “Walz got it right,” he says. Despite that aggressive approach, HCMC and other hospitals “were on the cusp of a situation just like Italy experienced only two weeks ago,” he says. Since then, thankfully, the situation has started to improve, but for how long now that everything is opening up?
More than 2000 health care workers in Minnesota have so far been stricken with the Corona virus. Klein says that he took the Hippocratic oath and is well paid for his sacrifices, but he worries about the people who are getting $12.50 an hour for taking the same risks. He feels they deserve more. He also observed that it has been interesting to see how co-workers react under the stress of a pandemic. “Some are showing the signs of stress while others thrive in a combat-like environment that allows leaders to emerge.”
Then there is Matt Klein the state senator. He doesn’t talk unless he has something to say and he doesn’t ramble on. When he does speak, he informs. He likes to dig into the gist of the subject and is not an attention seeker. When Gov. Dayton collapsed during his last State of the State address it was Doctor Klein who was first on the scene to treat him, but it was someone else who raced to the media for the limelight.
In an age when primitive forces are on the rise Matt Klein clings to the spirit of the Enlightenment. He believes in reason and science and applies those principles to his work at the Capitol. In that sense he is emblematic of the health care profession as a whole and today we should all salute the profession for its continuing valor on the battlefield as this war wages on.
Ann Bancroft’s polar expeditions are as much about her desire to teach and inspire the next generation as they are about being the first to accomplish great feats.
The title of Ann’s book about the crossing Antarctica, (co-authored with Liv Arnesen) is No Horizon Is So Far. In the book she quotes a favorite phrase borrowed from female aviator Beryl Markham’s book, West with the Night.
“I learned to wander. I learned what every dreaming child needs to know—that no horizon is so far that you cannot get above it or beyond it.”
In 2001, when Ann and fellow explorer Liv Arnesen skied across the continent of Antarctica, the use of advanced technology made it possible for more than three million students in sixty-five countries to follow their progress in real time via website transmissions and satellite phone calls. Students around the world thus learned about the potential of the human spirit and received great lessons on the geography and changing climate of a remote part of the planet.
Indicative of Ann’s commitment to teaching was her choice of the Clara Barton Open School in Minneapolis as the site for her portrait. She wanted to return because that is where she was teaching physical education in 1986 when she decided to join Will Steger’s dog sled expedition across the North Pole. Almost immediately after we arrived at the school, Ann disappeared for about 20 minutes. It turned out that she and the principal had run off on a nostalgia tour of the building.
Ann Bancroft is the first woman to cross the ice to both the North and South poles. If all this isn’t enough in one lifetime, The Ann Bancroft Foundation empowers girls to imagine something bigger and helps them reach their full potential.
Ann’s tremendous drive is evident in her accomplishments, but it is her warmth and lack of affectation that come through in our meetings and in this portrait.
I look forward to keeping our budding friendship warm and alive.
Three years ago it wasn’t hard for me to spot Francine Kaminsky (married name Anderson) in a line outside the Sea Salt restaurant by Minnehaha Falls. I asked if I could take her picture and she smiled and said yes. I told her I’d be happy to supply her with a copy of the picture if she wanted and that is how our friendship began.
We soon found one another on Facebook and I learned that we both had many opinions and that the opinions we had were shared. She “liked” what I posted, and I “liked” what she posted. From her posts I learned that she was an independent businesswoman with a shop in Apple Valley which goes by the name “JustFrancine.” She is a math major with a biology minor who is now a licensed cosmetologist specializing in, amongst many other things, waxing.
As the impact of the pandemic on small businesses became clearer, I contacted Francine to see how she, her significant other and five children are doing. She said she had just reopened and that it has been a slow start--so if you are looking for some help in the cosmetology department give JustFrancine a call.
Francine is a Canadian who moved to the United States from Winnipeg 25 years ago. Her children were born here. As a green card holder there are paperwork requirements, like having to return to Canada periodically to preserve your status. She’s had to spend many thousands of dollars over the years on immigration lawyers to accomplish this. On one occasion an inept attorney gave her incomplete paperwork for one of her required trips north to preserve her green card status. She had left her four children with an overnight babysitter so she could just fly up and back. She was also nursing a newborn baby at the time that she had brought with her. The attorney’s incompetence meant she ended up stuck in Canada for several days, and at great extra expense. Francine said, “I’m white and I’m Canadian. I can only imagine what would have happened to me and my children if I wasn’t white?” Notwithstanding this and other vexations, Francine plans to pursue U. S. citizenship at some point in the future.
Recently, we were comparing notes on our Facebook posts. I pointed out that some members of my family were ready to throw a net over me because, in their opinion, I have been obsessing on Trump and Trumpism. Francine took my side and said, “this is not the time to be posting pictures of cats and recipes—big things are happening!” Francine does her best to keep up with current events and loves to read historical novels. “I want more than just romance, she said, I want to learn something about history.” She also has an interest in Greek and especially Egyptian history as her tattoos strongly suggest!
This portrait captures her warmth and zest for life. She has a beautiful smile and arresting eyes and, in just case you didn’t notice, blue hair.
One of the most successful Minnesota lobbyists of a generation is Jerry Seck. If you had a complex and controversial project, like getting state support for the Mall of America, you would want him in your corner. He pulled off an impressive array of big wins with a style that was all his own. At some point in his career Jerry doffed his fancy suits and donned instead fly-fishing shirts for his official Capitol uniform.
He has never lit in one spot for more than a nano second. He did a stint in the Peace Corps on some remote island in the South Pacific. He was a legal aid attorney in Bemidji before he ended up at the Larkin Hoffman Law Firm. When he’s not lobbying you’ll find him traveling to some exotic spot or riding his bike or putting on a big event in his home with lots of delicious food with his wife Candice.
In 1990 Jerry was instrumental in establishing Vinland National Center in Loretto, Minnesota. Modeled after a successful program in Norway the Center provides drug, alcohol and gambling addiction treatment for individuals with brain injuries and cognitive impairments.
One of the very special things he created was an intern program for Norwegian law students. Each year for the last 25 years a law student enrolled in a Norwegian law school would come to Minnesota and stay with Jerry and his wife Candice for several months to learn how the legal system works in the United States. He brought interns to the legislature, to the courts, and to the jails. He had them visit with and stay with judges. Two years ago, he threw a big bash with all almost every former intern (now all successful lawyers) in Oslo and I got invited to take pictures at the event.
That same year Harald V, King of Norway presented Jerry with the Saint Olaf Medal for the great work he had done in fostering good relations between the two countries and for assisting Norway’s legal profession. This is a picture of him at the time the medal was awarded.
In January of 1980, this woman was a new hire at the Minnesota State Capitol. My reaction was a mix of curiosity and desire. Her name was Gloria Gunville and she had her own personality and unique style of dress that set her off from others. I took many furtive glances at her in the coming months as she walked about the Capitol. She didn’t seem at all interested in my interest in her.
That summer, I spotted Gloria and her sister walking through my neighborhood near the Capitol and invited both up “to see my etchings.” Gloria seemed much more impressed by my roommate and completely ignored me, but her sister was attentive.
Months passed. I left my job at the Minnesota Senate and took a job in the private sector. Early in 1981 there was a retirement party for an old friend at the Capitol and I went. Gloria was at that event and we struck up a conversation for the first time and that was all the encouragement I needed. I called her a couple of days later and asked her out on a date. Just to make sure she couldn’t claim that she was busy, I made the date three weeks out. Fortunately, she couldn’t come up with a good excuse so she said yes. After agreeing to the date, she decided to do some research about me and asked several people who had worked with me during the prior decade what she might expect. Most women warned her that I had a “reputation” and to be careful. One said she thought I would be fun.
We went to the Guthrie on our first date and saw MacBeth. It was Friday the thirteenth. I knew I was racking up points when she offered me the use of her lip gloss for my chapped lips during the intermission.
We’ve now been together for just about 40 years and we have had two children and two grandchildren. She immediately took to my two children by a previous marriage. I’m so happy that I never gave up my pursuit. We share values and see the world and those that inhabit it in the same way. We still have much to talk about and love to travel together. She is a very smart psychology major who uses intermittent reinforcement to manage my behavior. By now you likely have figured out that we are married and still in love after all these years.
During the last 50 years any time an action was taken that resulted in cleaner air or water, or the preservation of some land or a river, or the creation of a new park, it is likely that Peter Gove had a hand in it.
Gove’s first big career break came when he became Gov. Wendell Anderson’s environmental assistant in the early 1970’s. Soon he was appointed by Anderson to head the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. He was only 27 years old. When Anderson went to the U. S. Senate in 1976, Gove went with him. He served next as the Chief of the Office of Legislation for the National Park Service.
In 1988 he received the Department of Interior’s Public Service Award for his work in support of the creation of a new national park on the Mississippi River -the only park devoted solely to honoring and protecting that storied river. The park was created because of legislation authored by Republican U. S. Senator Dave Durenberer and Democratic Representative Bruce Vento. Because of their efforts, we now have a 72-mile-long metro segment of that river, stretching from Dayton in the northwest suburbs to Hastings in the Southeast end of the Twin Cities, as a part of the national park system. It’s called the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (MNRRA).
Rivers need advocates. Peter was the principal founder of Friends of the Mississippi River, a non-profit dedicated to the protection and restoration of the river. A little more than a decade ago he played a key role in the transformation of the St. Croix River Association into a strong advocacy group that is making a difference as the pressures from development and invasive species grow.
Gove is unexcelled in his ability to organize, motivate and get things done. He has also been a generous financial contributor to his causes. What is most remarkable is that he goes about his important work very quietly – never seeking attention for himself. I am fond of saying that “he fans the air with his invisible wings and things start happening.”
This portrait of Peter was taken at Walter Mondale’s cabin on the St. Croix River a couple of years ago when the two of them were plotting ways to protect that river.
I met Cassidy Freeman several years ago at an event celebrating the 90th birthday of the woman who had served as the nanny to and her two brothers for many years and thus became a beloved family member. The nanny’s name was Ida and she is a lively and very direct African American woman who had come north in the Great Migration. She told me that racism was very much alive in Chicago in those early days, but in a more subtle form.
The party was held at a ranch outside of Livingston, Montana and it was at that event I learned Cassidy was one of the stars in the Longmire series on Netflix. She played the sheriff’s daughter and as the series progressed her role grew as her great talent as an actress was recognized.
I had been unaware of the series but soon thereafter became a big fan of Longmire, a contemporary western set in Wyoming. I like the series so much that during the pandemic I am watching it for the third time. I have a Native American friend (Sharon Day who is also featured in this series of portraits) who loves the series because it honors native traditions and because it has given American Indians leading roles in the series.
Freeman is currently starring in the “Righteous Gemstones,” a highly irreverent satire about corrupt televangelists. It is very well done and quite timely! Her other credits include, Smallville, CSI, the award-winning Razor Sharp and many other film and television productions.
Her father and mother were prominent anti-trust lawyers based in Chicago and their large family cattle ranch in Montana is named in honor of one of her father’s successful anti-trust lawsuits. The sign at the entrance reads, “Master Lock” on a board cut in the shape of a key.
Cassidy is also a pianist and a singer and part of a family band called “The Real D’Coy.” She devotes time to worthy causes including an environmental organization and has tutored kids in the Santa Monica area.
This picture was taken at a holiday party at the Master Lock Ranch about three years ago. The ambient colors generated by the lighting in the room and the late afternoon sun compliment Cassidy’s coloration and capture the warmth of the event and her family. What the portrait doesn’t show is her trademark brilliant blue-green eyes.
Pat Coleman is an unsung hero who has devoted his professional career to acquiring and preserving critical works of literature, histories, letters, maps and just about anything else you can imagine. His title is “librarian” and he has worked for the Minnesota Historical Society (MHS) for more than four decades. The humble title is misleading; he’s more like an “Indiana Jones” for all his travels around the country to track down precious antiquities. He told me he won’t retire until he acquires a very rare 1925 first edition (with an intact dust jacket) of “The Great Gatsby” for the MHS. That won’t be easy because such a rare prize would cost around $250,000. He raises the vast bulk of the money used for these acquisitions from generous donors he has cultivated who have an eye on posterity.
Pat once took me on a tour of the back rooms of the collection and showed me the 1683 first edition of Father Louis Hennepin’s account of his travels up the Mississippi River. It is just one of thousands of treasures he has had a hand in acquiring.
In a recent article about his work Coleman spoke about another unique piece he acquired. He was referring to the original copy of the 1858 “Treaty of Washington.” That was the treaty in which the Yankton Sioux surrendered under duress more than 11 million acres in exchange for a 400,000-acre reservation. He talked about the poignancy of signatures of the chiefs and delegates with names like “A-ha-ka-ho-che-cha,” and “The Elk with a Bad Voice.” “They gave up their way of life by signing that treaty,” he said.
Pat is the older brother of former St. Paul Mayor, Chris Coleman and the son of another Minnesota great, Nicholas Coleman who was the Democratic Senate Majority Leader during the 1970’s, a time some call the second progressive era.
I had the great good fortune to serve as chief of staff to Sen. Coleman back then and Pat and I have been “brothers from different mothers” ever since.
When Pat is not busy acquiring rare treasures for future generations you will likely find him in a canoe paddling on some lake or river.
Kim Scott is a hard-working lobbyist who has plied the halls of the Minnesota State Capitol for about a decade. Because she is happiest in nature it is no coincidence that most of her clients are involved in the fight to protect habitat, clean air and clean water for future generations.
By training Kim is a lawyer, but in her private reveries she wonders what it would be like to be an art dealer or a curator at a major art museum. One of her undergraduate degrees is in art history and that is an interest we share.
She’s an archer and enjoys horseback riding and fishing – even ice fishing (I’d rather have root canal work done). Here is a report from her Facebook page enumerating her successes this year on the ice:
“My stellar ice fishing record.
Mille Lacs: 0
Le Homme Dieu: 0
Lake of the Woods: 0
I’m not giving up, though...”
I have come to appreciate both her nimble mind (one that challenges the established order), her interest in art and her keen sense of irony. One of the reasons we have hit it off is that Kim has been a cooperative subject for my “End of the Session Voyeurism” series (candid shots taken at the end of each session of the Minnesota Legislature capturing the human transactions of the process) and she has also been a contributor to my efforts at filmmaking. Both mother and daughter appeared in my documentary film about the St. Croix River.
This portrait, awash in the light that suffuses the Minnesota State Capitol on a sunny day, captures the reserved pose she has assumed in life. It is a picture of a private person who doesn’t readily reveal much about her inner thoughts unless she really knows you. She told me that she is quite shy and that she has had to “force herself into the room” most of her life. “Sometimes I’ll just be at the doorstep of a room and I’ll feel so nervous,” she said. These qualities may make some think she is standoffish, but to others this reserve adds an aura of mystery to her persona.
Had Kim been hanging around Florence in the early 1500’s the enigmatic expression in this portrait might have inspired DaVinci.
Governor Al Quie
Al Quie grew up on a farm in Denison, Minnesota during the Great Depression. When itinerates looking for food came to the farmhouse his parents would invite them into the family dining room for a meal. They wanted to afford these victims of happenstance a measure of dignity that had been denied them by circumstances outside their control.
In WWII he was a pilot who trained other pilots and was disappointed that the war ended before he could see action.
Quie ran for Congress as a Republican in 1958 and won in a close election. He never had a close election after that including his successful run for the governorship in 1978. During his 20-year tenure in Washington he witnessed some of the country’s most interesting history, including three horrific assassinations in 1968, the civil rights movement, the Great Society, the Vietnam War, Watergate and so much more. He was with Gerald Ford when the latter got a call informing him that Nixon was resigning and that he would become president.
He was more of a statesman than a Republican partisan. His main interest in Congress and as governor was education, but he was also a strong environmentalist, which certainly sets him apart from today’s Republican party.
When he was campaigning for governor in 1978 he promised to lower taxes and improve government services and said he would not run for a second term if he couldn’t pull it off. In 1980 a major recession hit the country and he had to deal with massive deficits. He had to make cuts in programs he valued, and he was forced to raise taxes. True to his word, he did not seek re-election in 1982.
My boss, at that time, Senate Majority Leader Nick Coleman, was his chief political adversary for his first two years as governor. I didn’t get to know Al Quie until many years later when I was working on a documentary on education. I have a deep respect and affection for the man. I am impressed by his integrity and his commitment to funding education. He once told me that we could never spend enough on education and that teachers were not being paid what they are worth. I was honored when I was asked to produce a short film honoring his many contributions for his 90th birthday party.
His moderate views on the issues of the day got him booted from the Republican Party a decade ago along with Sen. Dave Durenberger. He’s one of the good guys.
Caroline Marshall is a poet and a writer I met on a trip to Washington, DC forty years ago just as she and I had exited marriages that didn’t work. We were both healing the wounds that attend dissolutions. As a result, she lived temporarily with her aunt in a row house near the U.S Capitol and I in the basement of my mother’s home in the Kenwood neighborhood of Minneapolis. Divorces are tough on finances hence the basement for me.
When we spent time together, whether in DC, Minneapolis or in her hometown of Red Wing, time slowed down which was a unique experience for a man diagnosed with the attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. We would just “graze” for hours talking, walking, visiting art galleries, going to concerts and plays. It was a time of healing for me following a period when I had made a mess of my life.
Caroline has a sharp wit and an amazing facility for words and clever phrases which she often applied to me. One day over lunch she told me to be good to myself and avoid “the little green weeds of expectation.” On another occasion she said I was fortunate to suffer only from “conventional abnormalities.” We are both Capricorns, but after spending time together she diagnosed me as, “a Capricorn on the blink.”
Caroline is now retired but she made a living as a consultant supporting cultural organizations with research, planning and capacity building. She contributes immensely to several non-profit boards on which she serves. Some years ago, she published a book of beautiful poems which I cherish. She is now writing a book, the details of which she has not yet revealed to me. I always believed she could write “The Great American Novel” if she set her mind to do so.
Caroline’s literary reference on life, her dry wit and her facility for words, combine to make her one of the most fascinating people I know. I am so pleased that we have maintained our friendship all these years and it is fortunate that she and my wife Gloria have become friends, which means the three of us enjoy spending time together every summer at an idyllic spot on a beautiful river in northern Wisconsin.
Gov. Tim Walz
The word that comes to mind when referring to Gov. Tim Walz is “avuncular,” meaning like an uncle. He has a warm and energetic approach to politics and speaks at a rate of 150 words a minute with gusts up to 250. When he is talking I am reminded of Hubert Humphrey. He is of German, Irish and Swedish descent and was a teacher and a sergeant major in the Army National Guard before he ran for Congress in 2006.
Walz chose a curious time to become governor of Minnesota. What could go wrong? He inherited the large surplus that Gov. Dayton insisted on tucking away for a rainy day and the trend lines were looking good for flipping the Minnesota Senate to the DFL column in the2020 state election given national trends. Then came the pandemic and a catastrophic drop in revenue receipts which will put immense strains on government services at every level. And that was followed by the murder of George Floyd and its aftermath.
There is a saying attributed to Admiral Bull Halsey: “There are no great men; there are only great challenges which ordinary men like you and me are forced by circumstance to meet.” The next two years will be a real test for Gov. Walz and will determine how he measures up to Bull Halsey’s maxim.
Perhaps his 24 years in the Army National Guard has informed his highly organized approach to dealing with the challenge posed by Covid-19. Given his unusually high approval rating in a recent poll it’s apparent most people think he has risen to the occasion.
I’m sure Walz is quite familiar with my face because I was an official photographer at his and Peggy Flanagan’s inauguration. That evening, we stared at each other for three hours as groups and individuals filed through and stood for posed pictures with the new governor.
This picture was taken in the Capitol Rotunda during his first months in office. Given his animated style of speaking one wonders if Ancestory.com might uncover some Italian lineage.
Margaret Anderson Kelliher
My earliest recollection of Margaret Anderson Kelliher was when she had just started working at the Capitol as a legislative assistant back in the early 1990’s. Not long thereafter she ran for the seat created by Speaker Dee Long’s retirement from her South Minneapolis district in 1998. By 2007 Margaret was Speaker of the Minnesota House, a job she held until 2010 when she ran for Governor. She was endorsed by the Democratic Party but lost in a very close primary to Mark Dayton.
How did this farm girl from Madelia, Minnesota; a former Dairy Princess for the Midwest Dairy Association, end up representing a silk-stocking district in Minneapolis and ultimately serving as Speaker? It might have been easy to underestimate her in those early days because of her low-key and quiet competence. She’s smart and does her homework; has a sixth sense about people and knows how to persuade and bring disparate points of view together around an objective like few people I have known. Her warm and compassionate nature made members comfortable about coming to her with their problems and that’s half the job. Mike Mansfield once said the toughest part of being a legislative leader, “is preventing your caucus members from biting each other’s hind legs off.” Having said all that, you didn’t want to cross her because she was very imaginative in dealing with transgressors. You might end up chairing the Rocks and Gardens Committee.
In my opinion she pulled off one of the biggest and most difficult political maneuvers in recent history with her override of Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s veto of a desperately needed transportation funding bill in 2008. Minnesota’s roads were in an awful condition. I had to spend $800 to fix the suspension on my car and then had to replace two tires and rims. My engine was knocked off its motor mounts. A gas tax hike that would have repaired massive car-eating potholes would have cost me only $50 bucks a year. The roads were bad enough, but there were reports produced by the Transportation Department indicating that hundreds of bridges around the state were downright dangerous.
Then the 35W bridge collapsed killing 13 people and injuring another 145. That tragedy resulted in a bi-partisan transportation funding bill that phased in an 8-cent gas tax over three years. Gas was cheap and you could shop around for the lowest price and hardly feel the increase. Pawlenty had a momentary awakening to the problem immediately after the collapse of the 35W bridge and stated that an increase was needed. That lasted several hours until he realized that a tax increase of any kind would make him unpalatable as a candidate for President on the Republican ticket. Before the dead could be buried, he vowed to veto any gas tax increase and he did.
Margaret did not have enough votes to override Pawlenty’s veto unless she picked up six Republicans to go alone with the override. That was an extremely tall order and I don’t know how she did it, but she delivered. That sort of skill at building a consensus is extremely rare these days; as rare as the courage demonstrated by the Republicans who put the safety of the public ahead of their political careers.
Ironically, the GOP, in an act of unprecedented political cannibalism, decided to eat their own and set about in the next election to defeat Republicans who had exercised the capacity for independent thinking. They were successful in taking out three of the six. Talk about bad Karma, Pawlenty went on to lose to Michelle Bachmann in the Iowa Presidential Primary and to Sarah Palin as McCain’s choice for VP. A bid to return to the governor’s office in 2016 didn’t fare to well either.
Governor Walz made a great choice when he selected Margaret Anderson Kelliher as Commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Transportation. If anyone can run against the grain of our times to bring people together it is her.
What I like about this picture of Margaret is the way it makes her look as though she’s guiding the agency from a floating office in some kind of Zeppelin-like vehicle as she inspects Minnesota’s transportation infrastructure.
Governor Mark Dayton
The first time I met the heir to a large department store fortune and future governor Mark Dayton was in the middle 1970’s. I was working as Sen. Majority Leader Nicholas Coleman’s Chief of Staff and he had just returned from a teaching stint in the slums of New York City. He was interested in a job with the Minnesota Senate. We had no openings, but he soon landed a good job with then Governor Rudy Perpich as Minnesota’s Economic Development Commissioner.
He is a complex and courageous man. I admire greatly his willingness to speak openly about the demons he battled including health challenges and alcoholism. When people open up about their inner struggles, they help others who are struggling.
Dayton ran for the U.S. Senate in 1982 and lost to Dave Durenberger. In 1990 he ran successfully for State Auditor. In 2000 he was elected to the U. S. Senate but didn’t seek re-election on 2006.
Almost everyone had written him off when he decided to run for Governor in 2010. His opponent was Tom Emmer a combative and loud conservative Republican. It was a bruising campaign, but Dayton’s talent for coming up with a simple message and repeating it harmonized with public sentiments.
His victory prevented the entire state government from returning to total Republican control for the first time since 1970. The election coincided with a major downturn in state revenue receipts and his impasse with the Republican-controlled legislature as to solutions to the problem led to a lengthy unprecedented total shutdown of state government in 2011.
Dayton believed that government was an agent for good and watched out for those struggling economically. His premier initiative was early childhood education. He successfully raised taxes on the wealthy to pay for cause. He also learned something from history and made sure his successor had a substantial reserve to deal with the next downturn in the economy. The $2.4 billion “rainy day fund” he left for Gov. Walz is helping the state cope with the massive deficit that has resulted from the onset of the coronavirus.
Two highly controversial initiatives came to a head during his tenure, legalization of same-sex marriage and the construction of U.S. Bank Stadium. He had the courage to support the former and supported the stadium. Despite battling serious health challenges and an often-recalcitrant legislature, Mark Dayton way out-performed expectations and will go down in history as one of Minnesota’s better governors.
I had the great good fortune to become acquainted with Neal Loidolt through my involvement as a fellow board member at Vinland National Center; a residential facility providing drug and alcohol addiction treatment for individuals with brain injuries and cognitive impairments.
There is an interesting twist to our friendship in that my career in politics started as an anti-Vietnam War activist and his entire professional career has been, until very recently, the U.S. Army. When Loidolt retired from the Army he had achieved the rank of a Major General who oversaw 10,000 soldiers in the Minnesota National Guard. He has done at least one tour of duty in Iraq.
They don’t make that many two-star generals, so his achievement is a big deal. Despite my anti-war background, growing up in the post-WWII era I suppose I have always had a fascination and a reverence for the military due in part to my admiration of General Eisenhower. And I accept the fact that we need a strong military to defend ourselves in a world that is almost as tribal today as it was 7,000 years ago.
The folks in uniform don’t choose the places they risk their lives; they just go when they are called up to serve. I think our civilian leaders in recent times have often failed our soldiers by sending them into unpronounceable places without knowledge of history and culture and with no exit strategy.
Neal and I have different reference points on some of the big questions of our time, but we enjoy getting together for coffee or lunch on occasion to compare notes on what is going on in the world. I think he may view me as one-person focus group for how a certain segment of society thinks and his curious mind wants to understand.
Neal is widely read, especially in history, and up to date on current events. He can detach himself from orthodoxy and is willing to entertain tough questions about the direction of American foreign policy during the last 50 years.
In keeping with his life-long commitment to public service he is now the Executive Director of the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans, an organization committed to ending homelessness for veterans.
Many of my closest associations during a half century of activism at the Capitol are with journalists. I have immense respect for the profession and for their work ethic. I don’t know how they stay awake during interminable hearings about arcane subjects like tax policy and then synthesize what has been said into a concise story. In these Orwellian times, when truth is a casualty to political ambition, their work has never been more important. The journalists I have come to know deserve a portrait exhibit of their own.
In this portrait we see the face of a determined journalist who has won many regional Emmys and other awards for her reporting, anchoring and producing. One of my favorites was her coverage of the massive remodeling of the Minnesota State Capitol. The Washington Post named her as one of the “Best Capitol Reporters in America.”
Mary has a genetic predisposition to good journalism. Her father Gene LaHammer is a good friend and was an Associated Press reporter at the Capitol for more than three decades.
LaHammer has a strong Norwegian heritage of which she is proud. She grew up in St. Louis Park, Minnesota and started attending the University of Minnesota Honors College at age 15 graduating with honors. Her major areas of concentration were journalism, mass communications and constitutional law history.
What I admire the most about Mary is the way she has handled a bad hand she was dealt a couple of years ago when she learned she had multiple sclerosis (MS). She decided that her job was to share that information. She said, “Creating a new, young vibrant face of this disease is important to convincing people with symptoms to get diagnosed early.” That’s important because early diagnosis reduces the chance that MS will cause permanent disability. She knew that by going public she would encourage people to get in early and would also give hope to people dealing with the same fate. Fortunately, new drugs have been developed that slow the progress of the disease.
She lives an incredibly active life as her Facebook page demonstrates. She has continued to run regularly and her daughter seems to be as athletic as her mother.
Senator Tom Bakk
Tom Bakk was a carpenter and a union leader when he was elected to the Minnesota House a quarter of a century ago. I heard him speak at a meeting in Duluth back in those days and was impressed with his sincerity, grasp of complex issues, understanding of politics and stage presence. In 2002 he ran for the Minnesota Senate and has served as either the majority leader or minority leader from 2012 until 2020.
It is difficult in an age of deep regional divisions to be a leader of a metropolitan-oriented caucus and reside in Cook, Minnesota. That connection with the north made him cautious on environmental issues like mining, an industry critical to his district. He was surprisingly liberal on social issues, including gay marriage. His position on mining comes from his experiences living on Minnesota’s Iron Range and from his concern about the economic viability of the area. He knows what happens to families when the breadwinner is out of work.
His efforts to resurrect the old Democratic coalition of intellectuals, farmers and labor met with disfavor from newer members of the caucus hailing from the cities and suburbs. That resulted in a leadership battle that he lost to a talented suburban Senator. Times change and being a leader today is like bull-riding—it’s tough to stay on the bull but Tom rode it longer than most.
I am a friend and an admirer of Tom Bakk, who tolerated me, a Twin Cities liberal and a strong environmentalist, for all these years. He has shown a lot of common sense and despite his large and menacing bulk and booming base voice I have seen his eyes tear up while struggling for words on occasions when he is talking about the struggles of others. He has a big heart.
Every summer Tom would sponsor a big golf tournament at the Fortune Bay Casino. I hate golf but love the Ely area so I would go up with my wife and volunteer at the event. My job for several years was to spend the day on the 18th hole with Tom taking pictures of him with foursomes as they played through. Two years ago, I spotted him walking toward me inhaling a big cigar. I figured he would soon have to exhale and that’s when I caught this shot of him. He looks like a powerful locomotive charging down the track. I think this portrait captures his spirit better than any other picture could.
Senator John Marty
Don’t be fooled by the gray hair, gray suit, gray wall or the gray shirt. The bow tie is much more emblematic of Senator John Marty’s passion for making sure everyone gets fair treatment, especially when it comes to economic justice and health care. Marty's motto might well be what Abraham Lincoln said to Galesburg, Illinois Republicans: "Stand by the cause and the cause will carry you through." That could mean legislation concerning affordable healthcare, a more ethical government that favors the common man over special interests, minimum wage legislation, campaign finance limitations and marriage equity. He is also one of the most ardent environmentalists in the Minnesota Legislature.
Marty was elected to the Minnesota Senate in 1986. Few legislators survive in office that long, but he works hard and stays in touch with his constituents. Some elected officials who serve for decades burn out. There are no signs of burnout in John Marty.
John has taken several shots at the office of governor (none have been successful) but he is not one to be discouraged. In a long career he has generally been the first to introduce pioneering legislation that no one believed would ever pass, and yet, due to his patience and persistence he has often ultimately succeeded. He has mellowed just a bit with the years, but he has never compromised his sense of right and wrong, nor his compassion for the down and out. Maybe his emphasis on clean government has its origins at St. Olaf College where John received a BA in Ethics, or maybe that sensibility came from his father, Martin Marty, a noted American theologian.
Governor Wendell Anderson
Elected Governor at age 37, Wendy Anderson was called a “Mid-Western JFK.” Good looking, charismatic with a resonate voice, he was a star athlete who played on the U.S. Olympic Hockey team that came in second to the Soviet Union in 1960. He had a magic touch with a crowd but was shy in small gatherings.
I don’t know a governor who accomplished more during his tenure in office. His many accomplishments (along with inspired staff work) put him on the August 1973 cover of Time Magazine. He was pictured holding a walleye; the headline read, “The Good Life in Minnesota.”
He dramatically reformed and increased funding for public education and lowered property taxes. He had the guts to keep the Minnesota Legislature in special session until mid-October in 1971 to do it. In order to equalize school aid across the state and lower property taxes he needed to raise the income tax the equivalent of more than $4 billion in today’s dollars. He once told me that he went ahead, risks and all, because he was young and too naïve to know that what he had decided to do was be impossible. What he did is called the “Minnesota Miracle”
The legislation he advanced and signed included monumental environment laws, campaign finance reform, open meeting law, lobbyist registration, gun control, clean indoor air, ERA, data privacy, no-fault insurance and so much more.
In 1976, Walter Mondale vacated his Senate seat to run as Vice President with Jimmy Carter. That created a vacancy and Wendell Anderson had national aspirations. He was advised to appoint a caretaker until the next election in two years and then run but decided instead to cut a deal with Lt. Governor Perpich. When Anderson resigned, Perpich became governor and appointed him to the Mondale seat. The public didn’t like the self-appointment and in 1978 Anderson was soundly defeated by plywood salesman Rudy Boschwitz.
Anderson was never the same after that. He withdrew, he drank heavily and got divorced. He made one more run at an endorsement for the Senate, but his time had come and gone. I selected this picture, taken at a surprise 80th birthday party held in his honor, because is shows the toll of the defeat and its aftermath. This man had so many gifts and made so many improvements in the quality of life of Minnesotans and has yet to be adequately recognized for all he did.
Elisabeth Dolva Sandøy
I first met Elisabeth Sandøy through my involvement in a Norwegian legal intern program created by Jerry Seck and sponsored by the Larkin Hoffman Law Firm. As I am not a lawyer my role was recreational rather than legal and that meant getting interns out on Minnesota’s rivers and lakes in kayaks or canoes. Our first outing together was a paddle on the Mississippi with Wilderness Inquiry when I was doing a shoot for the Friends of the Mississippi River organization. Later during her stay, I got her involved in a documentary I was doing about Madeline Island Chamber Music, which is a summer camp for aspiring chamber music musicians.
We’ve kept in touch since her visit to the United States and I visited her in Norway in the summer of 2018. Subsequently, Elisabeth got her law degree back in Norway and she then served a two-year stint as a judge in the remote town of Brønnøysund, located not far from the Arctic Circle. Recently she started with a major law firm in Oslo.
Elisabeth’s exotic loveliness may have something to do with her ancestry. Her grandmother was of the indigenous Sami tribe who reside in a region of Norway located mostly above the Arctic Circle. These people are often referred to as Laplanders and traditionally have made a living from herding reindeer, fishing,
farming and hunting along the fiords. The Sami are descendants of nomadic peoples who have inhabited northern Scandinavia for thousands of years.
What you see here is Elisabeth’s outer beauty in a state of introspection. What I see is her inner beauty, her kindness, strength, and determination. And what I remember from our times together is her great sense of humor, warmth and her willingness go along with my crazy suggestions, like agreeing to be the interviewer at the 30th anniversary of the Madeline Island Chamber Music which was celebrated at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis. She and her Norwegian accent added much charm and a worldly aura to the documentary.
This portrait was taken at a farm located near Tynset, which is a couple hundred miles north of Oslo and owned by her significant other, Terje, who is also a lawyer and a good friend (and a lucky man).
Governor Arne Carlson
Arne Carlson was a first-rate governor for Minnesota. He got elected due to a series of bizarre events, most notably the withdrawal of the Republican primary endorsed candidate, Jon Grunseth, due to the revelation of embarrassing matters in his personal life.
Carlson’s first task was to deal with an inherited $2 billion budget deficit--big money in 1990. He spent his first term cutting and streamlining, but when the budget straightened out he re-invested in education and other state priorities.
Carlson was born in the Bronx to Swedish immigrants and as a child knew financial hardship. In his youth he suffered from a stuttering problem.
Fortunately, along the way his mental agility was noticed by people who could help and as a result he had the good fortune of receiving a first-rate education at Choate and Williams College.
Arne Carlson and I got off to an interesting start on his first day as governor back in 1991. He met that morning with the Winona Chamber of Commerce, which was in St. Paul making the rounds. I was there as a representative of the Minnesota State University System which had a campus in Winona. Carlson went on a tear about wasteful spending and made reference to those smooth-talking lobbyists who should have more respect for the taxpayers’ money. He was standing next to me as he spoke and put his arm on my shoulder to illustrate his point.
He was a moderate Republican who balanced the books, created efficiencies in government, restored Minnesota’s AAA credit rating and left office with a budget surplus.
He played a significant role in developing a major health-care initiative which was funded by a tax on health care providers. Minnesota Care is a national model for how to provide health care to low income people.
In 2003 he organized an appreciation dinner for Senator Roger Moe, the retired leader of the loyal opposition for all his eight years in office. That gesture impressed me, and I volunteered to help with the event. We have been good friends ever since.
I am pleased that Arne Carlson remains active and refuses to go quietly into the night.
Senator Al Franken
AI was skeptical in 2008 that a Saturday Night Live comedian would be a viable candidate for the U.S. Senate from Minnesota, but I was wrong by a little over 300 votes – Al Franken’s margin over Norm Coleman.
It is my considered opinion that Franken was a first-rate Senator. He was one of the strongest supporters of a single-payer system for health care (Medicare is a single payer system that works quite well). He authored an amendment to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act called the Medical Loss Ratio, which required insurance companies spend at least 80% of premiums on actual health care costs, rising to 85% for large group plans. He also took on the special interests that dominate Washington, DC.
He was the most outspoken advocate for net neutrality – a policy that will assure a free and open internet that affords all users unfettered access to the lawful content and applications of their choice on a device of their choosing.
Unfortunately, he was also tone deaf or arrogant in his interactions with several women. The stories about his misconduct coincided with the media frenzy associated with the “Me Too Movement.” He was swept away by the current of events.
In Franken’s resignation speech he made comparisons to Republican politicians, saying he was "aware of the irony" that President Trump remained in office despite the comments made in the Access Hollywood tape released a month before his election, along with credible charges of sexual assault by more than 20 women. He also referenced the Republican Party’s shameful endorsement of Roy Moore's Senate campaign in Alabama despite the many credible allegations of harassment and molestation.
After being forced to resign from the Senate on January 2, 2018, Franken withdrew into himself. "It got pretty dark; I became clinically depressed. I wasn't a hundred percent cognitively. I needed medication,” he said.
Sexual harassment is pure and simple wrong and those who do it should have consequences. Unfortunately, there is a similarity in the pathology of allegations of sexual misconduct and the coronavirus. Some people are vectors, like Trump, who carry the disease but don’t suffer the awful symptoms. Others, like Franken, are eliminated by the disease.