Saturday, August 20, 2022

Politics changed over the decades...

Hubert Humphrey
Written by Jim Heffernan for the Duluth News Tribune/Saturday, 8-20-22

Well, here we go again, headlong into another election season. There’s no holding it back, I’m afraid, although I’d just as soon.

I spent the final 25 years or so of my active career in journalism at this newspaper participating in interviews with politicians/candidates for the paper’s editorial endorsements. It was interesting work most of the time. Of course we met with both Republicans and Democrats and the occasional Independent, like Gov. Jesse Ventura, whose demeanor could only be described as gruff. Always.


I liked most of them on both sides of the aisle, and won’t be taking sides here, just recounting some memories of those days and adding thoughts on the system.


I had some favorites who showed up for these interviews. Among Republicans, I particularly liked former U.S. Sen. David Durenberger. Very cheerful guy. Of course among Democrats there was Minnesota Gov. Rudy Perpich, always affable and open. He was sometimes called “governor goofy” and he didn’t seem to mind. It was, as they say, the secret of his charm. His successor, Republican Arne Carlson, was always good humored, sometimes borderline giddy.


I filled out a small lunch table one time with Hubert Humphrey when he was a senator. He was perpetually “on” and had a reputation for always remembering people’s names. I was never sure, though, that he remembered mine, even after several contacts. Always got a Christmas card though.


Of course former vice president and ex-U.S. Sen. Walter Mondale was an occasional, affable, guest at the newspaper. He came once as vice president and they shut down First Street in front of our building and spread the Secret Service around the office glaring at everybody.


Can’t forget U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar who served our area in Congress for so long, following his predecessor John A. Blatnik. We saw a lot of Oberstar, who was an erudite policy wonk if there ever was one — always friendly, always “on” too. One time meeting with him in a restaurant with two of my female colleagues, he arrived late and kissed the women on the cheek. I told him if he kissed me, “I’m moving to Canada.” He loved it.


There are so many others, great and not-so. One of the greats was Sen. Paul Wellstone who visited many times. He knocked off Sen. Rudy Boschwitz, much to Boschwitz’s surprise, and distinguished himself as an outspoken liberal voice before he was killed in an Iron Range plane crash. He had an appointment to meet with us later that same day that was left unfulfilled. Instead he had an appointment in Samarra.


Oh, but I go on. The list includes local politicians too — Duluth mayors, city councilors, county commissioners and legislators from this area. Lately I’ve been thinking about the time young Dave Tomassoni of Chisholm came in and said he was going to run for the Minnesota Legislature. He did. He won a House seat and later won a Senate seat. He died a little over week ago, leaving an outstanding legacy of public service. 


One local official years ago opened our interview with the confession that he had gone back to his wife after an affair, wrongly assuming that we knew about it and that we paid heed to politicians’ personal lives. We don’t unless they drive drunk or shoot somebody and a couple of other offenses.


With all that contact, you notice certain traits that many of the successful politicians — local and national — have in common. For example, a few seldom use the first person pronoun, always referring to themselves as “we.” I suppose they’re referring to their staffs or supporters or maybe their pets. “We” covers a lot of ground, we believe.


Invariably they “roll up their sleeves” to tackle any project, before putting their “shoulder to the wheel” and working 24-7 at all times to serve the “hard-working” people in their districts. Constituents are invariably “hard working” Minnesotans or Americans or whatever. Nobody’s lazy, I guess.


The higher-ups exude patriotism at all times, the men unfailingly sporting American flag pins on suit lapels. They are seldom photographed without an actual American flag nearby and describe all military veterans and active armed services personnel as “heroes” and “brave.” Some are, of course, but everyone in uniform? I served years ago but never felt I qualified as either.


But those who get elected, especially to Congress, love it. Oh, House members have to run for re-election every two years. What a bummer that is — the possibility of losing a six-figure salary, sizable office staff in Washington kowtowing to their every whim, free parking at the Washington airports while regularly flying back home at no personal cost. Oh, then there’s a big travel budget and that lavish House gym, To keep all that all they have to do is vote the way their party leaders tell them and risk losing it all in elections.


And here we are, another election looming. Things in politics have changed since those olden days I describe here. A lot. While competition in politics has always been fierce, back then at least it was usually polite, even respectful. There was the “loyal opposition” and challengers would be called “worthy” opponents.


Seems like there’s a lot of outright hatred in politics these days. More’s the pity. You can figure out for yourself who’s to blame.


Jim Heffernan is a former Duluth News Tribune news and opinion writer and continues as a columnist. He can be reached at and maintains a blog at

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