Authors to discuss ‘When Republicans Were Progressive’

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September 3, 2019

Dave Durenberger

Dave Durenberger

Baseball games sometimes get snowed out in northern climates. The same can be said of college lectures.

Saint John’s University graduate and former Minnesota Sen. Dave Durenberger ’55, a Republican who served 16 years in the Senate, and retired Minneapolis Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist Lori Sturdevant will try for a second time to discuss their book “When Republicans Were Progressive,” at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 18, at the Alcuin Library Auditorium, SJU.

They will be interviewed by Jon McGee, head of school at Saint John’s Preparatory School.

The event, which was originally scheduled for April 10 but was postponed by a snowstorm, is free and open to the public. It is sponsored by the Eugene J. McCarthy Center for Public Policy and Civic Engagement.

book cover“When Republicans Were Progressive” begins when Republican Harold Stassen became governor of Minnesota in 1938 (long before Stassen ran unsuccessfully for president nine times). The book states that the party’s heyday came in the middle of the 20th century, coming at a time when many Republicans favored environmental protection, assistance for vulnerable citizens and economic opportunity for low-wage workers and the middle class.

Sturdevant and Durenberger explain in the book how Minnesota’s progressive Republicans earned voters’ trust and delivered on their promises – and how progressive ideas fell out of favor when an increasingly anti-government, anti-tax national party shifted Minnesota Republican thinking to the right.

Durenberger was the only Republican senator from Minnesota elected to three terms in office. But for as much time as he spent in Washington, D.C., he might have spent even more time at Saint John's.

He is the son of longtime SJU athletic director George Durenberger ’28, who guided Johnnie athletics from 1931 until his retirement in 1972. Dave Durenberger was born in 1934, and graduated from Saint John's Preparatory School in 1951 before enrolling at SJU.

During his time at SJU, Dave Durenberger was involved in the Army ROTC program, becoming the program's first cadet battalion commander and the top honor cadet.

A law school graduate of the University of Minnesota, Durenberger practiced law with Harold LeVander in South St. Paul, Minnesota. When LeVander was elected governor of Minnesota in 1966, Durenberger became his chief of staff.

He worked in the private sector from 1971-78 before returning to politics. Hubert Humphrey had won re-election to the Senate in 1976, but passed away in January 1978. Humphrey's wife, Muriel, was appointed to the Senate, but was not a candidate to complete her husband's unexpired term when a special election was set in November 1978.

During what state Democrats would soon call the "Minnesota Massacre," Durenberger defeated businessman Bob Short to help the Republicans win the top three elected positions in Minnesota (Al Quie won the governorship, and Rudy Boschwitz won the other senatorial seat).

Durenberger also won re-election bids against Mark Dayton in 1982 and Skip Humphrey - Hubert's son - in 1988. He did not run for re-election in 1994.

While in the Senate, Durenberger served as chair of the Select Committee on Intelligence and chair of the Health Subcommittee of the Senate Finance Committee, which led to his leadership role in national health reform.

Following his career in the Senate, Durenberger served as a senior health policy fellow at the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minnesota, from 1998-2014. He was also named by then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty to lead a reform-minded Minnesota Citizens Forum on health care costs.

After 43 years and thousands of columns and editorials in the Star Tribune, Sturdevant retired from the newspaper at the end of 2018. Sturdevant, a South Dakota native, started writing about Minnesota politics and government first in the Star Tribune newsroom but for most of her tenure as an opinion writer and member of the Editorial Board. She’s an award-winning writer, speaker and author who has devoted her career to public service journalism.