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Remembering Fmr. Minnesota Gov. Al Quie: A Republican From Another Time

Reports that Minnesota’s longtime former Rep. (1958-78) and onetime Gov. (1978-82) Al Quie died Aug. 18 just one month shy of his 100th birthday drew mixed reminiscences throughout the Gopher State.

To many, the good-natured, six-foot-three inch dairy farmer from Wheeling Township, Minnesota, was a congressman’s congressman who became his party’s premier point man on education and led fights to reduce federal controls over public schools. 

But to others, Quie (pronounced “kwee” and which translated from Norwegian means “pregnant heifer”) was a RINO (Republican In Name Only) who broke with his party and supported raising taxes while in the governor’s office. In 2010, Quie’s support of independent Tom Horner over Republican (and current House Majority Whip) Tom Emmer was considered a major factor in Emmer’s heartbreakingly close defeat.

Whatever one’s opinion of Quie, it was clear that Minnesotans certainly remembered him and mourned his passing.

A fourth-generation dairy farmer and grandson of Norwegian immigrants, Quie served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. Trained as a pilot, the young sailor earned his wings as the war was ending and never saw combat.  Returning home to the family farm, Quie also earned a degree from St. Olaf College.

Elected to the state Senate in 1954, Quie found himself in an unexpected situation four years later when Republican Rep. August Andresen died. The farmer-politician became the GOP nominee in the resulting special election, which was held at a time the farm economy was gloomy and angry Farm Belt voters were furious at the Republican administration of President Dwight Eisenhower and Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson.

But, campaigning in his hot-rod airplane and on horseback, Quie caught voters’ imagination and won the special election over Democrat Gene Foley by 655 voters. He would never have trouble at the polls again.

As a member of the House Education and Labor Committee, Quie became his party’s premier point man on education. In 1967, he led an effort to rewrite the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to shift much authority from the U.S. Office of Education [forerunner of the Department of Education] to the states.

“The Quie Amendment encountered vehement opposition from Catholic leaders, who feared it would jeopardize their participation in the program,” wrote Stephen Hess and David Broder in The Republican Establishment. “But Republicans thereafter teamed with some Democrats to accomplish part of their objective of increasing the authority of the states in the use and distribution of Federal education funds.”

Quie was also a formidable force in state Republican politics. As conservative backers of Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater sought to take over the state GOP convention and deliver the national convention delegates to their candidate, Quie, fellow Rep. Clark MacGregor, and state party Chairman Bob Forsythe fought them off in a bloody convention battle and delivered 18 of 26 national convention votes to their favorite son: physician and former Rep. Walter Judd, famed for his vehement anti-communism while being a moderate on domestic issues.

By the late 1970s Quie’s dreams of being chairman of the House Agriculture or Education and Labor committees seemed to be just that — dreams that would never come true, since the prospects of a Republican House seemed to be a pipe dream.

In 1978, after two decades in Congress, Quie chose to run for governor and led Republicans to what they called the “Minnesota Miracle” — unseating Democratic Gov. Rudy Perpich and emerging triumphant in both a special election to choose the successor to Vice President Walter Mondale and the race to fill the other seat which had been held by the late Hubert Humphrey.

But Quie’s political joy was short-lived. Soon after taking office, he was hit with a far bigger deficit than initially expected. He worked with Democrats to balance the budget and finally agreed to a tax increase — which cost him dearly among fellow Republicans. In 1982, he chose not to seek reelection.

Although Minnesota Republicans did ban Quie from party activities for two years after he backed independent Horner for governor in 2010, any rancor faded as the former governor himself faded from politics. He became a leader in Prison Fellowship and in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, although he finally broke from it over the church’s support of same-sex marriage.

In his twilight days, Quie’s apostacies from his party went mostly unmentioned and people recalled things such as his visits from numerous friends in his assisted care facility and reading stories to his great-grandchildren. Politically, it is safe to say that Al Quie was a dedicated public servant and a Republican from another time. 

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.​

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