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A conversation about war, taxes and the state of Minnesota


Fri, Mar 28th, 2003
Posted in Features

At 93, former Republican Governor Elmer L. Anderson is working on a new book, a compilation of his speeches. Anderson was a state senator from 1949 to 1958 and served as governor from 1961 to 1963, losing his bid for re-election by a mere 91 votes.

"Live life as it comes," Elmer L. Andersen said as we sat and talked in his St. Paul home.

Elmer L. Andersen was governor of Minnesota from 1961 through 1963 and State Senator from 1949 through 1958. In addition, he was CEO of ECM publishers (owners of dozens of newspapers and shoppers) and the H. B. Fuller Company. As a statesman, businessman and philanthropist, Elmer Andersen has had an incomparable presence in the conscience of Minnesota for the past sixty years.

In June he will be 94. His mind is sharp as a tack, his heart is full of compassion and his sense of purpose remains clear. "When Elmer Andersen speaks, Minnesota should listen," columnist Nick Coleman reported in the February 27th St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Several years ago I had the good fortune to work with Elmer on a book. Each time we talked I felt privileged to be in the company of such a smart, kind and moral man.

A few weeks ago I was at wits end feeling the shadow of impending war and I needed an experienced and wise perspective. I called to set up an appointment with Elmer. I wanted to know how he felt about whatís going on in our world.

"Do not be immobilized by a future you can not know." He paused, "I often think of a story in the book, Pilgrimís Progress. Pilgrim came to a mountain and saw a roaring lion dead ahead. He was filled with fear because the path he was on headed straight for the lion. Filled with fear, he went on, only to find the lion chained and unable to harm him."

"If only the war in Iraq could prove to be that benign," I thought.

"I do not have fear," Elmer said softly. " I have deep concern for the people who carry the burden of war. During war we have to support our men and women in the field. They are under great strain and the least they deserve is the support of their countrymen in the role they are required to play. We have to support the leaders of our country in as favorable of terms as possible. This is the time to unite, to hope and to pray for an early termination of war."

"Although I do not think this is the worst time, I do think this is a difficult time. It ought to be apparent that in a time of instant worldwide communication and the ease of travel, that the world should be able to come closer together to seek uniform laws that will unite and protect us. There should be a world court," he said strongly.

"For me, the most dangerous element in the world was the invention of the nuclear bomb. We were the first to use it. Anyone who has instruments of mass destruction is a threat."

Elmer considers himself a Liberal Republican who represents the fundamental values of a good, participatory government thatís fiscally responsible and the guarantor of civil liberties.

"I am a great supporter of United Nations. I think the United States has to give up some sovereignty. It is a mistake that we use the highest percentage of the worldís energy, when too many of the worldís people live in abject poverty."

"I look around and see people full of anxiety and feeling depressed," I said.

"Vary your reading like you vary your diet," he replied quickly. "Newspapers tend to focus on the bad. Although war and tough economic times are fearful, it is not a totally negative picture. Pay attention to the advances in technology. My hope is that change will come from enlightened evolution rather than as a result of the destruction of war. Iím hopeful that our young people will draw things to better endings."

As I sat and listened to Elmer I realized another reason I wanted to see him again. Last December my 94 year-old mother passed away. Dad died two years earlier. Being with Elmer was like having my parents back.

"Our domestic situation is different," he said with renewed energy. "We are faced with problems where we can differ and seek better solutions. I believe Tim Pawlenty is a generous, moderately-minded man who made promises to win the governorship. It is very difficult for anyone to guarantee a position and then not adhere to it. Governor Pawlenty made a mistake in pledging not to raise taxes to fix the budget deficit. Taxes are the way in which people join hands to get things done.

"I remember when Minnesota farm families voted for education and they still had outhouses. Our people put their priority in public education instead of their own comfort. With limited resources, the people of Minnesota built a world-class University. Together we invested in a government that put emphasis on education and the environment. Today negative forces seek to undermine those gains and they should not be allowed to dominate.

"The idea that taxes are evil is damaging our quality of life. Education must be properly funded to develop the potential of each child. Regardless if it is a time of war or peace, these are areas where people can and must be active.

"We are richly endowed with natural resources which require public funds. For example, one reason our costs are higher is that we are a large state with a vast highway system and because of our weather it costs a great deal of money to maintain it.

"People should speak to their elected representatives and demand these services. Some savings can be made but there are vast needs that can not be underfunded."

Just before we said goodbye, Elmer mentioned working on his new book. The working title, I Trust To Be Believed, is a quote from Alexander Ramsey, the first governor of Minnesotaís inaugural speech. The book is a compilation of Elmerís speeches from 1949 through 2001.

His two other books, A Manís Reach, and VIEWS from the Publisherís Desk are filled with the riches of Minnesotaís history, itís people and his wisdom.

Mary T. Bell can be reached at news@fillmorecountyjournal.com

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