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Vento Leaves Congress to Fight Cancer
by Martin Kaste
February 2, 2000
Click for audio RealAudio 3.0

Fourth District Congressman Bruce Vento surprised the political world by announcing he has been diagnosed with cancer and will not run for re-election this fall. The 12-term Democrat issued a written statement saying he wants to focus his energies on his treatment.

Current Office: United States House of Representatives
Current District: 4
Name: Representative Bruce F. Vento

Gender: Male
Family: Divorced; 3 Children.
Birth Date: 10/07/40
Birth Place: St. Paul, MN
Home City: St. Paul, MN
Religion: Roman Catholic

Educational Experience:
    Attended College of St. Thomas;
    AA, University of Minnesota, 1961;
    BS, University of Wisconsin--River Falls, 1965;
    Graduate Work, University of Minnesota, 1965-70.
Professional Experience:
    Blue Collar Worker;
    Science Teacher, 1965-76.
Organizational Memberships:
    Union Steward, MN Teachers and Machinists;
    Minnesota Education Council;
    Commission on Minnesota's Future;
    Merrick Day Activity Center Board;
    Target Area C Advisory Council Poverty Program;
    Phalen Area Community Council.

First Elected: 11/02/76
Last Elected: 11/03/98
Next Election: 2000

Political Experience:
    Minnesota House of Representatives, 1971-76, Assistant Majority Leader;
    US House Democratic At-Large Whip.
Caucus / Non-Legislative Committees:
    At-Large Whip.
Banking & Financial Services [House]
Resources [House]

How To Contact Representative Vento

Washington DC EMail Address:
Washington DC Web Address:

Washington DC Address
    2413 Rayburn House Office Building
    Washington, DC   20515-2304
    Phone: 202-225-6631
    Fax: 202-225-1968

District Address - Saint Paul
    111 East Kellogg Boulevard
    Suite 215
    Saint Paul, MN   55101
    Phone: 651-224-4503
    Fax: 651-224-0575

THE NEWS of Vento's illness shocked Minnesota Democrats and Republicans alike. Former Republican Congressman Vin Weber heard the news while he was on the air on MPR's Midday program.
Weber: Bruce and I served together 12 - different parties - but he's a good man and a good friend, and I'm sorry to hear he's ill, and I hope it's as easily treatable as the news said, and I just want to wish him well.
Vento was unavailable to speak about his illness. In a written statement, he says his doctors have caught the cancer in the early stages. Staff members in Washington say Vento first noticed the symptoms about ten days ago, and didn't have a definitive diagnosis until this past weekend. He informed them of his intention not to run again in the past few days.

Martin Sabo, the Democratic Congressman from the Minneapolis area, says Vento's expertise will be missed in Congress, especially on environmental issues.
Sabo: He was somebody who originally was a biology teacher, and he's taken that interest from his academic background and made himself really the most knowledgeable person in the country on how we deal with our parks and public lands.
When the Democrats controlled the House, Vento chaired the Parks and Public Lands Subcommittee, and he fought for extra resources to clean up and preserve areas such as the riverfront in St Paul, where he earned praise even from the Republican mayor, Norm Coleman. Mike Zipko is Coleman's spokesman.
Zipko: In order to develop the riverfront, we needed to make sure the river was healthy and clean, and Congressman Vento has been a strong and great friend of efforts to clean up the Mississippi, and as a result, we have an area now that's just absolutely coming to life.
Vento's most visible environmental fight in recent years has been his effort to block motorized portages in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. In May 1998, Vento cut a deal with the Congressman from northeastern Minnesota, Jim Oberstar, to allow two truck portages in the BWCA, in return for the banning of motor boats from two other lakes. The compromise disappointed some of his supporters in the environmental movement, but he defended the decision during the 1998 election campaign.
Vento: I did a good job, and I'm getting a lot of positive feedback from the people in the community. You know, I'm a very strong environmentalist, and some of them are very passionate, but the fact is, I don't take my orders from anyone. I think we have to maintain our independence from these groups no matter how closely aligned we are in terms of philosophy or views.
Vento also rates high praise from organized labor, which could usually count on him for support. Minnesota AFL-CIO president Bernard Brommer says Vento was instrumental in stopping many Republican-sponsored pieces of legislation, such as an effort to allow company-run unions, and another to make it harder for unions to deduct money for political activities from their members' paychecks.

The closest Vento came to losing his seat in recent years was 1994, when Republican Dennis Newinski captured 43 percent of the vote. Back in the '70s, Newinski supported Vento, but later he took exception to Vento's switch on the abortion issue. Vento started out as opposed to legalized abortion, but now supports it. Newinski says Vento move too far left for St Paul.
Newinski: Vento seems like he moved more toward bigger government, government being the answer for all the problems we face, and we really need to look toward the private sector to solve all those problems.
Newinski has run against Vento three elections in a row, and he says he wasn't going to run again, but Vento's retirement may change his mind. Political insiders have also speculated about St Paul Mayor Norm Coleman entering the race, but spokesman Mike Zipko says Coleman is definitely not interested.

On the other side of the partisan fence, Vento's announcement has set off a flurry of activity. Democrats see the 4th district as their turf; the DFL has held it since the party was formed and St Paulites elected Eugene McCarthy in 1946. Representative Matt Entenza is one of the few DFL legislators from St Paul who isn't considering running for Vento's seat.
Entenza: I think everyone's stunned by what's happened to Bruce, and it's going to take people a little time to take a deep breath and think about that, and you have a lot of fine people out there in the Legislature and local government. But it's going to be a DFL seat, and the DFL is going to have a wild, topsy-turvy time as we try to figure it out.
The figuring-out process is already well underway. State Representative Betty McCollum of North St paul was the first to state her intentions, hours after Vento's announcement she said she would run. Many other St Paul legislators have already begun meeting privately with financial backers and political allies. St Paul State Senator Sandy Pappas says she's thinking about the race, and she expects quite a few of her colleagues from the Legislature to join her.
Pappas: I think for the House Democrats in particular, they're pretty frustrated being in the minority; but, of course, going to Congress, in the current Congress unless there's a change, and it could be, it could be very exciting in Congress, with a new president, and a group of new freshmen that really want to change things, it could be very exciting.
With the late start to this campaign, Democrats and Republicans who want to run will have to act fast. Precinct caucuses are early next month, and candidates will have to throw together enough of a network to make a good showing at the fourth district convention, later in the year. But for many politicians, the effort is worth it. As one DFLer put it, this kind of opportunity - an open congressional seat in their home district - seems to come around only every 20 years or so.