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Lessons from a Legend
By Laura McCallum
March 19, 2001
Part of MPR's online coverage of Session 2001

Minnesota's eldest former governor addressed the Senate Monday March 19th, one of only two times in recent memory a former statesman has been invited to speak on the Senate floor. Elmer Anderson, 91, used his half-hour speech to reminisce about politics and criticize Gov. Ventura's budget.
Gov. Elmer Anderson joked that he doesn't see or hear or move very well, but he can still talk. Listen to his presentation before the Minnesota Senate on March 19, 2001.

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(MPR Photo/Laura McCallum)

SPEAKING WITHOUT NOTES FROM HIS WHEELCHAIR, Anderson joked that he doesn't see or hear or move very well, but he can still talk, and talk he did; telling stories about his days in the Minnesota Senate, where he served from 1949 to '58, and in the governor's office, where he was the last Minnesota governor to serve a two-year term, from 1961 to '63. Lawmakers roared with laughter as Anderson recalled some of the more humorous moments, including the time he introduced a bill recommending that state counselors who worked with alcoholics, themselves be recovering alcoholics.

"The good Senator Claude Bauman, who sat back there a ways, got up one day and said, 'The good senator from Ramsey has brought in some interesting suggestions to this body, but I never thought I'd live to see the day when he'd come in and suggest that in order to qualify for state employment, you had to be a drunk,'" Anderson recalled.

Anderson noted what a rare honor it was to be invited to speak to the Senate. Long-time staffers can recall only one other time that a former governor addressed the Senate, when Arne Carlson spoke near the end of his second term in 1998. Anderson then switched from the past to the present to attack the current governor's budget for not spending enough on the University of Minnesota.

"I believe that's one area where the good Gov. Ventura is lacking in previous experience, and it shows," Anderson said. "I meant to mention at one point that I had a call the other day from the XFL, saying that they were thinking of some changes in their personnel, and wondered if I'd be interested."

Anderson urged lawmakers to approve more money for the U of M Medical School, and called the university "the engine that drives the state's economy." Ventura's budget recommends a $56 million increase for the university, about a fourth of what the "U" is requesting. The former Republican governor seemed more in sync with the DFL-controlled Senate, as he argued against using the entire budget surplus for tax cuts and a one-time tax rebate.

"Particularly with the volatile stock market, and the changes that have taken place since budgets were put together last August, that there's a new situation now, and there needs to be a reconsideration of rebates and tax cuts. I think the people of Minnesota would rather see their university restored and needs of people met, rather than to have a rebate that slips away without having much if any impact," Anderson said.

Anderson challenged the Legislature to think about the impact of their decisions 100 years from now.

Gov. Ventura's spokesman, John Wodele, says Ventura is thinking about his legacy, by proposing the most sweeping tax-reform plan in a quarter of a century.

"With all due respect to the former governor, to say this isn't the stuff of legacy is, I think, really giving it short shrift," Wodele said.

Ventura's plan overhauls the property-tax system by having the state pick up a greater share of education costs, cuts income taxes across the board and trims the sales tax rate by a half-percent, while expanding the sales tax to cover some services. Wodele says the state can't do all of that and spend a lot of money on other areas.

Anderson also called for more spending on social services and higher pay for judges. He complimented Ventura on some of his initiatives, including a plan to consolidate state child-care programs. Anderson, who is now a publisher of weekly newspapers, was clearly moved by his warm reception in the Senate. He thanked them for the invitation "from the bottom of my heart," and smiled broadly as he received a lengthy standing ovation.