Former Gov. Wendell Anderson's name hasn't been on a ballot in 29 years, but his political antenna remains in fine working condition. (Minnesotans who remember the late 1970s will recall its singular, spectacular failure.)That's why I asked him a few weeks ago to describe the Minnesota reaction to the just-concluded 2007 legislative session -- and why his answer has been echoing in my ears ever since.
"There was really only one issue in the election last fall, and that's the war in Iraq," Anderson said on May 24. "It was the No. 1 issue before the session. It's the No. 1 issue on people's minds today. Yesterday we lost two more [Minnesota servicemen]. I get depressed about it, and I think a lot of people do. It was hard to get too excited about anything in St. Paul this year."
Anderson had hit on something other session-watchers said they'd noticed. The Kasota stone halls were loaded with more well-dressed people putting in billable hours than ever before. But the ranks of just-plain-folks who came to the Capitol or called someone at the Capitol to voice an opinion seemed thin, and their spirits tepid.
Apathetic? Never. Not Minnesotans. But distracted, by worry about a war that won't end? I'll buy that -- not only on a former governor's say-so, but also upon meeting Ruth Knox and the other Tuesday afternoon regulars outside St. Boniface Catholic Church in northeast Minneapolis.
People who get excited about an issue might call on a legislator a time or two each year. Knox and about a dozen other antiwar stalwarts are arrayed along University Avenue NE. between 4 and 5 p.m. every Tuesday, come rain, shine, heat wave or windchill. They tote signs reading "Stop War," swing rainbow-colored flags reading "Peace" and wave at passing motorists. There's nothing shallow about their commitment or lukewarm about their zeal -- though Knox sometimes does her sign-waving from a lawn chair.
She's 88 and a World War II veteran, so she's allowed.
Knox was one of 75 women in the Air Transport Command who flew troops between the mainland and Hawaii. She came by her opposition to this war in part by going to the Veterans Administration Hospital for medical care, and meeting young soldiers back from Iraq. Some are missing arms or legs.
"I think this war is a terrible thing," Knox said. "We never should have gotten into it in the first place."
What did she think of the Legislature's performance this year?
"Oh, I was pretty well satisfied. There isn't much they can do with a Republican governor and a Democratic Legislature," she said.
One bit of session news stuck in her mind. She'd noted the concern voiced by some city officials that the veto of the tax bill and its additional aid to cities would make difficult the funding of extra security for the expected 50,000 antiwar protesters at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul.
"Are we still going to be stuck there in this war in the summer of next year? I hope not!" she said, sounding outraged at the very thought.
If it is, chances are good that no other election issue will move many voters in 2008. Already in 2006, defeated Republican legislators said opposition to George W. Bush's war took them out of office. The Tip O'Neill rule that "all politics is local" is being tipped upside down.
Last week marked the two-year anniversary of the St. Boniface weekly peace protest. There are several other Iraq War protest groups around the Twin Cities of even longer standing. Their numbers remain relatively small, compared with war protests of 40 years ago, and their median age high.
But there were signs last week at St. Boni that they aren't a fringe group. A cacophony of friendly vehicle horn beeps and positive shouts greeted the protesters. Many drivers signaled thumbs up, or returned 81-year-old Father John Brandes' two-fingered peace sign. Only one audible expletive was tossed their way.
"The tide has changed regarding this war," said Larry Shearon of Roseville, a retired Medtronic vice president. "We used to get a lot more negative response. We're winning the battle here on the streets. Now if we could only win it in Washington."
Then seven neighborhood kids, ages 8 through 14, appeared. They grabbed some signs and took places on the curb. Some said it was their fourth time to join the Tuesday peace protest.
"I like to help out here," said Marshawn Evans, 13. "My little brother is 3. I don't want this war still going on when he's grown up."
Advice to 2008 legislative candidates: Polish up your answer to constituent questions about the war in Iraq. Same goes for any governor who desires an address in D.C.
Lori Sturdevant is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist. She is at email@example.com. Her annual summertime disappearing act begins next week. She'll be back in July.
© 2007 Star Tribune.