Thursday, September 27, 2012

Seize the Moment

Mitt Romney is clearly going through a trial by fire with his daily decline in the polls and the endless barrage of negative media observations and increasing criticisms from his own party.  The mantle of “loser” is slowly being placed on his head and in politics a loser is barely a footnote in history.

But lost in all the haste of media analysis is one simple truth and that is that we learn more in defeat than in victory.  This is not meant as an endorsement of the former but rather a recognition that in times of stress we have the opportunity to reach into ourselves and do that which we instinctively know to be right.

In this case, Romney, more than anyone, knows he sacrificed a large part of his integrity in order to be the nominee.  But now the very people he catered to are pulling away in direct proportion to his drop in the polls. Even his wife is lashing out in frustration.

However, Romney holds the ultimate power lever if he is willing to use it:  “to thine own self be true”.

This advice from Shakespeare has incredible potency.  Every great President from Washington on allowed their inner self to define their governance.  Certainly, they had their moments of pandering but they never allowed that to define them.  They had an instinct for doing that which is right and the courage to carry it out.  That is why we celebrate them as leaders.

Romney would be well advised to seize the moment and stand tall.  Set aside a day for a major speech and once and for all put an end to this “birther” campaign which is a cancer on the Republican brand.  Forthrightly,  paint a picture of an America that recognizes all shades of people united by a common sense of decency and community.  Declare without hesitation that competitive politics is about challenging ideas and not the ugliness of bigotry.

Americans, regardless of party affiliation, expect both parties and their candidates to fully uphold the fundamental principles of human rights that are a basis for a democratic society.  We are committed to “one nation under God” and we fully embrace the aspirations and services of all and self-appointed voices of suspicion and divisiveness have no place in American politics.

Leadership endures when it embraces all of us and radiates with optimism and confidence.  It is an inclusive vision for tomorrow.

For Mitt Romney, his leadership is now being tested.  Will he…

Friday, September 21, 2012

Michele Bachmann…. A Lady in Decline

Michele Bachmann’s recent assaults against the Muslims and again suggesting that President Obama is sympathetic to Islamic extremism reminds me of the desperation of Senator Joseph McCarthy in his declining months.

Like McCarthy, Bachmann was once at the center of the new Republican Right with her attacks on the President’s loyalty and questioning his commitment to standing up against the “enemy.”  Both McCarthy and Bachmann were able to define their Presidential targets as “sympathizers” and “appeasers”.

And, like McCarthy, she has found herself in decline and outside her party’s power structure.

The early Iowa primary campaign was her high water mark.  While lashing out against the patriotism of Obama, she was proclaiming the virtues of her Iowa upbringing and pledging her undying loyalty to our neighbors south of us.

But more recently, she was relegated to a minor role outside the Republican National Convention in Tampa and her pronouncements are now carried closer to the obituary section of the newspaper than page one.

What has happened to Bachmann is common with the McCarthy types – they rise quickly as they step loudly and carelessly on the reputations of innocent people and they fall just as rapidly in accordance with the public’s insistence on truth and decency.  Rising Republican criticism has clearly hastened her downturn.

But the Bachman story deserves to be more than a brief historical footnote.  For over a decade, she has attempted to define patriotism and conservatism while cloaking it under her interpretation of the Bible.  Clearly, she has maintained that a Higher Power supports her actions.

First of all, on the religious front, Jesus preached love, acceptance, compassion, forgiveness and humility; not self-interest, war, suspicion, and self-righteousness.  Religious chest thumping has no place in American politics.

As to her conservatism, she sat on the Minnesota Senate Tax Committee as well as on the Subcommittee overseeing property taxes from 2001-2002 and later served as Assistant Minority Leader.  During her stint, we started to see the sharp increases in property taxes as the state began its course of massive borrowings of one-time monies, accounting shifts, reducing local government aids and generally moving more of the financial burden from state to local governments.  The results were astounding:  during Bachmann’s six years in the legislature, property taxes rose by over $1.7 billion.  For the purpose of comparison, they rose some $514 million for the prior six years.  That is more than a tripling in the increase.

Further, the state commenced lurching from deficit to deficit. 

In June of 2003, Moody’s downgraded Minnesota’s credit rating citing such risky financial practices as “fund draw downs, transfers, and tax and payment shifts.”  Sadly, this is what happens when short-term politics replaces courage and substance.

As a member of Congress, she rolled up a stunning record of absences.  For instance, from July 2011 to October 2011, she missed more than 50 percent of the recorded votes in the U.S. House of Representatives.  In the following quarter, from October 2011 to January 2012, her absenteeism hit over 90 percent. 

Yet, she collected full pay and full benefits including federal healthcare which she condemns as socialism when made available to all Americans.

As leader of the Tea Party caucus in the House, she has continuously railed against out-of-control federal spending.  One would think Bachmann would lead the battle against excess spending such as the Congressional franking privilege.  This allows members of Congress to send beautiful multi-color brochures to all their constituents letting them know about the magnificence of their performance.  This costs taxpayers untold millions but is a marvelous campaign tool since these expenditures are not treated as campaign related.  It is truly a frightening example of waste, fraud, and abuse.  Sadly, Bachmann has been a user and not a conservative reformer.

It is not surprising that this daughter of Iowa and absentee Representative is in decline and now operates outside the sphere of this new Republican power structure.  She is regarded as an embarrassment and in politics that is an unforgiveable liability.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Yes….It Does Take a Village

When we pull back from the current political debate, it tends to revolve around the same conflicts that were present during the founding of our nation; namely the rights of the individual versus the defined role of society as represented by government.  Loosely speaking, Republicans or conservatives have been more in the former camp while Democrats or liberals tend to lean toward a more involved government role.

This is a healthy and necessary debate but only when there is more truth than exaggeration and a willingness to concede that there are serious flaws in both approaches when they go to their extremes.  Our system of governance, along with economic realities, do well when there is a balance and fare poorly when there is an extreme.

Sadly, today, we are witnessing too much extreme on the right and too much indifference to economic realities on the left.

Successful administrations, Republican and Democrat, understood the vital role of balance.  The hallmark administrations on the Republican side would probably include Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan.  All understood the vital role of protecting and encouraging the success of the individual.  However, they did not hesitate to use extraordinary governmental powers to preserve the union, harness excessive capitalism, enforce federal court mandates of desegregation against the perceived rights of states, and crush non-conforming unions.

But, in more human terms, they were all by nature and political bent inclined towards seeing America not as an endless array of individual silos but rather as a beautiful patch work of communities where people worked together for the common good.   In essence, they understood the human role of government in helping others.

All post-world War II Republican Presidents were heavily influenced by the values of the Greatest Generation.  They fully endorsed the notion of “we” when it came towards celebrating and committing financial resources to finance education, human services, the transportation infrastructure, and even using taxpayer funds to help businesses startup and grow.  They were not into the drawing of arbitrary lines but rather governing with a sense of pragmatism.  And while they may have decried regulations and bureaucracies they tended to use the regulatory powers of government and, surprisingly, expanded government.

But my central point here is that they avoided extremes, sought balance, and were protective of both individual rights and societal responsibility.  In one way or other they would agree that it takes a village to raise a child.

From my vantage point, this new Republican Party now controlled by the Tea Party lacks the historical heritage to fully appreciate the role of community.  All too often, they are like the ego-laden athlete who pounds his chest in a moment of self-glorification when he scores a touchdown.  Yes, he may be the hero of the moment but how dare he be unmindful of the contributions of his teammates, the coaching staff and the entire support system that allowed him to score.

When Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, he declared:  “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”  Why did he not instead shout “look at me, I did it"?

Coming out of the Bronx in New York City, I was blessed with a full scholarship to the Choate School in Connecticut.  It was, without question, the most transformative experience of my life.  Totally unprepared academically, the faculty through a process of tough love gave me the opportunity to catch up provided I was willing to put in the extra work.  It was a wonderful tradeoff.

But my most lasting memories were daily chapel where the Headmaster would deliver sermonetts that stressed values designed to build a sense of community.  Years before, John F. Kennedy sat in the same pews and heard the Headmaster of that time advise students “Ask not what Choate can do for you.  Ask what you can do for Choate.”  Obviously, Kennedy was touched by those words.

But the simple fact is that all of us have been touched and helped in a meaningful way by others; parents, teachers, friends, religious leaders, colleagues, and yes, even institutions including business and government.  We believe in the helping hand.

I truly hope this new Republican Party gets out of the Ayn Rand syndrome and begins to recognize the role of balance and the strength of community.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

H.H.H….A Golden Moment

The day following the unveiling of the statue of  former Vice President and Senator Hubert H. Humphrey on the grounds of the State Capitol, Walter Mondale called and spoke glowingly of the Humphrey event referring to it as a “golden moment”.  How true.

It was a very special occasion.  The Humphrey family radiated joy and gratitude so reminiscent of the Vice President.  All the speakers were upbeat, brief and focused and all cited the extraordinary courage and determination that dominated Humphrey’s life.

But, in a larger sense, I believe there was a considerable amount of nostalgia for the days when political leaders actually led and knew how to get things done.  Several speakers including President Clinton mentioned the union formed between Humphrey and Senator Dirksen, the Senate Republican leader.  Together, they gained Senate passage of the historic civil rights act of 1964.  Certainly, Dirksen was fully aware of the powerful feelings his conservative colleagues had towards states’ rights and their considerable concerns relative to federal intrusion into the area of voting rights which traditionally were in the purview of the states.  Yet, somehow Humphrey persuaded Dirksen that human rights guaranteed by the constitution had to be enforced fully by the national government.

Both men came together and made Senate passage a reality.  They fully understood that in challenging times great leaders must put aside smaller differences in order to properly govern.

That partnership and the courage it represented was truly the glue that attracted so many former Humphrey staffers and supporters including civil rights activists and lovers of history.  But it also brought out current and former members of Congress, the legislature, and the courts as well as former and current occupants of the “Humphrey” seat; Republicans Rudy Boschwitz, Norm Coleman, and Democrats Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken.

As President Clinton spoke in his compelling fashion about the historic civil rights partnership, I thought back to the unlikely teaming of President Clinton with Speaker Gingrich to bring about a balanced budget and welfare reform.  That was leadership.  Prayerfully, this magnificent past will compel our leaders of today to reach the same heights of excellence in public service.

But, again, it was Hubert H. Humphrey of Minnesota who made this a truly “golden moment.”

My comments at the unveiling of the Humphrey statue on August 4, 2012:

As a young man working on the Humphrey campaign staff, we always referred to him as   “The Senator”.   There was no other name – just “The Senator” – because he personified the title.

Titles do not create leaders.  Rather leaders give definition to titles and that is why Hubert H. Humphrey will always be “The Senator”.

And he has left to us a legacy and a challenge:  public service meant serving the public good.  It was not about personal gain or poll numbers.  No, he understood the great issues of the day and he vigorously participated and led.

In “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”, actor Jimmy Stewart, fighting desperately for his cause, acknowledged that maybe it was a lost cause but then declared that they were the ones worth fighting for.

When “The Senator” fought for civil rights, it was a lost cause.  But, he clearly understood that this cause was worth fighting for.  And, ultimately, America agreed and we all stand taller for it.

Today, amidst a dysfunctional political system, a system where compromise is under attack and disagreement is all too often treated as disloyalty, the Senator would likely summon his full passion and energy to advance his core beliefs of reason, good will and opportunity for all.

He saw America as it could be and brought out the best in all of us.

Today, we dedicate a statue in his honor.  But, in a broader sense, we dedicate ourselves to his belief in public service and his courageous commitment to it.

Thank you Senator.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Pick the Best…Jeb Bush

Over the past several weeks, there has been endless media speculation on the GOP Vice Presidential pick.  What is interesting, but also alarming, is the focus on satisfying the expectations of the party’s base instead of merit and competency.  It is another major example of where our nation’s priority compass is off course.

Shortly after the election, we will have to make some enormously painful and vital decisions relative to extending the Bush tax cuts, lifting the nation’s debt limit and bringing the budget into closer balance.  These domestic decisions will be made in the midst of a continuing uprising in the Middle East and a severe debt crisis in Europe.  In short, the actions taken by the United States will have a major impact on a fragile global economy.

What this suggests is that both political parties have an obligation to present to all the voters their best and brightest.  For the Republicans it means people of accomplishment and proven competence.  Personally, I would move former Florida Governor, Jeb Bush, to the top of the list.  Yes, his selection may overshadow the likely nominee, Mitt Romney, but that may be a significant asset.  Speaking frankly, Romney is currently swimming in troubled waters and there is a declining confidence in his ability to survive.  He needs a life raft that suggests quality.  In political terms, that would be a game changer.

There are others that should be considered including Senators Portman and Coburn, former Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, along with Governor Mitch Daniels. They are clearly qualified and would bring good judgment and balance to the ticket.

But no one has the heavyweight appeal of Jeb Bush who enjoyed a highly successful run as Governor of Florida and has a demonstrated ability to work with both parties.  In short, he can successfully govern and that is key.

Further, his appeal goes well beyond a narrow party base and  he would likely capture a large segment of middle America.  It goes without saying that his presence on the ticket would give the party real steadiness at the top.

Names like Governors Pawlenty and Jindal are advanced on the grounds that they are considered “safe”.  In other words, they will not overshadow Romney nor will they attract negative attention.  At least that is the speculation.

However, I would respectfully disagree.  If the principal Republican argument is that President Obama has not successfully led this nation out of its financial crisis then one would expect the Republican team to have demonstrated excellence in this area.

As stated, Romney is having difficulty and needs some serious shoring up with a solid VP pick.  Bush, Rice, Daniels, Portman, Colburn all have solid financial credentials. Pawlenty possesses many political skills but financial management is not one of them.  Against the repeated advice of rating agencies, Pawlenty borrowed heavily to balance budgets and left Minnesota with a massive deficit and a downgraded credit rating.   In addition, he presided over the largest property tax increases in the state’s history.  That is hardly a platform from which to launch criticism of Obama’s fiscal management.

However, in another twist, the issue that could ignite some national interest is the continuing saga of a Minnesota Republican Party deeply in debt and allegations of serious – possibly criminal – mismanagement by Pawlenty’s choice for party chairman.  The last thing Romney needs is more distraction.

With a campaign currently floundering, Romney would be well advised to do what his father would do – pick the most talented individual for the well being of the nation.  That is always the safest choice.  For my money, it is Jeb Bush.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Our Young Speak Up…And Wisely

This is the time of year when families and schools are busy with graduations, preparations for summer and planning vacations.  For Minnesotans, the advent of summer is always a most pleasant experience.

My wife and I earlier this week attended the graduation ceremonies of Edina High School to see our granddaughter, Allie Davis, receive her diploma.  It turned out to be a truly delightful occasion with excellent music and a good pacing of events.  But what struck me was the quality of the brief messages from the two students and one faculty member who were selected by the class of 2012.

In a sense, they all touched on the subject of barriers and the need for individual courage to overcome fear.  Science faculty member, Steve Sanger, focused on transitions and the need for students to take inventory of themselves and then take the path that feels right for them.  In essence, be true unto thy self.  Student speaker Carly Crist spoke of fear and, in a very candid and friendly fashion, urged us to see barriers as challenging opportunities and to seize the initiative to overcome fear.

Finally, Cavonte Johnson whose life story has received considerable media attention spoke candidly with a splendid touch of humor about being Black and coming to an upper class mostly White high school.  Again, it was a story of fear and the resolve to overcome that barrier and go on to achieve considerable academic, personal and athletic success.  He appropriately reminded us not to make excuses for a lack of success but rather to summon the courage to recognize that we have no limits.  Success is up to us.

I would add that Cavonte will be playing for the Gopher football team this fall.

The more I listened, the more I thought about our nation’s leadership who have allowed their fear of losing incumbency to paralyze any instinct of courage.  How I wished that these three splendid speakers could be heard in the White House and Congress.

Perhaps a role reversal is in order.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Personal Responsibility – Yes

Over the past three decades, the Minnesota Republican Party has been evolving from one with moderate and traditional conservative wings to one that is now engaged in an open tussle between the younger Ron Paul Libertarian types and the more radical social right of Mary Kiffmeyer and Tony Sutton.

For purposes of this blog, I will focus on the latter since they have been in power through the Pawlenty years and still control the legislature.    Further, under their leadership, the party has moved further to the right.  In addition to a total prohibition of abortion choices, their philosophy extends to endowing the fertilized egg with constitutional rights thereby prohibiting certain forms of birth control, strong anti-gay sentiment, anti-tax increases, pro small government, anti-the United Nations, etc.  Their message has always contained a certain political rigidity that is unusual in democratic systems and any deviation has resulted in the labels of “traitor”, “quisling” or “RINO” being applied.   We need only to remember the party’s attempt to oust six GOP legislators who voted against Governor Pawlenty’s veto of the transportation bill.

Briefly, any deviation from party orthodoxy was punished. 

Further, there has always been a firm adherence to self-sufficiency and personal accountability.  For instance, the platform GOP incumbents ran on in 2010 declared:  “Reform and Eliminate the Welfare System” as a headline and then continued, “People in need should be assisted primarily through private charity, including faith-based programs instead of government welfare programs.”   

However, when philosophy and comfort collide, the latter usually wins.  Such is the case with Michael Brodkorb vs. the Minnesota State Senate.

Originally, Tony Sutton, as GOP Party Chair, brought in Brodkorb because he excelled in campaign research particularly opposition research.  He played a key role in the Republican legislative victories of 2010.  Sutton then moved him to the Senate Republican payroll where he exercised party power over GOP Senators thereby causing some to refer to him as the “enforcer.”

Now circumstances are different.  The party is virtually bankrupt with massive debt as a result of years of gross mismanagement and the Senate Republicans are embroiled in a major legal battle with Michael Brodkorb.  It would appear that while this new Republican Senate majority was busy during the session trying to constitutionally protect the sanctity of marriage from the threat of gays, there was some serious extramarital bed hopping going on in Senate offices.  As a result, Michael Brodkorb was fired and the majority leader stepped down.

Brodkorb has now trained his weapons of research on his former employers and has concluded that others have probably engaged in this same activity and were not punished in a comparable fashion.  The result is some nervous stomachs fearful of disclosure and a Brodkorb demand for some $1 million to cover the loss of employment and damage to his reputation.

The Senate has engaged outside counsel at a rate in excess of $300 per hour.  It further appears that the intent is to have the taxpayer pay all legal and settlement costs.  So far, DFL leadership appears to be compliant.

Simply put, the Senate will do all in its power to postpone action until after the election and then surprise the taxpayer with the bills.

We, as taxpayers, are already saddled with an impending deficit of approximately $2 billion and an additional $2.4 billion owed to school districts.   We do not deserve to be further burdened with the costs of political misbehavior.

What others do in the privacy of their lives should be their business and not the concern or obligation of government.  The new Senate Republicans brought this mess entirely upon themselves and should be principled enough to fully accept the consequences and not expect taxpayer welfare. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

To Carl..with Love

For the past several years, the Minnesota Historical Society has been interviewing leaders from the “Greatest Generation” and publishing biographies.  This is a most worthwhile project because it is increasingly imperative that we, the post depression generations, do all we can to learn from this special generation.

One of those interviewed was Carl Platou who was honored this past week by the University of Minnesota.  Now most Minnesotans probably are not familiar with that name but, in so many ways, he defines the essence of the “Greatest Generation”.

Like so many of his time, he was born of immigrant parents, endured poverty during the depression, lost his mother at an early age, and enlisted in the Army after the outbreak of World War II.  All those events clearly impact a young person.

However, I cannot imagine a more sustaining and painful imprint than being trapped behind enemy lines in the Philippines and enduring nightly Banzai attacks from a fanatically dedicated enemy.  And the conditions in the jungle were just as challenging.  Carl described it as a “stinking mess.”

One hundred paratroopers went in and ten came out.  Carl, wounded and malnourished, was one of the ten.  But seared in his memory was the overpowering realization that in combat one is totally dependent on others.  Teamwork and complete interdependence were not just rah rah phrases but the difference between life and death.  It is the realization that life is about we not I.

So it is not a surprise that 67 years later some 200 of Minnesota’s leaders gathered to honor the life work of Carl Platou which ranges from building the nation’s first satellite hospital system while the head of Fairview to creating the University of Minnesota Biomedical Discovery District that occupies the vast space just north of the new football stadium.

In this gorgeous area, some of the world’s finest bio-medical scientists will tackle the challenges of cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, etc.   The entryway will consist of a modest bench area bearing the name of Carl Platou.  I truly hope that each year all of us will stop by, sit, and reflect.  There will be no better place for some simple thinking about the impact of vision, hard work, and genuine commitment to the wellbeing of others.

What is so special about Carl is that he always has a vision of a better tomorrow and the ability to enlist others to pitch in and help.  And, wow, is he good at that.  And the reason is simple; he sees the good in others and draws it out.

Now the doctors say that Carl will more than likely lose his fight to cancer.  That is not true.  He has already won – just walk by the Carl Platou Biomedical Discovery District.

Friday, May 4, 2012

On Stewardship

John Taft, head of RBC Wealth Management located in Minneapolis, has written a very timely book titled Stewardship.  I say timely because our culture is in sore need of re-identifying its values.  And I add appropriately due to the fact that the word stewardship has been largely missing from our vocabulary in recent years.  When is the last time we heard a leader espouse values of stewardship?

There is an embracing quality in the word stewardship that includes responsibility, integrity, quality, and community - all in one word.  In essence, it defines the type of leadership reflected in the Greatest Generation.  Earlier Presidents like Washington, Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt set the standard politically.

John Taft with the legacy of President William Howard Taft and Senator Robert A. Taft is perfectly positioned to comment on stewardship.  Further, his predecessors at RBC Wealth Management (Dain Rouscher) were all known examples of superb stewards starting with Wheelock Whitney and continuing through Irv Weiser and Dick McFarland.

While the book contains an analysis of the financial crash of 2008, it is really about the qualities of leadership that our nation must focus on if we are to remain the global leader.  Toward that end, he pushes aside all the partisan shallowness that surrounds the ongoing debate and focuses instead on the core principles.  They are, he observes, “the only solid ground under our feet when everything is, or seems to be unstable.”

From an investment perspective, he looks back to another Minnesota giant, Harry Piper, Jr., for guidance;  “serving our clients is our basic purpose.  Service is the chief contributor to our growth and profitability.”  How refreshing.  How simple.

Compare that sentiment to that expressed by Goldman Sachs executives at the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in April, 2010.  Stripping aside all the contradictory and self-serving testimony, the simple reality was that Goldman Sachs stood firmly on all sides of a deal even when it was totally contrary to the wellbeing of a client.  In essence, the goal was simple:  make money and make it any way you can.

Tragically, this philosophy of short-term greed is not confined to Goldman Sachs or the financial services industry.  It has become contagious affecting virtually all institutions.

But the real loss here is that the good news is being squeezed out by the bad.  Those leaders who practice stewardship are overshadowed by the exploiters.

I love Tad Piper’s comment, “my dad always thought of this (financial management) as a noble profession, a profession in which we were privileged to serve the world in which we were admired.  He felt we had a higher calling to help individuals manage their wealth, corporations raise capital, governments build roads and schools.”

In using the word “noble”, Tad Piper is highlighting the ultimate human goal.  We all want to excel and believe that what we do contributes to the wellbeing of others.  The good butcher is performing a valued service just as the quality teacher or construction worker.

It is imperative that we do not allow the noise of greed or self-service to drown out the positive contributions of the many because they are the people who build a community.

John Taft is such a builder.  His leadership during the financial meltdown was extraordinary.  He stood by his principles of service to his customers and did so in an open and truthful way.  The result was a sensible path to recovery and stability.

Fortunately, his leadership gained national attention and he rose to become a major player in crafting legislation affecting the financial industry.  In 2011, he was selected chairman of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association.

Since John Taft properly calls us all to stewardship, perhaps it is entirely fitting that I to call him to active political service.  He is a traditional Republican with all the skills necessary to make a splendid Governor or Senator.  The truth is he has it all: intelligence, experience, an engaging personality, and a genuine dedication to the wellbeing of others.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Ed Spencer…. the Total Package

As we approach the opening of the baseball season, we will occasionally hear the phrase “total package” in reference to that rare player who excels in all facets of the game.  To Twins fans, it was Kirby Puckett; to the Yankees a DiMaggio or Mantle while a Cardinal fan (me) will cite Stan Musial.  When applied properly, it is the mark of a Hall of Famer.

Today it refers to Edson Spencer who passed away last Sunday.  In everything he engaged, he excelled; a Rhodes Scholar from Williams College, an athlete, World War II veteran, engineer with Honeywell rising to become its CEO in 1973.  That alone represents a brilliant career.

But Ed Spencer was more than a story of success.   He was the person we all wanted to be.  He radiated warmth, acceptance, intelligence, modesty and he treated all people in the same engaging way whether it be the waitress, the cab driver, or a fellow CEO.  Everyone was important.

If there be one characteristic that could summarize this man it would be his impeccable sense of honesty.  He was the gold standard.  I would submit that it was this extraordinary virtue that drove him to dedicate such a large portion of his life to public service.

He understood the power of “we” over “I” and his commitment to honesty compelled him to lead by example.  Yes, he was given gifts of talent but he worked hard to develop them.  And when successful, he dedicated his life to working for the betterment of the lives of others.  By serving as chairman of the Ford Foundation, a leader in the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and assuming major roles in the Mayo Clinic and the Minneapolis Foundation, Ed Spencer directly affected millions of people all over the world and in such a positive and uplifting way.  In spite of that enormous load, he devoted additional energy and resources to serving on the Board at Carleton College and working with the University of Minnesota.  And yet he found time to help lead the old Republican Party in Hennepin County and launch numerous political careers.

This marvelous man had an impact on everyone he met and every task he took on.  I cannot imagine a leadership post where he would not have excelled from President of the United States to managing an athletic program.

Yes, Ed Spencer was the “total package”.  Absolutely.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

John Cowles, Jr. - A Continuing Legacy

Legacies are largely defined by contribution to the well-being of others and have duration based on quality and value.  If that is true, John Cowles, Jr. will have left a meaningful and enduring legacy.  There can be little doubt about the lead role he played in defining our quality of life.

I remember arriving in Minneapolis in the fall of 1957 to do post-graduate work at the University of Minnesota.  That was the birth of a long love affair.  I further recall my disappointing impression of downtown Minneapolis.  It was a little more than another Albany or Wichita.  I hesitate to use the word dreary but would certainly suggest that the city was showing its age.

Eight years later as a newly elected member of the City Council and its soon-to-be Chairman of the Engineering Committee, I received a call from the office of John Cowles, Jr. at the Star Tribune requesting a meeting.  Nervous and inexperienced, I was ushered into a large conference room packed with people including John Cowles, Jr. and his management team and the top executives of Minneapolis led by the Daytons.

Jack McHugh, head of the Downtown Council and President of Northwest Bank, and his staff took over the meeting and introduced the Nicollet Mall Project.  Virtually every detail had been buttoned down and now the marketing effort was to begin.

Forty-seven years later, I still marvel at this business-civic leadership.  What vision, what boldness, what commitment.

I would contend that that project started Minneapolis on the path to today’s splendid city.

And John Cowles, Jr., as publisher of the Star Tribune, knew the importance of media leadership and personal involvement.  He saw Minneapolis not as it was, but as it could be and he committed all his energy and resources to building a modern and vibrant city.  You may say he was the last of the crusading editors.

That is why his fingerprints are on virtually every project from the Guthrie to the Cowles Dance Center in downtown Minneapolis.

But he also understood the value of shared leadership and competent staff.  The result was a newspaper of national stature.  His editorial and news personnel reflected the finest in journalism and he was not reluctant to unleash a Barbara Flanagan with her joyful creativity and enthusiasm for a vibrant and active downtown.

That marvelous film, It’s a Wonderful Life, taught us the meaning and value of community and John Cowles, Jr. lived it in every facet of his life.  This kind and modest man always brought out the best in us and made us a far, far better community.

His presence will always be with us and our gratitude will be demonstrated in our commitment to community.

Thank you, John, for being the finest.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Can We Learn From Two Minnesota Giants?

The more I witness the Presidential race, the more I am drawn back to my visits last fall with two of Minnesota’s most enduring and beloved statesmen, Walter Mondale and Al Quie.

By happenstance, we came together on separate occasions and did not discuss politics as such but just chatted similar to the visits in Tuesdays With Morrie.

Both men have common backgrounds, education, and views of public service.  They were small-town Minnesotans raised at a time when luxuries such as electricity and running water were just coming to rural parts of  our state.  Both were Norwegian (from this Swede’s perspective, a clear handicap), both had strong religious backgrounds, and both were grounded in old traditions of prudency, hard work, and modesty.

As products of the Great Depression, they witnessed the devastating harm inflicted on families.  Everyone was deprived; some more than others. Yet, there was a sense of community; an understanding that together we can make it.

Yes, Mondale and Quie were products of the “Greatest Generation” and their lives reflect those values.

Like so many of that generation, they served in the Armed Forces and came home to resume their education and careers.  Both were drawn early into politics and public service.   And both were instant successes.  Mondale at age 32 became Attorney General of Minnesota and went on to the U.S. Senate, Vice-President and later as Ambassador to Japan under President Bill Clinton.  In 1984, he was the Democratic Party’s Presidential nominee.

Al Quie was 33 when elected to the Minnesota Legislature but also continued to farm.  He later went on to a 21-year career in Congress and in, 1978,  was elected Governor.

Philosophically, they took different paths with Mondale serving as a more progressive liberal in the Humphrey tradition while Quie would follow a path of constructive conservatism in the tradition of Gerald Ford.

But their approaches to politics and public policy were surprisingly similar.  They elevated political contests with a sense of decency and truthfulness that by today’s standards would be most refreshing.  They did not celebrate money nor would they permit any interest to be greater than the well being of the whole.

 Mondale and Quie understood the true meaning of public service and would never compromise the integrity of their office for any reason whatsoever.

As a matter of fact, their deep attachment to the highest standard of truthfulness and integrity caused them to pay a steep political price.

For Mondale, it was his acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention in 1984.  Looking at the rising deficits, he declared his support for a tax increase in order to bring the budget closer to balance.  The political pundits were shocked.

Regardless of the fallout, Mondale knew he had to tell the truth to the people he served.  As it turned out, he lost the election but he was right; taxes were raised.

For Al Quie, his moment came when as Governor he was beset by a series of revenue shortfalls and had to cut budgets.  Finally, he declared that he could not “cut to the bone” and agreed to a tax increase.  Again, he knew it was the right thing to do but that it could bring his elective service to an end.

In today’s political world awash with money, political consultants, polls, candidate pandering, and instant media analysis, it is refreshing to reflect on the courage and inner confidence of two leaders who placed such a premium on truthfulness.

In so many ways they understood what we have yet to learn and that is that democracy is not all about receiving but also giving and that “we” has greater value than “I”.  Governing is not about personal or party victories but rather a shared responsibility protective of our children’s future.  Therein lies the greater good.

Walter Mondale and Al Quie have defined public service and governance for us.  Now can we accept this challenge?

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