Former Minnesota Rep. Arlan Stangeland, who served seven terms in Congress as a champion of the agriculture industry, died Tuesday at a Detroit Lakes hospital after a sudden illness. He was 83.
A conservative family farmer who made his way up through public life, he wielded his seniority on the House Agriculture Committee to fend off challenges to the sugar industry. Stangeland, a Republican, was recognized by supporters and opponents alike as a legislator who could reach across the aisle.
Stangeland was elected to the Minnesota House in 1966 and to Minnesota's Seventh Congressional District in a special election in 1977, after Rep. Robert Bergland resigned to become U.S. secretary of agriculture. Stangeland won the seat in 1978 and went on to serve six full terms in Congress.
In 1986, Stangeland won re-election by 121 votes over Democratic challenger Collin Peterson. Following the election, Peterson filed for a recount, the first congressional recount in modern state history, and one that set the stage for what would become almost a customary practice in state politics.
Peterson, who was an accountant and former state senator from Detroit Lakes, would challenge Stangeland twice before defeating him in 1990. During that time, the St. Cloud Times reported that Stangeland made nearly 400 phone calls to or from the home of a female friend at government expense. He also had been accused of trading favors with a Washington, D.C., lobbyist. Stangeland denied any wrongdoing and was never sanctioned, but the allegations tarnished his re-election bid.
In the subsequent years, Peterson said he and Stangeland may not have reconciled all their political differences but remained cordial and communicated often. Stangeland would often stop by Peterson's Moorhead office to talk and share his views. When it came to agriculture, there was little political difference in their support, Peterson said in an interview.
"In this day and age, he's be considered a moderate Republican. He was someone who could work on both sides of the aisle and get things done, which a lot of people in the Republican Party can't seem to do these days," Peterson said.
The district, which was once represented by Charles Lindbergh's father, is rich sugar beet country along the Minnesota-North Dakota border. From 1985 to 1990, Stangeland played a key role in fending off a challenge to sugar supports during debate on the farm bill. After leaving office, Stangeland worked in Washington as a lobbyist.
Arlan Ingehart Stangeland was born in Fargo, N.D., in 1930. His family moved to Moorhead in 1936, and he attended school in Moorhead, graduating in 1948. Stangeland became a farmer in Wilkin County before becoming active in Minnesota politics.
His son, Stuart Stangeland, said his father had been in declining health after heart bypass surgery but was otherwise sharp mentally. He said his father will be remembered as a champion of preserving the family farm.
"He was a great champion for the people and freedom and liberty," he said. "It was a true testament to his nature and his character and his ability to connect with people that allowed him to serve his district."
Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at Grace Lutheran Church in Erhard, Minn. Burial will follow at 3 p.m. in the Comstock Cemetery.
Visitation will be from 5 to 7 p.m. Sunday at Dobmeier Funeral Home, Barnesville, with a prayer service at 7 p.m. Visitation will be one hour before the funeral service at the church on Monday.
He is survived by his wife of 63 years, Virginia; his children, David of Amarillo, Texas, Beth of Grand Forks, N.D., Brian of West Fargo, N.D., Jean of Pelican Rapids, Todd of Otsego, Jeff of Barnesville, Stuart of Springfield, Mo.; and 10 grandchildren.