Wendell Anderson can still draw a crowd. The state's 33rd governor was surprised and feted at the Wayzata Country Club by about 175 friends and family members Saturday, one day after his 80th birthday.
Governors of both parties, a former vice president, several former members of Congress and a bevy of past and present legislators were on hand to salute the man who became governor in 1971 at age 37 and served in the office through 1976. He then arranged his own appointment to a vacant U.S. Senate seat, an unpopular move most observers believe led to his defeat in 1978 and the end of his elective career.
DFLer Anderson's gubernatorial years were pivotal and productive for Minnesota. During that time, "the modern governorship and the modern Legislature" took shape, said former state House speaker and U.S. Rep. Martin Sabo. His biggest accomplishment was the 1971 enactment of a major state tax increase to boost and equalize school funding and provide property tax relief, a measure soon therafter dubbed the Minnesota Miracle and hailed as a model for other states.
"There's about 10,000 years of (government) experience crammed into this room," observed former Vice President Walter Mondale. He marveled at the influence one governor had on so many people who went on to distinguished careers in public service.
Among the tributes was one in absentia from former GOP Gov. Arne Carlson, who praised his DFL predecessor for "innovation and (a) truthful approach to governance." Former GOP Gov. Al Quie (the state's oldest living governor, due to turn 90 this year) credited Anderson for a governorship that "looked into the future" and gave Minnesota an educational edge.
Gov. Mark Dayton, whose 2014-15 budget proposal has been likened to the Minnesota Miracle for its call for higher taxes for the sake of education and property tax relief, joked that he had directed his staff to scour Anderson's record to see whether he had overlooked any state taxes that might be raised.
Anderson's Miracle budget differs from Dayton's one key respect: Anderson relied more heavily on higher income taxes, while the largest tax increase Dayton proposes is an expansion of the sales tax to business services and clothing priced in excess of $100. I asked Anderson what he thought of Dayton's version.
"Given the tough time we're in now, it's the best we can do. And it's exactly what I would have done," Anderson said.