Stillwater-based political blogger keeps ire stoked

  • Article by: KEVIN GILES and ANDREW JOHNSON , Star Tribune staff writers
  • Updated: February 20, 2012 - 8:36 PM

Karl Bremer has invested life's work into challenging public policy.

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“Some people write nice letters,” says Karl Bremer, who is fighting cancer as well as the establishment. “Some people … send death threats.”

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

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From the ashes of a house fire several years ago that destroyed most everything he owned, Karl Bremer saved a flame-licked carbon copy of a letter he wrote in August 1974 to Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey.

Bremer appealed to the Minnesota politician to stop immigration authorities from kicking Beatle John Lennon out of the United States. "Deporting him will be a mistake long remembered and regretted by millions of young people in this land," Bremer wrote.

Now a 59-year-old investigative blogger, book author and "old hippie" activist in Washington County, Bremer smiles at the memory. The Humphrey letter was, he said, an early attempt to protest government decisions.

"I like to think I've made a difference," said Bremer, who has built a reputation in Minnesota for piercing public officials and other establishment types with his pen.

As he mustered his strength recently for a fourth round of chemotherapy to attack the cancer in his pancreas and liver, he spoke of future topics that will light up his blog, "Ripple in Stillwater," with inspired outrage. Among them: Michele Bachmann's re-election campaign, a possible four-lane St. Croix River bridge and government fraud.

Bremer's medical condition, despite its urgency, has yet to rival his lifetime war with the status quo.

His main target is Bachmann, a Republican representing Minnesota's Sixth District -- where Bremer lives -- in the U.S. House. Bremer has condemned her as a "gold-bricker" inattentive to matters in Congress while using her position to promote her religious and anti-gay beliefs. He skewered the three-term congresswoman in his new book, "The Madness of Michele Bachmann," published just a week after the release of her autobiography, "Core of Conviction."

Twice recently, Bachmann declined requests to respond to Bremer's criticism. But Bill Pulkrabek, a Republican operative credited with once encouraging her to run for public office, took Bremer to task.

"He's just another megalomaniac with delusions about Bob Woodward," Pulkrabek said, referring to the Washington Post reporter who exposed Watergate. "My experience with so-called bloggers is that they're mostly introverted dorks who sit around in their underwear eating Doritos all day, making nasty comments about people they don't know."

Bremer's book mentions Pulkrabek, a Washington County commissioner, as one of Bachmann's "fellow travelers" and early mentors -- hardly a flattering reference given the critical tone of the book.

"Karl's a great investigative reporter. He's in the tradition of great muckrakers," said Ken Avidor of Minneapolis, who with Eva Young co-authored the 288-page anti-Bachmann book, published in December. "I've learned a great deal from Karl. He's an ace at using public documents."

Bremer takes on the rich and powerful in his blog, for which he won a state award last year for "best use of public records." He's also an architect of the DumpBachmann.org website and has assailed promoters of a new bridge as inflicting the public with "a river of misinformation" about its costs and consequences.

"You make some friends along the way and some enemies," he said one recent afternoon at his house in the woods north of Stillwater. "Some people write nice letters when they like what they read. Some people dump tires in your ditch or send death threats."

Everything about Bremer smacks of latter-day hippie, from his ponytail, to his Mother Earth style of living, to his squinting disbelief of politics. He was drafted into the Army in 1972 and spent two years in the military police guarding prisoners at Fort Dix, N.J., before taking up a commune-like existence in an old schoolhouse near Bemidji.

As editor of the Bemidji State University student newspaper, he pressured the academic vice president to release an internal study of grading disparities.

"Everywhere I go I have the knack to uncover fraud," Bremer said.

Bremer has edited several publications over the years, including the New York Mills (Minn.) Herald, the Statewatch publication of the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group, and Airport Services, a magazine for aviation managers. He's also been a communication specialist for the Minnesota House DFL Caucus.

Bremer's resistance to the proposed $690 million St. Croix bridge project -- "wrong bridge, wrong place" -- led him to file a complaint with the state auditor over an $80,000 donation the Stillwater City Council voted in July to give the pro-bridge Coalition for the St. Croix River Crossing.

The money, he argued, was illegally donated. The auditor's attorneys agreed.

"It's a good old boys' network in Stillwater. They treat the taxpayers like their own private fiefdom," Bremer said.

Said Micky Cook, the only Stillwater City Council member to vote against the donation: "I've always appreciated his digging into public records. He's a truth seeker. I've admired that."

"While I don't always agree with him, I respect him and the energy and passion he brings to his positions," said Mike Wilhelmi, the coalition's executive director. "He really deeply cares about the St. Croix River."

Dwelling in nature

Other than Stillwater and the St. Croix Valley, where he began living in 1962, Bremer has two other favorite places: New Orleans and New Zealand. His brown Chesapeake Bay retriever is named Roux after the sauce. Bremer and his wife, Chris, have attended all but one New Orleans Jazz Fest since 1989.

Their house has a North Woods comfort, decorated with artworks of fish, birds and other wildlife. In the log-beamed living room, tall windows reveal a sloping, wooded five acres sprinkled with bird feeders and a stand for hunting deer. Bremer shot one last fall.

"I felt good all through deer season," he said, until stabbing stomach pains awakened him at night. In early December, just a few years after Chris underwent cancer treatment herself, his Stage 4 pancreatic cancer was diagnosed.

"I haven't spent much time dwelling on it because it really doesn't serve any purpose," he said. "I've got plenty more to do, plenty more to write."

Said his friend Avidor: "If anyone can beat it, it's Karl."

Andrew Johnson is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.

 Kevin Giles • 651-925-5037 Twitter: @stribgiles

  • BOOK WARS

    As of a few weeks ago, 15 copies of Karl Bremer's book "The Madness of Michele Bachmann: A Broad-Minded Survey of a Small-Minded Candidate" had sold at Stillwater's independent bookstore, Valley Bookseller, since the book's publication in December. Only one copy of Bachmann's autobiography, "Core of Conviction: My Story," had sold since publication in November.

    "The clientele of Valley Bookseller tends to skew more liberal and it's right in the heart of this Republican district," said store employee Kathy Adams. Nationwide, copies of Bremer's book have outsold Bachmann's book at "indie" bookstores, 72 books to 37, according to the Independent Trade Retailers group.

    BREMER'S BLOGS

    Karl Bremer's musings and misgivings about government, politics, the St. Croix River bridge proposal and his discovery of cancer can be read at: www.rippleinstillwater.com

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