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Rick Nolan

Steve Kuchera, Associated Press

Allen Quist

Mike Zerby, Star Tribune

On the ballot in August: Allen Quist and Rick Nolan

  • Article by: LORI STURDEVANT
  • Star Tribune
  • July 14, 2012 - 5:59 PM

On behalf of all Minnesota baby boomers seeking signs that their fading youth isn't totally lost, I want to thank Allen Quist and Rick Nolan for running for Congress this year.

With them on the ballot, we boomers can pretend that we're still a generation-in-waiting, not quite yet responsible for the mess the country's in.

And I can still be the kid reporter who covered them both back when.

When? DFLer Nolan was in Congress from 1975 through 1980, representing the Sixth District when it ran from St. Cloud to the South Dakota border.

Quist was part of the first sizable tide of the Republican religious right to hit the Minnesota House in 1982. He was defeated for reelection in 1988, but went on to run for governor as his party's unsuccessful endorsee in 1994.

Today Nolan is one of three contenders in the Aug. 14 Eighth District primary, seeking DFL rights to take on GOP Rep. Chip Cravaack in November. Nolan has DFL endorsement, in part because both of his primary opponents, former state Sen. Tarryl Clark and former Duluth City Council member Jeff Anderson, said they would keep running regardless of what the convention did. Delegates hate defiance of that sort.

Quist has a primary fight, too. He's up against state Sen. Mike Parry of Waseca. Their endorsement contest ended in a 23-ballot deadlock at a marathon convention April 21-22.

Nolan and Quist missed being part of the boomer cohort by a few years. Nolan was born in 1943, Quist in 1944. Boomers started coming in 1946, after World War II.

Time was when I might have deemed these two a mite long in the tooth to be running for Congress. I wouldn't doubt that they are up to the physical demands of the job. To the contrary: Quist swims half a mile three times per week. Nolan completed a triathlon -- swimming, running and bicycling -- last weekend at Lake Hubert. Both are campaigning hard and show no signs of flagging.

Rather, I would have argued that at age 68 (Quist's age next January), a freshman congressman can't realistically expect to acquire enough seniority to exercise real clout. (In that regard, Nolan has an advantage. He would arrive with three terms to his credit.)

But one's thinking evolves as the calendar pages turn. Sixty-eight is the new 50. OK, make that 52. What is lost in beauty is gained in wisdom. Right, fellas?

"I couldn't agree more," Nolan said last week. "Actual studies verify that, you know. The ability to recall details may diminish with age, but one's problem-solving skills become much better."

I couldn't resist sharing that tidbit.

The age-given assets these two "seasoned political veterans" both claim are experience and the perspective it provides.

Since leaving Congress, Nolan has been a state agency head, small-business owner, college foundation president and community volunteer.

"Those experiences have prepared me for public service so much better than I ever was in my youth," he said. "This country was good to my generation. We had unlimited opportunity if we were willing to work for it. That's being lost in the current American economy. My experiences will help me shape a way forward, so we can regain opportunity for the next generation."

The next generation's prospects motivated Quist to run again, he said. A farmer and retired government professor at Mankato's Bethany Lutheran College, Quist has 10 children and 37 grandchildren, with four more on the way. Concern for their future has transformed the culture warrior of the 1980s into a deficit hawk today.

"I'm willing to invest in my own campaign substantially. I could put my money in my estate and leave it to my kids. At age 67, you think about these things," Quist told me last week. "But I'd much rather play a role in leaving them a country where they have opportunity -- more opportunity than they will have if we don't solve this debt."

Exposure to the lessons of experience and the long-lens perspective of a grandparent are two things to like in an older candidate.

Another plus: Older politicians aren't as likely to have their judgment skewed by ambition for higher office. For an example of the problems that can cause, see Pawlenty, Tim.

I've got one more, and it's my favorite: Older candidates can help Minnesotans think more expansively about aging. Just by walking a parade route or glad-handing at a county fair, older candidates serve as role models and prods for cultural change. They can help convince people that capacities for leadership, productivity and service are not snuffed out at ages 65, 70 or 75.

Longer-than-average life expectancy and a large boomer cohort are going to make this state among the nation's grayest in the next several decades. It's also a state whose economy depends on its human capital. Ageism is a form of bigotry Minnesota can't afford.

Minnesotans can hang their votes on lots of rationales this year. "Too old" shouldn't be one of them.

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Lori Sturdevant is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist.

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