Douglas Swenson had no tolerance for drinking and driving, and he dedicated his life as a public servant to making the roads safer by tirelessly working to reform the state's drunken driving laws.
Swenson, a Republican from Forest Lake, was elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives six times, representing citizens of Anoka and Washington counties starting in 1987. He resigned his seat in January 1998 when then-Gov. Arne Carlson appointed him a district judge in the 10th Judicial District, which consists of Anoka, Chisago, Isanti, Kanabec, Pine, Sherburne, Washington and Wright counties and is the second-largest of Minnesota's 10 judicial districts. Swenson, who spent 10 years on the bench, died Sunday of myelogenenous leukemia at United Hospital in St. Paul. He was 63.
Swenson led the crusade to toughen state laws regarding driving while under the influence, especially those involving underage drinkers, after his son Greg was killed in a crash involving an underage drunken driver in 1989. Swenson was instrumental in the late 1990s in getting legislation passed to lower the state's blood-alcohol content limit for driving from 0.10 percent to 0.08 percent. He also authored the Not A Drop law passed in 2002, which makes it illegal for drivers younger than 21 to have any alcohol in their system while operating a motor vehicle.
"Doug was absolutely a giant when it came to DWI legislation reform and measures," said Jim Dehn, a friend, colleague and Isanti County judge. "His efforts to save many lives on Minnesota roads will long live for what he has done."
Swenson was born in St. Peter, Minn., and graduated in 1963 from Bethany Lutheran High School in Mankato. He earned undergraduate degrees in political science and business from Gustavus Adolphus College and his doctor of jurisprudence in 1971 from William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul.
Swenson began his law career with a small firm in Forest Lake before joining the Washington County attorney's office. He worked there for 20 years.
It was not surprising that he found his way to the Legislature, where his grandfather, Oscar, once was a state representative and speaker of the House. Swenson's brother Howard of New Sweden, Minn., also served in the Legislature as did a great-grandfather, a great-uncle and a great-great-uncle.
"Within that household, public service was stressed as an important part of being a citizen," said Swenson's wife, Sandra, of Forest Lake.
As a district judge in Pine and Chisago counties, Swenson was noted for his attention to administrative work, fairness and for giving everybody who came before him a chance to speak. He was close to his fellow judges, as well as the law clerks and court reporters, even throwing a party for them every year to show his appreciation for their work, Dehn said.
Flags in Chisago County were flown at half-staff Friday after it was declared Douglas Swenson Day by the County Board.
Swenson loved to fish and organized trips with his son, Kirk, of Jacksonville, N.C., and friends he made while at Gustavus. He enjoyed going to theatrical productions and spending time with his wife.
Along with his wife, Sandra, son Kirk and brother Howard, Swenson is survived by brother Owen, of New Sweden; sisters Mable Handel, of Nevis, Minn., and Karen Radway, of Lincoln, Neb., three grandchildren and several nephews and nieces.
Services will be at 11 a.m. today at Hosanna Lutheran Church, 9300 N. Scandia Trail, Forest Lake. Visitation will be at 10 a.m. today at the church.