One of the last times I saw my grandpa truly laugh and smile was thanks to Tom Rukavina.
I had just come from the 2010 DFL Convention, and I said that Rukavina had declared, in an effort to prove his support for American- and Minnesota-made products, that he wore American-made goods down to his underwear. I explained that his campaign booth sold boxers emblazoned with “Tom Rukavina for Governor.”
Some people I told the story to said Tom’s stunt was just crazy. However, Grandpa absolutely loved it, so much so that I later told Rukavina and thanked him.
If there is one thing I could say about Rukavina, who died this week, it is that he truly believed in helping working-class Americans. When someone at the Capitol talked about leaving tipped workers out of a minimum-wage increase, Rukavina said something like: “You tell that to a waiter/waitress when at a restaurant and see if they do not spit in your soup.”
When there was talk about a sales tax on clothing, Rukavina said it gets too cold in Minnesota to do such a thing. He even tried to pass a law that all American flags sold in Minnesota had to be American-made, along with many products that bore the American flag.
Rukavina, of course, used to be ridiculed for his views, including by former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who nicknamed him “Tommy the Commie” when he hosted Rukavina on his radio show. Rukavina himself once stated he was from the “Farmer-Labor” wing of the Democratic Farmer Labor Party — referring to the social democrat third party that merged with the state Democratic Party in the 1940s.
And, of course, Rukavina once stated he was the love-child of Jesse Ventura and Paul Wellstone (the latter was on his way to the funeral of Tom Rukavina’s dad when he died in a plane-crash).
Rukavina was populist to the core and truly believed what he said, compared to President Donald Trump, whose tirades and scapegoating seem to promote a sort of “false populism,” in my mind.
Rukavina, on the other hand, was a warm person who stood out in a crowd. Anyone who met him went away with a story to tell. He was a man of small stature and large spirit who fought for the little guy.
People who believe in helping those in need should remember the recently passed former state representative as one of the truly “real” Minnesota politicians of the last 25 years.
William Cory Labovitch is a political activist in South St. Paul.