Three decades out of office but still dabbling in GOP politics at 90 years old, former Gov. Al Quie boasts a family political lineage that reaches back to the very founding of the Republican Party.
Quie's grandfather, born Halbord Kvi in Norway in 1835, emigrated in 1854 to what four years later would become the state of Minnesota. Soon he would come to admire the Illinois politician who in 1860 was elected the country's first Republican president.
"He was a supporter of Lincoln, and he enlisted in the Civil War when it started because he wanted to eliminate slavery," Quie recalled last week, a few days after he issued the second of two endorsements in the contested Republican primaries for governor and U.S. senator.
Quie, who grew up on a farm in Rice County, was governor of Minnesota from 1979 to 1983. That followed nearly two decades as a congressman representing southern Minnesota. He has been out of elected office since 1982, after a tumultuous term largely defined by a severe state budget crisis.
In the last two weeks, Quie has endorsed Marty Seifert in the four-way Republican primary for governor. In the U.S. Senate race, he's backing underdog candidate Jim Abeler in his bid against GOP-endorsed Mike McFadden. The winner takes on Al Franken. Republicans will pick their candidates in the Aug. 12 primary.
Quie said he's backing Abeler because of the expertise in health care policy he's demonstrated as a state representative. He said he signed on with Seifert because the former House minority leader shares his opposition to the Republican Party's recent practice of endorsing judicial candidates.
In 2010, the state Republican Party's Central Committee barred Quie and other party elders, including former Gov. Arne Carlson and former U.S. Sen. Dave Durenberger, from participating in party activities for two years because they endorsed Independence Party candidate Tom Horner for governor over Tom Emmer, the GOP candidate.
"I am a Republican. They can't kick me out," Quie said.
Quie makes clear he thinks little of DFL Gov. Mark Dayton's first term, but added he'll be tough to beat. "He's endeared himself to a lot of people," Quie said.
Despite his continued interest in politics, Quie said that this year he's had to curtail his longtime practice of attending local, regional and state party caucuses and conventions because he's caring for his wife, Gretchen, who has Parkinson's disease. The two have recently relocated from their longtime home in Minnetonka to a Presbyterian Homes senior living facility in Wayzata.
"You don't have to be a Presbyterian to live there," deadpanned Quie, a lifelong Lutheran.
In recent years, Quie publicly severed his longtime allegiance to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America over the denomination's growing support for gay marriage. Still, he said he harbors no resentment toward Minnesota's recent move to let gay couples wed.
"The democratic process spoke," he said.
A veteran of the U.S. House who served there from 1958 to 1979, Quie said he believes the current Congress deserves its rotten reputation.
"They work from Tuesday to Thursday," Quie said. "When I was there, we got one trip home and back again in a year. Now they go home and back again every weekend, and the taxpayers pay for it. The members barely meet each other, they have no working relationships."
Quie said he has never regretted not running for a second term as governor.
"It's the best decision I ever made," he said, recalling that it freed him up politically to craft an alliance with Roger Moe, the legendary DFL Senate majority leader, to resolve the state's budget problems.
A lifelong lover of horses who still rides occasionally, Quie said he still feels healthy and energetic.
"My goal is to be riding horse when I'm 100 years old," he said.
Patrick Condon • 651-925-5049