Sunday, April 14, 2024
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The Long Way Home

It seems like politics, a thing necessary for civil society, is all-pervasive. Whether social media, cable television, podcasts (whatever those are) or family dinners, we can’t escape it.

I live in fear that I sometimes get too person­al in this column, worried I might offend the three people who read it every week. And now, I’m jumping into politics.

No wonder I woke up in the middle of the night.

Half my lifetime ago, I decided to partici­pate in politics. I’d witnessed the unintended consequences of federal deregulation of truck­ing. I’d even testified before two Congressional committees on behalf of the trade association representing my industry.

Having met and spoken with elected and their staff, I was confident that this dumb freight broker from Minnesota could take ac­tion.

Grassroots politics in Minnesota starts with partisan precinct caucuses in the winter before national elections. People who live in a pre­cinct show up, sign up to receive propaganda, and volunteer for activities. They debate issues for the party platform and stand for the candi­date or candidates they want the party to en­dorse.

As a youngish and rather libertarian-leaning business executive, I pondered which caucus to attend in that winter of 1988. Living up to ste­reotype, I decided Republicans were the best bet. So I went to Bloomington Jefferson High School and caucused with my Republican neighbors. I was left a bit disillusioned. The 1998 Republican Presidential primary was shaping up to be a brawl, and most of the caucusers I met that night were extremely conservative, if not a bit deranged.

Deciding to step back, I focused on a grow­ing business and family and left the 1988 elec­tion to its own devices.

After four years of additional business success and more government involvement, I decided my political efforts would be best directed through the DFL (Democratic Farm­er Labor Party). That winter, 1992, I headed off to the DFL caucus and announced that I sought election to the state legislature and wanted their support. The DFLers in those western suburbs made me feel welcome, rallied to my campaign, and granted me the party endorsement. As Election Day drew near, I got the endorsement of the Minneapolis Star Tribune editorial board.

“You’d almost swear that Steve Fernlund, House candidate in District 41A, had Republican blood in his veins, albeit blood of the Harold Stassen-Tom McCall variety,” they wrote. Faint praise since McCall was long dead, and Stassen wasn’t front and center in people’s minds. Still, I’ve carried that endorsement in my day planner ever since, reminding me of the value of being politically active. I’ve been involved in Democratic Party politics off and on ever since, at a pretty high level sometimes. I keep the words of JFK, a problematic President to be sure, on my desk: “If by a “Liberal” they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people; their health, …housing, …schools, … jobs, …civil rights and their civil liberties, then I’m PROUD to say I’m a Liberal.” All of this brings me to my point today.

People I meet now who claim to be non-partisan, often adding they could never vote for a Democrat (cognitive dissonance), will say to me, “You don’t sound like a Democrat.” I don’t know what that means, but okay. Still, I find that most people tend to look ahead, welcome new ideas, and care about the welfare of their family members, friends, neighbors, and the community at large. Even though they deny being Liberal, we have that in common.

Too bad that politics has become all about personality. It’s always been hardball, but at least some–the likes of McCall and Stassen -once existed and governed from a coherent philosophical core. We need to elect more like them.

Steve Fernlund
Steve Fernlund
Typically these “about me” pages include a list of academic achievements (I have none) and positions held (I have had many, but who really cares about those?) So, in the words of the late Admiral James Stockwell, “Who am I? Why am I here?” I’m well into my seventh decade on this blue planet we call home. I’m a pretty successful husband, father, and grandfather, at least in my humble opinion. My progeny may disagree. We have four children and five grandchildren. I spent most of my professional life in the freight business. At the tender age of 40, early retirement beckoned and we moved to Grand Marais. A year after we got here, we bought and operated the Cook County News Herald, a weekly newspaper in Grand Marais. A sharp learning curve for a dumb freight broker to become a newspaper editor and publisher. By 1999 the News Herald was an acquisition target for a rapidly consolidating media market. We sold our businesses and “retired” again, buying a winter retreat in Nevada. In the fall of 2016, we returned to Grand Marais and bought a house from old friends of ours on the ridge overlooking Lake Superior. They were able to move closer to family and their Mexico winter home. And we came home to what we say is our last house. I’m a strong believer in the value of local newspapers--both online and those you can wrap a fish in. I write a weekly column and a couple of feature stories for the Northshore Journal. I’m most interested in writing about the everyday lives of local people and reporting on issues of importance to them.
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