Diagnosed with ALS, Minnesota state senator enters his final legislative sessionState Sen. Gary Kubly packed a walking cane when he headed to St. Paul for the legislative session last year; he had just been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Now Kubly is returning for his 16th and final session as a state legislator.
By: Tom Cherveny, West Central Tribune, Willmar, Minn.
GRANITE FALLS -- State Sen. Gary Kubly packed a walking cane when he headed to St. Paul for the legislative session last year.
He had just been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Kubly, 68, is returning for his 16th and final session as a state legislator.
A walker has replaced the cane.
The disease has weakened his vocal cords and respiratory muscles. A microphone he uses to amplify his voice is no longer enough. He also carries an iPad with an app that allows him to type messages for a robotic voice to sound.
"It will be more difficult,” said Kubly, DFL-Granite Falls, when speaking about his plans to participate in the upcoming session.
Conversations will be slower, and the disease continues to take a toll on his stamina. Long accustomed to starting his days at the Capitol at sunrise and staying into the night, Kubly said he will have to spend fewer hours in the Capitol and his office.
In other ways, it will be no different. Kubly said he remains determined and confident that he can effectively represent his rural constituents.
"I had thought of resigning, but they talked me out of it,” Kubly said.
"Nobody wanted him to resign,” quickly added his spouse, Pat. They will celebrate their 42nd wedding anniversary next month. Her husband’s slow and strained speech is difficult for many to understand, and Pat often serves to voice his messages.
She will be accompanying him to St. Paul, where they have an apartment near the Capitol for the session.
An ordained Lutheran minister for four decades, Kubly served small, rural parishes. He was elected to the House of Representatives in 1996. He has served three terms in the House and is now completing his third term in the Senate.
Look for him to be as effective as ever, according Al Juhnke, a friend and former DFL legislator from Willmar.
"Gary’s strength is a quiet, determined tenacity,” said Juhnke, who shared an apartment with Kubly for six years while the Legislature was in session.
Kubly may not have the strength to pound his fists at the bully pulpit, but that was never his way, according to Juhnke.
"He’s never been one to maybe lead the parade down the street, but he’s certainly one that organizes the parade and make sure it all goes off in a formidable way,” Juhnke said. "He’s very dedicated to his constituents out here in western Minnesota.”
It was on Dec. 9, 2010, when the drama of months of testing and hand-wringing in doctors’ offices came to its conclusion. The words that have guided him since came shortly after, from his wife: "Let’s not look at what you can’t do. Let’s see what you can do.”
It remains their focus today.
"If you focus on what you can do your outlook is going to be better,” Pat said.
He has the ability and desire to continue his role as the District 20 state senator, she said. Added to that is the mental stimulation and electricity around the Capitol. "It just kinds of invigorates you,” she said.
The partisanship and rancor of the last session was frustrating, and Kubly said he is prepared for another challenging session. He’s hopeful that the recent selection of Rochester Republican Dave Senjem as majority leader will help.
Kubly will serve again as the lead Democrat on the agriculture and rural economies committee, and said he has a good working relationship with its chair, Doug Magnus, R-Slayton. The committee was the only one to move its budget to adoption last session, and did so early in the process.
As a member of the minority party, Kubly said it’s impossible to know what issues will be dominate the agenda. He will be arguing along with other DFLers to put the market value homestead credit back in place. There are infrastructure and flood mitigation needs to argue for in his district, he said.
Rural issues will remain his focus, he said, and probably the biggest challenge. Just two years ago, he was one of 21 members of the rural caucus in the senate. Last year he was one of 11 remaining.
His sprawling district is the third largest in the state, and includes the counties of Big Stone, Chippewa, Lac qui Parle, Lincoln, Renville, Swift and Yellow Medicine. District 20 has lost population and will be greatly changed by the redistricting to be unveiled to the Legislature Feb. 21, Kubly said.
In previous years he and Pat have knocked on doors in the many communities of the district. One year he astonished the neighbor of his opponent located 75 miles from his home by knocking at the door before his challenger.
ALS makes it impossible to take on the rigors of another campaign, and Kubly does not intend to seek re-election.
But he feels confident that with the aid of a motorized cart, walker and iPad, he can still cover the ground in the Capitol.
Juhnke said there is a long history of legislators who have proven effective despite physical handicaps, including difficulties with speech. "He’s sharp of mind and understands the issues out here better than anyone I know,” said Juhnke. "He will still be able to make his mark whether its introducing bills or offering amendments or simply pushing the red and green button in the right direction on behalf of his people.”
The West Central Tribune and the News Tribune both are owned by Forum Communications.