Telling the historical tale of two Budgeteer columnists

This is a story about two Duluthians who, in the same year, sought election to the Minnesota Senate. Ideologically, the two young men - one in his late 20' s and the other in his mid-30' s - could not have been further apart. They seldom agreed o...

This is a story about two Duluthians who, in the same year, sought election to the Minnesota Senate.

Ideologically, the two young men - one in his late 20' s and the other in his mid-30' s - could not have been further apart. They seldom agreed on anything political. One was as liberal as the other was conservative.

Even after a history-making confrontation in 1971 over the election of one of them, their friendship has endured.

In November 1970, Dick Palmer and Ralph Doty won their Duluth-area Senate seats by upsetting long-entrenched incumbents, in legislative districts in which their political parties had no track record of success.

In those days, legislative candidates ran in what were laughingly called "nonpartisan" elections. Legislators weren't Democrats or Republicans; they were Liberals or Conservatives - distinctions without differences.


During his campaign, Palmer told voters in the western third of Duluth, 16 surrounding townships and three villages, that he would caucus with the majority party. Because the Senate had been controlled by the Conservative caucus for more than 100 years, it was a safe bet he'd caucus with them if he was elected.

But when the votes were counted across Minnesota, an unprecedented tie occurred: The 67- member Senate was divided by a 33-33 margin between Conservatives and Liberals. Dick Palmer was the 67th vote. Incredibly, his decision as to which caucus he would join would determine which group would run the Senate and determine legislative priorities.

After much agonizing, Palmer announced, before the 1971 legislative session got underway, that he'd caucus with the Conservatives, thus putting them in control of the Senate.

During the first few days of the new session, on straight party-line votes of 33-33, Conservatives and Liberals deadlocked over whether he should be seated. Newly-elected Lt. Governor Rudy Perpich, who presided over the Senate, ruled that he would be the tie-breaking vote until unfair campaign charges against Palmer were resolved, thereby turning temporary control over to the DFL.

Perpich refused to recognize Palmer when he stood to speak. On votes to decide whether Palmer should be seated, Doty voted against Palmer and with Liberals, his chosen caucus. Doty' s votes brought on the wrath of folks who demanded that he support a fellow Duluthian. (What most folks did not understand was that on strictly procedural votes, lawmakers are expected to vote with their caucuses).

A few days into the "legislative session from hell," as journalists labeled it, the Liberal caucus took the matter to the Minnesota Supreme Court, arguing that only the Senate could determine who would be seated. The court rejected that argument, saying that Palmer had to be immediately sworn in.

The following year, the 10-year census revealed that because of shifting population, Minnesota' s legislative districts had to be redrawn, consistent with the one-person, one-vote rule. The Minnesota Supreme Court then ruled that Senate elections had to be held again in November 1972, cutting in half incumbents' four-year terms.

Now it was up to Minnesota lawmakers to redraw legislative districts. To no one' s surprise, DFL Governor Wendell Anderson and the Conservative-controlled House and Senate deadlocked over how the new districts would look. In desperation, the task of redistricting was turned over to U.S. District Court.


It is arguable whether Palmer was the victim of partisan politics when the district lines were redrawn by the supposedly politically neutral court (I personally believe he was). When the new district map was redrawn, the Senator from West Duluth found himself in a district so overwhelmingly DFL, he decided against seeking a second term. (Doty won re-election in 1972).

(Meanwhile, the Legislature placed an amendment to Minnesota' s Constitution on the 1972 ballot that, among other things, legalized partisan political labels for legislative candidates. When it was approved by voters, Liberals became Democrats and Conservatives were as Republicans).

Through all of this -- and because Dick and I knew the difference between politics and our personal lives -- we remained friends.

And, in an irony of ironies, Ralph Doty and Dick Palmer -- today older, wiser and less doctrinaire, but still with differing political views -- write columns that appear on the same page in the very newspaper once owned by Dick Palmer.

Only in America!


With the election behind him, Governor Pawlenty has resumed his weekly statewide radio program. The "live" version is heard Fridays at 9 a.m. In Duluth, the Republican governor' s program is heard on a time-delayed basis on Saturdays at 7:05 a.m. on KDAL AM (610).

Now comes word that we might get some political balance on talk radio. Former Minnesota Democratic congressman Tim Penny is considering expanding his successful Waseca call-in show to a statewide network. Because current local and statewide call-in shows are hosted mostly by right-wing folks -- Lew Latto, Brad Bennett and Joe Sousheray, to name a few -- Penny' s program would bring some welcome political balance to talk radio.


Ralph Doty's column appears on alternate weeks. Contact him at .

What To Read Next
Get Local