Former Minn. governor Wendell Anderson dies

Published 9:52 am Monday, July 18, 2016

ST. PAUL — Wendell Anderson loved being Minnesota’s governor so much that he couldn’t wait to get to work in the morning. But when he abandoned the Capitol in a slippery move to get to Washington, voters never forgave the youthful Democrat who just three years earlier won statewide accolades for embodying Minnesota’s strengths on an iconic Time magazine cover.

Anderson, a handsome Olympic silver medalist in hockey, gave up the job he loved in 1976, resigning so that second-in-command Rudy Perpich could become governor and name him to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by newly elected Vice President Walter Mondale. The move was deeply unpopular and voters decisively ousted Anderson two years later in favor of Republican Rudy Boschwitz.

Anderson, who died Sunday at 83, was never elected again, though friends said he longed to return to public life.

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Gov. Mark Dayton’s office said Anderson died at Our Lady of Peace hospice care in St. Paul.

Anderson’s family issued a statement, calling the former governor many things: “A kid from East St. Paul. A Gopher. An Olympian. An elected public servant of the highest order. But above all else he was a Minnesotan. His love for the state and its citizens was second only to his love for his family.”

Anderson reached the summit of Minnesota politics in 1970 when he won the governor’s office at age 37.

The next year, he pushed through an overhaul of school aid and taxes that became known as the “Minnesota miracle.” In a special legislative session that stretched more than five months past normal deadlines, Anderson outmaneuvered the conservative-dominated Legislature by rejecting an alternate tax plan he called “the old way of doing things.” The victory gave him latitude to pursue Democratic priorities such as environmental safeguards, a minimum wage increase and programs for housing, seniors and drug abuse.

The outdoorsy governor familiarly known as “Wendy” landed on the cover of the Aug. 13, 1973 issue of Time, shown hoisting a trophy fish over the headline “The Good Life in Minnesota.” The story inside called Anderson a “Midwestern Kennedy.”