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A loss at the legislature

When Minnesota lawmakers convene next January, they’ll do so without Rep. Larry Howes, who has represented parts of Crow Wing, Cass and Hubbard counties since 1998.

The plain-spoken Republican parlayed his moderate demeanor and a bit of good fortune into a 14-year political career, making him the dean of north central Minnesota lawmakers. That’s not bad for someone whose entry into politics was prompted by being dragged to a political caucus by his wife in 1988.

Howes’ good fortune came in the form of two DFL opponents in two separate campaigns who either abandoned or drastically scaled down their campaigns for personal reasons. The lawmaker’s demeanor resulted in a one-on-one lunch with Gov. Mark Dayton just before Minnesota’s 20-day government shutdown was settled.

Dayton, a department store heir, and Howes, a former construction worker, ate grilled ham and cheese sandwiches at a St. Cloud bistro as they discussed what might be acceptable to all the parties involved.

Political reporters view legislators differently than other voters. The qualities we look for are honesty, a penchant for returning phone calls and the ability to sum up complicated policy issues in language newspaper readers understand. Howes scored well on all counts.

■ Item 1: A political uproar in Howes’ 2000 race ensues when the Democratic and Republican House caucuses issue hard-hitting independent ads. Talk of lawsuits and ethics charges went back and forth.

Howes’ quote: “This is a spitting contest between two caucuses and it’s too bad.”

■ Item: 2: Legislators learn in December of 2011 that projections call for an $876 million surplus.

Howes’ quote: “It’s better than a poke in the eye.”

■ Item 3: Dayton lunches privately with Howes days before the end of the 2011 government shutdown to explore a possible framework to a negotiated solution. Howes briefed the House speaker on the meeting but provided only an outline to his fellow Republican House members.

Howes’ quote: “We’ve got a great caucus but nobody can keep a secret.”

Howes lost out to Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, this month after the post-census political lines drew him into what was basically Persell’s district. When the redistricting was announced Howes said he believed he retained only Hackensack, Walker and Cass County’s Shingobee Township from his old district.

Howes named the designation of March 29 as Vietnam Veterans Day and the lifetime fishing and hunting licenses as his top legislative achievements. He seemed at peace with himself in the wake of his political loss. There was no talk of blame or regrets. At 65, he said he was ready to ditch his suit and tie and spend time with his grandchildren.

Howes knows that life goes on. Let’s hope our current lawmakers learn from his examples of principles, pragmatism and perspective.

— Mike O’Rourke

Mike O'Rourke
Mike O'Rourke began his career at the Brainerd Dispatch in 1978 as a general assignment reporter. He was named city editor in 1981 and associate editor in 1999. He covers politics and writes features and editorials.
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