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State Capitol is busy, even in the off season

Forty minutes early for an appointment in St. Paul on Thursday, I was looking for a bagel. I parked near the Minnesota State Capitol thinking I could find one in the Capitol’s Rathskeller where lawmakers, lobbyists and staff members grab a bite to eat during the legislative session.

My detour to our lawmakers’ place of business was an eye-opener. Even when the Legislature is not in session, I learned, the Capitol is a happening place.

Walking from my nearby parking spot (a rare find when the Legislature is in session) I caught my first glimpse of the Hubert H. Humphrey statue that was unveiled and dedicated by former President Bill Clinton in August. It’s a good likeness and it’s enhanced by famous quotations by the vice president and U.S. senator that are etched in a nearby wall. The statue is located on the Capitol Mall, directly in front of the main entrance.

Inside, the Capitol was filled with students and other young people who appeared to be training to be pages. The rotunda was graced with an elegant Christmas tree and poinsettias. While the rotunda was beautiful there were other areas that were not quite as decorative and appealing to visitors. These are moving days at the Capitol. Desks with names of lawmakers and office numbers were lined up in one hallway waiting to be moved. There are more office moves than usual this year since a new majority party will take over both the Senate and House. To the victors...go the best offices.

Another art work that’s new to the Capitol since I last visited was the official portrait of former Gov. Tim Pawlenty. The likeness is close enough, but I thought he looked rather grim. Agree or disagree with him, Pawlenty was engaging, articulate and congenial in the public appearances I covered. Why couldn’t they have portrayed him smiling?

Directly opposite Pawlenty’s portrait was another familiar Republican face — Gov. C. Elmer Anderson (1951-1955). Anderson is probably remembered by most Brainerd residents as their longtime mayor in the late 1970s and 1980s. Anderson had also served an earlier stint as Nisswa’s mayor. The governor had jet black hair at the time of the portrait instead of the familiar white hair most of us remember. The quiet, unassuming Anderson was a gentleman who enjoyed public service and a good cup of coffee. At his funeral, the pastor asked how many of those attending had ever shared a cup of coffee with the former governor. Just about every hand in Brainerd’s First Lutheran Church went up in the air.

The Rathskeller was as charming as I had remembered. A restoration has thankfully brought back the ornate art work and German mottos which had been hidden at the height of anti-German sentiment during World War I. Now visitors who read German can ponder over such sayings as “Besser ein Rausch, denn ein Fieber” or as we’d say in English, “Better be tipsy than feverish.” That might explain a lot of legislation that’s come down the pike through the years.

Time passed quickly, as it always does when I visit the Capitol, and it was time for me to leave for my appointment. My only disappointment was when I realized the Rathskeller only serves food during the legislative session. No bagel for this columnist but another enjoyable visit to one Minnesota’s fascinating historical sites.

MIKE O’ROURKE, associate editor, may be reached at 855-5860 or He may be followed at

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.
(218) 855-5860