NoDak Mafia Retires

To: Congressman Martin Sabo
Congressman Jim Ramstad

Dear Martin and Jim:


This letter is to thank both of you for your service to our state, but more importantly, for showing that nice guys can finish first. I've known both of you for more than 30 years and have deeply admired your reasonable and measured approach to public policy. Perhaps you are both similar because you came to our fair state from North Dakota with that almost high-plains-drifter stoicism that affects your manner of speech and demeanor.

Reading a newspaper interview with Martin Sabo or watching a television interview with Jim Ramstad is noteworthy because the questions are always longer than the answers. I've come to the conclusion that people born on the windswept prairies of North Dakota—like people on cold hockey rinks—speak quickly and to the point. Because both of you have an abundance of common sense, excessive verbiage was not needed for camouflage.

Like boxers shaking hands after a tough match, or hitters tipping their hats to a great pitcher who has just struck them out, the measure of decent men can be seen in how they treat each other when they are forced to struggle in adverse situations. On a personal basis, you seem to have high regard and respect for each other. I remember being admonished by one of you not to raise money for the other's opponent because it would be pointless and would not result in better government.

Jim Ramstad started his career working for the Speaker of the Minnesota House of Representatives at a time when Martin Sabo was the minority leader. Later, Jim served in the Minnesota State Senate and Martin was Speaker of the House. Neither of you engaged in the partisan sniping—the food fight—that now represents our interpartisan legislative process.

Both of you have suffered from long and difficult addiction: nicotine or alcohol. As many of us know, overcoming these addictions is very difficult, but gives the survivor a greater appreciation of the frailties of fellow humans. That appreciation is a good thing for a legislator.

Both of you have a centrist and truly Minnesotan (North Dakotan?) view of government. It has been a joy to read the accumulated voting record that you both have. And while I can't sum up 46 years of legislative accomplishment for Martin or 27 years of accomplishment for Jim, nonetheless, patterns emerge.

Both of you have been truly hesitant to impose majoritarian and easily discovered “values” on individuals. We never saw either of you wrapped excessively in the American flag. Nor did either of you hurl the Bible, quote scripture, or reveal personal conversations with a deity. Both of you continually supported policies to keep the government out of the doctor's office when a woman sought advice or help with reproductive freedom. Individuals' freedom was enhanced and safeguarded when you voted.

You agree in many areas of policy: mental health benefit parity, minimum wage increases, and funds for research and education. Martin chaired the House Budget Committee in the 103rd Congress (from 1993 to 1994) and provided leadership to pass the largest deficit reduction package in U.S. history, earning the reputation of a deficit hawk. And as Doug Kohrs, president and CEO of orthopedic device company Tornier, said at the 21st Annual Minnesota Venture Finance Conference in October, Jim Ramstad has earned a reputation for being a ceaseless advocate for the med-tech industry in Minnesota.

Where the two of you seem to have differed most was on issues of free trade—Jim usually in favor and Martin usually against. Martin is also, by far, the better baseball fan—and the better player.

Finally, unlike so many of your colleagues, you did not leave office in a pine box years too late, but walked out when you thought it was time. It is characteristic that Martin has returned to live in Minnesota (not to cash in as a lobbyist on K Street). I have no doubt that Jim will do the same. It will be good to have both of you living among us full time, but we will sorely miss your actions on our behalf in Washington.

Sincerely Yours,

Vance K. Opperman

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