In a different era, congressional staffers pretty much precluded the need for hired guns


I am grateful for the interest of your Washington correspondent in “the possible” in Congress these days, as shown in her June 21 article, “As Washington opened the money spigots, Minnesota towns hired D.C. lobbyists.”

No doubt municipal and corporate lobbyists add value. When I arrived in the U.S. Senate in November 1978, there were two: one for 3M and one for Honeywell. The value add was that one took me golfing in my new “home away from home” and the other offered to take me and my wife to a local show now and then.

On the other hand, I hired Phil Cohen, who had been mayor of Brooklyn Center, to work in my Minnesota office full time getting my D.C. staff to do what they still can do — get projects for locals. Retired Rochester Mayor Alex Smetka came to work for me with his old Oldsmobile in which, once a week, he drove out to a different Minnesota city and visited with newspaper and radio station owners, business and professional leaders. He wrote a report for my D.C. office staff, which was must-read.

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Ask anyone from that era and they’ll tell you how effective Dave Durenberger’s staff in general became at “bringing home the bacon.”

Former Sen. David Durenberger

Former Sen. David Durenberger

I also worked closely with my colleagues in the U.S. House, DFL members like Martin Sabo of the 5th District and Jim Oberstar of the Eighth District, to get major projects for our state (highway, national parks and trails, etc.). Who needs to hire D.C. lobbyists if your own staff is doing the job they should be hired to do?

Oh, and I also spent one term on the Intergovernmental Relations Sub-committee. And eight on Intelligence, including chair. And I served on the powerful Senate Finance (taxes, health and social security) Committee and on Intelligence (chair). Etcetera. But all facilitated by my staff.

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That all changed in 1995 when Newt Gingrich et al. took over, sent families home, guaranteed two- or three-day work weeks nine months out of the year and put the two political pages of lobbyists Ana Radelat wrote about in the drivers’ seats that my staff and I were proud and pleased to occupy.

Dave Durenberger served as a U.S. senator from Minnesota from 1978-1995.


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