On Tuesday, Former U.S. Sen. David Durenberger, a Minnesota Republican, passed away at the age of 88.
Durenberger’s health had been declining for several months, according to his longtime spokesman Tom Horner, who told the Associated Press that Durenberger passed away of natural causes Tuesday morning at his St. Paul home surrounded by family.
Durenberger, a former executive secretary to GOP Gov. Harold LeVander, a former corporate attorney and captain in the U.S. Army Reserve, won a seat in the Senate in 1978, where he served three terms and championed health care reform, pushing proposals to expand Medicare benefits, protect rights for disabled people — including the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act — and promote gender equity.
“Senator Dave Durenberger was a true public servant,” Democratic U.S. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar said in a statement. Klobuchar holds Durenberger’s old seat and says that he showed her a lot of kindness when she was first elected in 2006.
“He was a dedicated legislator who was always guided by his devotion to bipartisanship and improving people’s lives,” Klobuchar said. “His work to advance the Americans with Disabilities Act and prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities changed millions of lives for the better and made our nation stronger.”
Democratic Gov. Tim Walz, who will give a eulogy at Durenberger’s funeral, said: “His work on health care reform saved lives. He was deeply kind, generous, and honest, and he put his work on behalf of Minnesota above all else. He valued collaboration and bipartisanship in the spirit of improving peoples’ lives.”
Durenberger’s first wife Judy died of breast cancer in 1970, which tragically left him a widower raising four sons. One of his sons, Dave, said he stayed an active father, attending their athletic matches. When he ran for office in the late 1970s, his sons were often helping to stuff envelopes at the dining room table, joining parades and otherwise helping on the campaign trail.
“He was sort of our north star for how we needed to live our lives,” his son said.
Durenberger experienced several troubled periods in his personal life during his time in the Denate. He separated from his second wife Penny in 1985, which he considered a personal agony and openly discussed it with reporters. He later married Susan Foote, a former member of his staff, in 1995.
Durenberger’s career took a downturn in 1990 when he was unanimously censured by the Senate following an investigation by the Ethics Committee into payments received for book royalties and federal reimbursements for stays in a Minneapolis condo. In 1995, Durenberger also pleaded guilty to five misdemeanor charges related to the condo payments.
“If there is a smudge on the Seal of the United States Senate, or on the Star of the North, as we like to call our state, I will work my hardest to polish both back to brightness,” Durenberger told his Senate colleagues after his censure.
He did not run for reelection in 1994.
After exiting politics, he continued focusing on health-care policy, working as the chair of the National Institute of Health Policy at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business and attempting to address systemic health care problems.
However, Durenberger became an increasing critic of the Republican party as they tilted more towards fiscal conservatives focused on cutting government programs. In 2005, he would tell a Minnesota political podcast that Democrats are “better equipped to carry the day” on health-care policy, though he said at the time he would not become a Democrat.
In the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, he endorsed Democrats Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden over Donald Trump, and in 2018 he wrote a book alongside political reporter Lori Sturdevant, titled “When Republicans Were Progressive,” mourning the nearly extinct wing of the GOP in which lawmakers prided themselves on bipartisanship and sought to assist vulnerable people.
The Republican Party of Minnesota tweeted: “We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of former Senator David Durenberger. Minnesotans of all parties and background will always remember his legacy of service to our state and our nation. Our hearts go out to his loved ones, and we pray for their peace and comfort in this time of sorrow.”
Horner said services will be held next week at Durenberger’s alma mater, St. John’s University in Collegeville.
Scroll down to leave a comment and share your thoughts.