When I was growing up, you got spanked for only two things: lying and bragging. My dad was a Methodist minister, had been a farmer. My mom was a crack musician, taught piano to every kid in town. We lived in Elmore, in southern Minnesota, and though it was just one little town I think its guiding principles may be emblematic of this whole region: integrity, using your brains, and telling the truth — we never admired a cheater.
The idea that you’d lie, that you’d trick your way through life was really offensive to the people I grew up with. We were supposed to be honest, that was the central thing in my life. These battles I fought — for civil rights, for campaign finance reform, for the environment — all of them really came down to honesty, the expectation that you owed others the dignity, respect, and opportunity you were lucky to have. If you were honest about that, you’d do the right thing.
We had no money, so mom would cook a good, modest meal and we’d talk around the evening table about whatever was going on that day. When World War II was starting, Dad would get us around the radio. One night they were broadcasting a put-down of the Japanese, and my dad advised, “Don’t do that. These are good people. We’ve got a terrible war but don’t make a race issue out of it. Always find the best in people.”
I have a place on the St. Croix River east of the Twin Cities, which I helped preserve when it was still largely pristine, through the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. There’s something mystical and magnificent about our natural beauty that just enraptures me. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area, Lake Superior, Voyageurs National Park — the only water-based national park in the country. The wildlife refuges all around the state. Most of us seem to agree that to let this beauty slip away from us would be sacrilegious.