Thursday, October 10, 2013

Rod Grams: 1948-2013

I heard the news Wednesday morning that former U.S. Senator Rod Grams passed away after a year of battling colon cancer. He was 65.

I met Grams once about 4-5 years ago at some sort of rally at the MN State Capitol. He was a very recognizable figure in these parts, having been the co-anchor of the Channel 9 evening news for most of the 1980s and early 1990s. After being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1992, Grams was part of the Republican tidal wave in 1994, when he was elected to the U.S. Senate. That puts Grams in some rare air, as he and Kansas politician Sam Brownback are the only two Congressional members in the past forty years to be elected to the Senate immediately after serving only one House term.

With Grams' platform of lower taxes and reigning in out-of-control federal spending, one could fairly surmise that he was "Tea Party" more than a decade before it become a label in the political lexicon. Grams' senatorial election also gave Minnesota perhaps the most polarizing U.S. Senate delegation with he and the ultra progressive Paul Wellstone.

After losing reelection in 2000 to, of all people, Mark Dayton, Grams would never hold elected office again. He did challenge longtime U.S. House member Jim Oberstar in MN Congressional District 8 back in 2006, but was soundly defeated.

I felt my friend and Twin Cities News Talk radio guy Jack Tomczak put forth the finest and most touching eulogy of Grams.

I met my wife when she and I interned for Rod in DC in 1999 and he gave me my first shot at radio when he let Benjamin Kruse and me fill in for him on his show in Little Falls. He was the first politician I worked for and in many ways ruined me as a staffer for other politicians. Nobody else I have worked for has been able to match him. Rod ALWAYS knew what was right and he ALWAYS had the answer. I was and still am angry at the voters of Minnesota who picked Mark Dayton over him in 2000. Rod wasn't. He was a solid person who was very comfortable in his own skin. He never had anything to prove. With the focus of the modern politician always on the next election or the next fundraising quarter I think we may not see many true statesmen who will take on an important issue head on regardless of consequences. Rod did that with Social Security reform. The problem still isn't fixed as it would require too much courage to tackle. He was never too big or too important to answer a question from a nobody like me. I saw him a few weeks ago and got to tell him how much he has meant to my life and my career. He said he was proud of me for the morning show. I'm proud that I could make a man of that caliber proud of something I had done. His wife, Chris, is pretty great too.

Grams is survived by his wife, Christine, four children and several grandchildren.


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