by Dennis Dalman
One of St. John’s University’s most well known alumni, former U.S. Sen. David Durenberger, will give the eighth annual Eugene J. McCarthy Lecture at 8 p.m. Monday, Sept. 8 at the Stephen B. Humphrey Theater on the SJU campus.
The event is free, although tickets are required for admission. They may be acquired at the box office of the Benedicta Arts Center at the College of St. Benedict.
Born in 1934 in St. Cloud, Durenberger, a 1951 graduate of St. John’s Prep School and a 1955 SJU graduate, is the only Republican senator in Minnesota to have been elected three times to the U.S. Senate. He served those three consecutive, six-year terms from 1978 to 1995. During his college years, he was involved with the Army Reserve Officers Training Program, becoming the first cadet battalion commander and the top-honored cadet.
Durenberger’s father was SJU Athletic Director George Durenberger, who was head of “Johnnie” athletics from 1931 until he retired in 1971.
After graduating from SJU, David Durenberger earned a law degree from the University of Minnesota School of Law, 1959. He also served in the U.S. Army Reserve from 1956-1963.
After becoming a lawyer, Durenberger practiced law with Harold LeVander in St. Paul, and when LeVander was elected governor in 1966, Durenberger became his chief of staff.
Durenberger was first elected to the U.S. Senate in the wake of the death of Sen. Hubert Humphrey, who had died and whose wife, Muriel, was appointed to fill out Humphrey’s term.
Durenberger served as chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence and the Health Subcommittee of the Senate Finance Committee. As a senator and in his post-senate years, Durenberger was a strong advocate of health-care reform and improving access to health care, while lowering its costs, through what he termed a managed-competition system.
Durenberger also served on many other committees and sponsored or co-sponsored many forms of historic legislation such as voting rights for the handicapped, Americans With Disabilities Act, the Consumer Choice Education Act (for charter schools), President Bush’s 1,000 Points of Light, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Women’s Economic Equity Act and President Clinton’s National and Community Service Act.
After his senate career, he became a senior health policy fellow at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty appointed Durenberger to head the Minnesota Citizens Forum on Health-Care Costs, an effort for health-care reform in the state.
A dark side to Durenberger’s senatorial career occurred in 1990 when the senate voted to denounce him for unethical conduct regarding questionable income regarding a book deal and getting government reimbursements for nights he stayed in his own Minnesota condominium.
In an interview in 2005, Durenberger said he supports neither the Republican nor Democratic parties and he tends to be an Independent. In 2012, Durenberger endorsed Independent candidate Tom Horner, his former chief of staff, for governor of Minnesota.
The Eugene J. McCarthy Lecture was founded in 2006 and was named after U.S. Sen. Eugene McCarthy, who was another well known SJU alumnus. The lecture series is intended to promulgate McCarthy’s long-time commitment to the principals of democratic government and to inspire young people to pursue fresh ideas, to challenge the status quo and to make good changes in the world.
Some of the lecturers in the series have been civil-rights leader Julian Bond, current U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, TV journalist and anchor Tom Brokaw and political commentator Cokie Roberts, who spoke at the event last year.
Former U.S. Sen. David Durenberger, a St. John’s University alumnus, will give the Eugene McCarthy speech Sept. 8 at SJU.