Ex-Sen. Grams and the long-gone politics of Minnesota

The news today that former Minnesota U.S. Sen. Rod Grams has entered hospice care prompts us to revisit the ’90s-style politics in Minnesota, a relatively short time ago on the calendar, which might as well need a Hubble telescope to find.

It’s stunning to realize how many political names from the ’90s have disappeared.

Grams was born in Princeton, Minn., attended public schools and then Brown Institute and became a TV anchor, ending up at KMSP in the Twin Cities the old-fashioned way — by going to small markets and working his way up.

He also had another business on the side — building houses. But it was the TV gig  that gave him the exposure to win a congressional seat against DFLer Gerry Sikorski.

When Sen. David Durenberger retired, Grams won a close battle for the Republican nomination to succeed him, besting a who’s who of where-are-they-now Republicans at a time when the party was in the middle of a struggle between further-right conservatives and moderates — Bert McKasy and Joanell Dyrstad. In the general election, he knocked off Ann Wynia and Dean Barkley.

A lot of political careers ended with that election.

That kicked off a period when Minnesota couldn’t decide if it was red or blue state. In the U.S. Senate, the state was represented by Paul Wellstone and Grams, both of whom were able to win statewide races while being as far apart politically as possible.

In an era when negative TV ads were getting a foothold, Grams was also one of the first to use family members to defend himself. His mother, Audrey, appeared in one ad to blast upstart DFLer Mark Dayton. “Mark Dayton? Uffda,” she declared.

It didn’t work. Dayton ended Grams’ Senate career.

Grams tried to get back into politics a couple of times since then. But like the people he beat on the way up the political ladder, he was an afterthought from the ’90s.