For the Good of the Order
Nick Coleman and the High Tide of Liberal Politics in Minnesota, 1971-1981
In January 1973, Nick Coleman became the fi rst Democrat in 114 years to lead the majority in the Minnesota Senate. He provided the vision and leadership required to enact the Minnesota equivalent of Lyndon Johnson’s social and economic programs known as the Great Society. This was the high tide of liberal politics in Minnesota, the crest in voter support that also sent Hubert Humphrey, Eugene McCarthy, and Walter Mondale to national prominence.
For the Good of the Order chronicles Nick Coleman’s role in the legislative cauldron that resulted in Minnesota being recognized throughout the country as “the state that works.” Despite spirited political challenges, these remarkable achievements resulted from genuine collaboration from both sides of the aisle. Moreover, the debate over these initiatives helped raise Minnesota’s legislative branch to coequal status with the executive. Sadly, they also marked the beginning of the demise of civility, respect, and compromise among lawmakers.
Coleman was an Irish-American, and proud of his heritage. His talent for leadership was surely enhanced by his Celtic wit and view of the world. No caricature of the Irish pol, however, Coleman used his verbal gifts and charm to offer reasons why a hesitant colleague could safely follow him when votes were needed for controversial bills. He led from the front, especially when debate was most intense, and unfl inchingly took the fi ercest fi re from adversaries. When Nick Coleman left the political arena in 1981, a wave of conservatism was sweeping the country. Since his departure, much of the agenda Coleman fought so hard to accomplish has been diluted or reversed. Nevertheless, his legacy remains an inspiration to all who believe that a society should be judged by how it treats its weakest and least powerful. Perhaps Hubert Humphrey voiced this belief most succinctly when he said, “...the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life: the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”
Those were the people Nick Coleman fought for—and never forgot.
- Xlibris US, February 2012
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