Saturday, 1-5-2002


Dear Political Diary,

This was a most interesting day for a political junkie like me. Too bad that I have to be so mealy mouthed in reporting about it. The kind of people I like to talk about don't always want their activities scrutinized. For instance, one of my most enthusiastic supporters sent me an email after reading my last diary entry. My pal was appalled that I supported Yvonne Prettner Solon. After a brief flurry of email the only thing we could agree on was our mutual scorn for Brad Bennett. My pal and I agreed to meet later on; our field of combat, a coffee house; our chosen weapons, verbal sparing. 

My daughter had arrived home the previous evening and my wife and I had warned her that we would be at Sam's  funeral for an hour and a half. She hadn't been able to spend any time with us during the Winter holiday so Claudia was especially interested in getting back to spend the brief weekend with her.

The funeral lasted two and a half hours not including drive time. It was held at the DECC and I read later that it cost $6,000 to put on. The DFL coughed up most if not all of the expense. This meant that much of Sam's funeral was paid for by bequests raised at Willard Munger's funeral which the Munger family had passed on to the DFL. I find that ironic because Sam didn't share Willard's enthusiasm for the environment and they weren't particularly close allies.

Everyone was there from Vice President Mondale down to a crowd of the state legislators. Greek Orthodox icons decorated the stage and Sam's coffin was escorted down to the main stage by twenty uniformed city police. The service was conducted in English which Sam would probably have enjoyed since his new parish priest had been using lots of Greek in the regular worship services.

I had formed a dim view of Rev. Sevastiades at my first meeting with him but I rather liked him today. He got the only applause of the service when he commented slyly that the Governor might not be too happy that a priest was reading the Governor's proclamation honoring Sam. Ventura infamously suggested early on as governor that religion was for people with weak minds.

The good reverend also commented that he had never met anyone who was less self righteous than Sam. Since it was the very lack of this trait that had colored my original impression of the priest I took this as a small act of contrition on the priest's part. I liked that.

The DFL got its money's worth. The funeral had started at 11:30 and by 1:30 it was apparent we were in for a long haul. At about that time the ushers began sending mourners, row by row, past the casket to pay our last respects. It was a large congregation and the respectful pace guaranteed we wouldn't be getting out anytime soon. I had an appointment to meet with Senator Dick Day at two to discuss Republican concerns about Sam's succession. He, of course, was tied up at the funeral too.

Garry Krause, Dale Swapinski, Joanne Fay and probably a few other potential successors were at the funeral not counting Sam's wife Yvonne. I was just a wannabe from twenty feet outside the district.

A huge meal had been arranged for the mourners but Claudia wanted to get back to her daughter and I had other plans so we departed at 2. I dropped Claudia off at home and headed over to the Blackwoods Restaurant. I found Day and some other interested parties at our rendezvous. He was in awe of the DFL machinery for putting on a spectacle. He compared Sam's funeral to the recent ho hum send off for a twenty year Republican legislator from southern Minnesota. Except for the burning ship Sam's had been a Viking funeral.

We game planned for a couple hours and determined that our best candidate would be Jim Gustafson. Jim had declined the invitation to run a few months earlier but had called me the day before with new found enthusiasm for running should Swapinski be the candidate. Jim had been a former Senator, was well respected, and  would be able to raise money. He had also carried the finance bill twenty years earlier the last time the state had faced a major budget shortfall. I gave Jim a call but he wasn't home. Until we reached him we would have to plan for some other contingencies.

The 900 pound gorilla was Yvonne, Sam's wife. The word was spreading that she was interested in running for Sam's office. Widows are powerful candidates in special elections and Yvonne Prettner-Solon was no ordinary widow. A former City Councilor she's a formidable politician in her own right.

It was generally agreed that there ought to be a second line of attack should Swapinski pull off an upset. Joanne Fay, at best a nominal Republican, agreed that if Dale filed and Gustafson demurred, she would toss her hat into the ring but as an Independent. She wondered if the GOP would help her raise money under such circumstances. She would need at least 60 contributions of $50 dollars each to win state financing. That led to another discussion of whether an independent candidate could even get state financing for a legislative campaign. The question would require further research.

Coincidentally, Dale Swapinski was also meeting at the Blackwoods with his political supporters. I had seen them briefly and they looked a gloomy bunch. Dale had been up and down several times during the funeral. It appeared that he was extremely ancie in the midst of his chief rival's sympathizers. He hadn't stuck around for the dinner either even though it would have been full of DFL voters he could have schmoozed. Dale isn't a schmoozy kind of guy and I like that about him.

Dale had quickly announced his interest in the vacant seat. He's a bulldog and won't be easily deterred by Yvonne. It could be a savage fight which would do him little credit. Ironically, the tables have turned on him in this special election.  Two year's earlier when he defeated Will Munger Jr. for the senior Munger's seat Dale had been the bereaved candidate. His young wife had died tragically a short time before in the crash of a small plane leaving him to care for their two small boys. This time the sympathy advantage, if such it can be called, would fall to his opponent. 

I had just sent a letter to Yvonne telling her she should run. I'll admit that I had done this before it had occurred to me that a serious Republican or Independent might surface. Now that I was considering helping another candidate, on the unlikely chance that Yvonne would lose the primary, I was in an awkward position. I certainly didn't want to renege on my letter of support so I crossed my fingers that come 4:30 Tuesday, Swapinski would not be on the ballot. 

It comes to this. If Yvonne files without serious opposition in the DFL primary then the GOP will not support a candidate. If Dale Swapinski files we will try to field a Republican candidate, hopefully Jim Gustafson, or Joanne Fay as an Independent candidate.

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