A tribute to Rudy Boschwitz

Former Minnesota Rep. Vin Weber helped put together a tribute to former Minnesota Senator Rudy Boschwitz in the Cowles Auditorium of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs last night. The University of Minnesota’s Center for the Study of Politics and Governance was also on board as a host.

Before his election to the Senate, Rudy had made his name as the down to earth retail businessman who built Plywood Minnesota. Rudy represented Minnesota in the Senate for a little over 12 years, from late 1978 until January 1991. Do we ever miss him there. He was a model Senator and supporter of President Reagan during Reagan’s two terms.

I was honored to be invited and thrilled to attend. The event made for a moving tribute to an extraordinary man. I wrote about Rudy in the 2005 Weekly Standard column “The ambassador nobody knows.” This was my sketch of Rudy’s background:

Boschwitz was born in Berlin in 1930. When Hitler was made chancellor of Germany in January 1933, Boschwitz’s father immediately declared that the family would leave the country. They emigrated from Germany and made their way to the United States two-and-a-half years later. Relatives who stayed behind perished in the Holocaust.

Boschwitz graduated from college at age 19 (Johns Hopkins) and law school at 22 (NYU), but found the practice of law boring. He moved to the Midwest and went into business, ultimately founding his own retail company in Minnesota. After building the retail company into a business (that is still going strong), Boschwitz was elected to the U.S. Senate from Minnesota in 1978 as part of “the Minnesota massacre” in which Republicans won the state’s two Senate seats as well as the governor’s office. He served in the Senate for 12 years with verve and distinction, but was narrowly defeated for reelection in 1990. Unlike so many defeated congressional officeholders who never return to their ostensible homes after leaving office, Boschwitz went back to work in his business. (I served as the treasurer for Boschwitz’s losing 1996 senate campaign against Senator Paul Wellstone, who had defeated Boschwitz in 1990.)

Boschwitz has been an ardent advocate of Jewish causes and of America’s alliance with Israel before, during, and since his tenure in the Senate. In 1991 President George H.W. Bush sent Boschwitz as the American emissary to Ethiopia in a mission which resulted in Operation Solomon, the rescue and dramatic airlift of the small black Jewish community in Ethiopia to Israel. In June 1991, President Bush awarded Boschwitz the Citizen’s Medal for his achievements in the Horn of Africa. Boschwitz takes special pride in his involvement in the rescue of the Ethiopian Jews, referring to it as “a major league mitzvah” [colloquially, “good deed”].

I usually think of the Humphrey School as enemy territory, but last night the hospitality could not have been warmer. University President Eric Kaler welcomed us. I last saw President Kaler at the ceremony for the opening of the refurbished Chabad center on campus. I don’t know him, but President Kaler seems to me a man of great decency.

Vin kicked the proceedings off briefly with recollections of his own long relationship with Rudy. I think it goes back to Vin’s days as a senior at the University of Minnesota in 1978, when Vin volunteered his services in Rudy’s first campaign for the United States Senate. Vin read a letter from George W. Bush saluting Rudy and then played recorded tributes from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, former Senator Allen Simpson and NRSC chairman Senator Cory Gardner.

Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar and South Dakota Senator John Thune both attended to pay tribute to Rudy at the event. Senator Klobuchar’s remarks were excellent. She did what she does best, speaking up on behalf of a cause with which no reasonable person can disagree.

Senator Thune recounted Rudy’s life story, his business background and his warm relationship with him. He mentioned his own connection through his father to the University of Minnesota. Harold Thune, Senator Thune’s father, was a star player for the University of Minnesota basketball team. He played for the Gophers from 1939 to 1941 and was the team’s most valuable player in 1940. Last season Mr. Thune reconnected with the Gophers for the first time in 75 years. The Daily Republic of Mitchell, South Dakota covered the story here.

Chatting with Senator Thune before the event, we asked him how it was going with his colleagues in the Republican caucus. He gently suggested that they could use another team player or two. I should add that senior advisor and friend of Power Line Jon Lauck was also on hand.

Rudy’s closest friend in the Senate was Slade Gorton. Senator Gorton represented Washington over three nonconsecutive terms, leaving office in January 2001. He too was a model Senator. Senator Gorton, now 89, traveled to be on hand and pay tribute to his old friend in person last night. He looked great. His brief remarks were excellent. His presence all by itself was moving. Let me say once again: do we ever miss him in the Senate.

Jann Olsten concluded the tributes. Jann had served as chief of staff for Rudy in his Senate office. He reflected on the life lessons learned working for Rudy.

Rudy himself concluded the program with “Magnificent America.” I hope to prevail on him for a text of the remarks that I can post on Power Line.

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