20th Century, ekklesia, History

Minnesota Governor Harold LeVander: A Quiet Storm

The appointment of the first Met Council by Gov. Harold LeVander, seated center, in 1967. minnpost.com

January 2, 1967-January 4, 1971
About 1966, a Minnesota attorney unknown to many outside legal circles decided to throw his hat in the ring. He was, by definition, a true outsider who had no political experience other than vaguely supporting the Republican Party. Yet, Governor Le Vander arguably changed the premise of Minnesota’s politics more than his peers in a single four year term.

To backpedal, Karl Harold Phillip Le Vander was born in Swede Home, Nebraska on October 10th, 1910. His parents were Swedish immigrants, and the family followed his father’s call as a Lutheran minister to St. Paul. This calling led the family to move frequently before settling in Watertown circa 1926.

Young Harold loved high school and sports and excelled at both until his graduation in 1928. He went to Gustavus Adolphus for his undergraduate degree where he competed in the debate team, played football, but excelled in hurdles and pole vault for their track team. * Le Vander matriculated in 1932 from the famed Swedish institute, and headed for the University of Minnesota to study law receiving his LL.D. in 1935. ** Other than his brief time as Governor, he remained active as an attorney with Le Vander, Gillen & Miller through the remainder of his life.

So, what of his years as a politician as the 32nd Governor of Minnesota 1967-1971? Perhaps this moderate Republican’s term could be summed up with the phrase “clarification and consolidation”. His cornerstone accomplishments sought to clarify gray areas in law, and to consolidate the structures of leadership to operate more efficiently.

Governor Le Vander differed with many of his party, and acted to demonstrate that big government could be a force for good. Out of the gate he re-organized the structure of the Executive Branch, and dove headlong into a series of “firsts” in Minnesota politics. He greatly expanded the funding of regional governments and schools supported by the first sales tax and $1 billion budget. The term “Le Vander’s pennies” entered the local vernacular in reference to this major change. ***
Another of his famous “firsts” was that Minnesota became the first state to ratify the 26th Amendment of the U. S. Constitution. This law lowered the voting age to 18 years old, and clarified the issue and the dissonance brought by the Viet Nam War. He believed along with many of these draftees, that if they were “old enough to fight, then they were old enough to vote.” ***

Next, he sought to elucidate our legal boundaries: human to human, and human to nature. As to the former, he created the Department of Human Rights to protect our civil rights through the Minnesota Human Rights Act largely considered to one of the strongest in the nation. **** To the latter, he created the Pollution Control Agency “ensuring that every Minnesotan has healthy air, sustainable lands, clean water, and a better climate.” *****

His coup de gras, in terms of consolidating regional authority, came with the formation of the Metropolitan Council. Le Vander wanted this agency for long-range planning: of a transportation for the 21st century, and to aid in regional development. As an institution, it is an anomaly in that it is granted power to override the decisions and actions of local governments.

Despite the honor of receiving the most votes to date as a Republican, Governor Le Vander declined the opportunity before his primary. *** His decisions, and the institutions of government they initiated in his one and only term, are still with us today. No longer would Minnesota be a place without a plan, or disengaged decentralization.

We pivot to You, Father. We come to You for clarity. We get disjointed and need Your “consolidatus”; (Latin) make us solid again. Our first step towards this is remembering that You are El Roi, (the Strong One who continually sees), and reveals Himself more and more. Yet, You are King of the Universe, the True Judge, and though a never ending enigma, You reveal Your laws in ways we all can easily understand. Glad to increasingly know You, dear Father, and to be known!

Let’s start with giving You praise for the wisdom of Governor Le Vander and his heart to make clear our laws, and to facilitate consolidated efforts across the spectrum of civic leadership from the state level down to every township. It seems good and right that the weight of our legislation is much lighter when spread out, and the horses are all hitched and pulling in the same direction! Your Word bears witness to this principle in many places, but this is the specific word I hear now.
“Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 NASB

Can we mull some of his noteworthy accomplishments with You now, dear Source? Will You bring discernment into these milestones of Le Sander’s administration from 1967-1971? Help us identify what is pleasing, what is honorable, and what may be an offense in these actions towards Your Kingdom.

As a first cause, we take note of the Department of Human Rights. While any sentient person could easily agree with the notion that everyone deserves equality, dignity, and freedom from discrimination based on any sort of physical markers or attributes. Do not all of G-d’s children deserve a life free from discrimination?

However, we can also attribute some inherent motive conflicts when Minnesota’s government attempted to become the authors and enforcers of virtues of the heart. Those critical of civil rights in this era, often were skeptical of such legal changes because they inserted the power of government into relationships it formerly had no authority over. It raised the question of “who” gets to differentiate wise and unwise choices in Harold Le Vander’s epoch; the government or the individual?

Further, Civil Rights were posited as a solution to the failures to treat people equally under the law. Yet, doesn’t this very notion betray that the government was also a guilty party in denying the rights of its citizens before its ratification? For example, did the neighbors living in the Rondo neighborhood create a system of “redlining” to shut out unwanted ethnicities, or was this the work of those well-familiar with the law such as: the City Council of Saint Paul, Ramsey County, and the Federal Housing Authority?

So we appeal our broken track record, as individuals and as State institutions, of our failures to acknowledge the image of G-d and the civil rights of our people. Will You forgive us as individuals when and where our discrimination denied Your Image within our neighbors? Will You similarly forgive us our misapplications of the laws and denials of justice as extensions of city, county, Minnesota, and Federal governments? Will You take this root offense up, out, and onto the Cross of Christ? Will You impart to us the gifts necessary to govern ourselves as You give the Department of Human Rights the same humility?

My next point of prayer touches Your environment in the formation of the Pollution Control Agency. Again, at first glance, who could rationally be opposed to “healthy air, sustainable lands, clean water, and a better climate”? Enforcing laws is normally a cut and dried issue when it comes to shared resources, but perhaps, the dirty little secret of compliance is that even “good” laws can become overly bureaucratic and subject to corruption.

May I offer You a brief example, Father? Allegedly, Dr. Stan Reminiski, formerly of the University of Minnesota, invented a state-of-the-art water purification system in the same timeframe that could capture heavy metals from various industries that were polluting our rivers. His system used some type of magnetism or ionic bonding to “grab” these polluting metals, and far exceeded the requirements of the technology then in use; perhaps a million times more effective. Yet, his labor of love was denied even as an experiment on the Mississippi River because environmental officials could not tick the box that it had a filter to change!?!

How many innovations and revelations, Eternal Father, have You given us through bright humans like Dr. Reminiski that have been blocked from better preserving Your lands and waters? Will You forgive us where our environmental protectors act as simpletons who only follow orders, and as the corruptible officials who are seduced by temporal power and or other types of gains? Will You build a heart and awareness of true compliance, and a humility in our expressions of environmental law such as the Pollution Control Agency? Will You forgive us where we have despoiled Your land, waters, and atmosphere for gain?

As a final point, we ponder the achievement of streamlining regional development through the creation of the Metropolitan Council. We see the same undercurrent of thought in Governor Harold’s push for this over-arching planning body; how can we better harness the energy of various counties to achieve a common goal such as public transit? Or to use his words more exactly, then-Governor LeVander said the Council “was conceived with the idea that we will be faced with more and more problems that will pay no heed to the boundary lines which mark the end of one community in this metropolitan area and the beginning of another.” ******

Eternal One, my point here is not to belittle the accomplishments of this organization, but to wrestle with some of the limitations of its organizational theory. For the sake of my argument, this body’s authority encompasses 188 communities, 22 special purpose districts, and 7 counties with a current 2021 budget of $1.164 billion. ***** If this cost were evenly spread across these cities and townships, it would be a price tag of $6,191,489.36 each. This appear to be a significant price tag for planning, not executing, the various developmental projects. To compound this cost, this body is able to override the will of local governments. Lord, I am probably making this too simplistic, but isn’t that a big ask?

In simple terms, if I asked my kids to pay me a fee to plan their future, and then also told them that I could override their dissent; would they see me as an “aid” to their growth? How can the member-communities maintain motivation to participate with this body, when there is an atmosphere of “voluntary compliance”? Does not this mandate created in 1967, supersede the roles defined by our State Constitution? Where is the accountability in this authority? What are the checks and balances that govern the Metropolitan Council?

Granted, I am only scratching the surface in this plea, and my knowledge is very limited. I simply wish to acknowledge to You this conundrum of compliance. In Ephesians 5:21, you ask us to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Yet how does one submit to a friend that won’t? Doesn’t this set us up for a co-dependent and unhealthy relationship? Dear G-d, how was this basic aspect overlooked by such brilliant minds 53 years ago? Will You remove this bitter root sown in 1967? Will You create a new way of planning that does not negate the will of the beneficiaries in the 7 county metro area? Will You take this weight; up, out, and onto the Cross of Christ?

In sum, Governor Le Vander brought marked changes that are still with us in Minnesota. No one, however brilliant and wise, can forsee all the potential strengths and weaknesses of their actions. To his credit, he surely did make the levers of government work more efficiently. Yet, one is left with a new awareness of why righteousness and humility are virtues so reinforced in Your kingdom; even a good system is as good as the hearts and wisdom of those who operate it. May we forever plan, build, move, create, honor the lowly, respect Your nature under Your authority. May we walk out our new laws and new paths with grace and truth. May we forever love the law like governor Le Vander, but remain cognizant that we are all lawbreakers in need the mercy of Our Father and our neighbor! Amen!

LeVander, Harold. “What I Remember Most.” Minneapolis Tribune Picture Magazine. January 1, 1967. Print.
** Roberts, Chad. Internet. July 29, 2011. https://patch.com/minnesota/mendotaheights/dakota-county-history-101-harold-levander-1910-1992-g99bcd2ad36
*** Minnesota Historical Society. Internet. “Harold P. LeVander Biography” https://mnhs.gitlab.io/archive/governors-of-minnesota-collections/collections.mnhs.org/governors/index.php/10004227.html
**** https://mn.gov/mdhr/
https://www.pca.state.mn.us/about
***** https://metrocouncil.org/About-Us/Who-We-Are.aspx
****** https://metrocouncil.org/About-Us/Publications-And-Resources/History-of-the-Council.aspx

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